I am a Safety Officer… So, what now? - First steps as a Safety Officer

Sicherheitsbeauftragter im Unternehmen

Tina works for a company in the service sector that has 60 employees and she has just been made a Safety Officer. She is not the only one facing this challenge and represents everyone who has been given responsibility for occupational safety and health protection at work. From now on Tina has not only a new role as a security officer but also a lot of questions! We have put together the most important background information as well as some practical tools.

Tina is a prepress worker with a direct marketing agency and her job has nothing to do with safety. So how was it that Tina was made Safety Officer? Employers are legally required to ensure occupational safety and health protection at work. It is the responsibility of management to create an appropriate safety system and many companies are legally required to demonstrate that they have a security organization in place.1 However, employers can delegate specific tasks and appoint a Safety Officer or an occupational safety representative (KOPAS)2. This was the case with Tina. But this does not release her employer from his or her responsibility. The employer must ensure that the Safety Officer or occupational safety representative is appropriately trained, given clear instructions and allocated the necessary competencies.3 Function diagrams and clear job descriptions with a list of duties for each function will serve the company well. They will allow everyone in the company to understand which duties they must fulfil and which competencies and responsibilities are assigned to that function.

First steps as a Safety Officer

Taking the first steps as a Safety Officer can be quite a challenge as potential hazards and risks are not immediately apparent. Luckily Tina does not need to reinvent the wheel and can make use of existing materials as well as tried and tested practices:

  • Build up knowledge: first of all Tina must gather basic knowledge of occupational safety and health protection. This can be done independently or ideally by taking an industry-specific course. In Switzerland such courses are offered by various consulting and training organizations or by organisations that offer inter-company ASA solutions. Small companies in service sectors that are not subject to any special risks are able to acquire part of the required basic knowledge through the FCOS learning modules. Should detailed knowledge be required, Safety Officers can also take the federal examination as a specialist in occupational safety and health protection (ASGS) or train as a security specialist by taking the FCOS training course organised by SUVA in line with their standards and requirements.

  • Determination of status quo: With the SUVA self-test, by filling in a questionnaire, Tina can find out where her company stands in terms of health protection and occupational safety and which preventive measures are appropriate.

Building up or further developing the security systems: After determining the status quo, it is time to take action: this means creating or further developing the security system for the company. If the company is part of an inter-company sector solution, it can make use of the organisation’s know-how and its materials. Sector solutions provide affiliated companies with a system in the form of a handbook with checklists and also offer training as well as other services. On its website, the Federal Coordination Commission for Occupational Safety FCOS publishes all the sector solutions it has certified.  Should the company wish to create a security system of its own, the Safety Officer will be responsible mainly for consulting and planning. Ultimately, deciding on and implementing a system is the responsibility of the employer.

Ongoing tasks as a Safety Officer

A 10-point system developed by the FCOS has proved to be reliable as a structure for company security systems. The specific tasks of a Safety Officer like Tina can be described as follows:

1. Safety mission statement, safety goals

Tina supports senior management in formulating a mission statement and establishing goals for occupational safety and health protection. She takes an active role in communications to employees regarding the mission statement and goals.

2. Security system

Tina plans and works on the security system together with senior management and also ensures it is regularly updated. She works with the employer on the definition of the tasks, competencies and responsibilities in regard to occupational safety and health protection within the company. In the case of specific hazards, the absence of specialist knowledge or changes within the company, she calls on the assistance of an occupational safety specialist.

3. Training, briefing, information

Informing new employees and regular briefings for all the employees on occupational safety and health protection are among Tina’s responsibilities. She advises and supports line managers. She also collects the latest information and publications and forwards them to the company’s staff. It is important to document any briefings and training that have been undertaken.

4. Safety rules, standards

As the Safety Officer, Tina takes care of implementing safety standards within the company together with management. For example, by acquiring work equipment that complies with safety standards along with the appropriate personal protective equipment, by checking the effectiveness of the safety measures and protective devices or by complying with safety regulations when carrying out work.

5. Hazard identification, risk assessment

A part of hazard identification and risk assessment includes building-oriented aspects such as tripping hazards and escape routes, but also setting up workstations correctly and ergonomically. In its brochure “Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz für KMU des Dienstleistungssektors” (Occupational safety and health protection for small and medium-sized companies in the service sector), the FCOS offers support in identifying hazards. Tina documents the results and checks these regularly. If an accident happens, she support line managers in investigating it and documents the events.

Not just for Safety Officers: an app to check security

The free FCOS Checkbox app helps in checking workstations for health and safety efficiently and with little effort. The results can be easily recorded and exported for further use.

6. Planning measures

Having identified the hazards, Tina plans, realises and documents safety measures including a priority programme and campaigns.

7. Emergency organisation

Together with the line managers, Tina must put together an effective emergency organisation, acquire the necessary first-aid materials and regularly check their readiness for use. In addition, she also briefs the staff on the organisation and how to respond in an emergency.

8. Employee cooperation

The cooperation of employees in regard to occupational safety and health protection is laid down by law. Tina advises the employer and suggests how the cooperation of the staff can be ensured.

9. Health protection

Implementation of legal requirements also applies to health protection. Complying with official work and rest periods, special protective measures for individual groups (pregnant women and young people) as well as taking an ergonomic approach to setting up workstations and work processes.

10. Monitoring, audits

Tina keeps a record of accidents and absences (absence management) and reports on it to her employer. She also plans and documents safety inspections at work.

Challenges of the Safety Officer double role

Tina has now settled into her role as Safety Officer and knows: a good security system alone will not fulfil all the tasks of a Safety Officer – she needs to keep at it actively.

In addition to her tasks as a Safety Officer, Tina must continue to do the job she was doing before. This represents a double load and leads to stress and, not least, to overtime. Her work is also increasingly interrupted by employees with questions, which disrupts her concentration.

Sometimes she finds her new activity thankless – her colleagues are not particularly cooperative nor very supportive when it comes to implementing measures. She rarely gets praise for her work as its visibility is low. In contrast, she feels the consequences of accidents all too directly.

But Tina has found a way of dealing with this to improve her working situation and combine her role as Safety Officer with that of company employee:

  • Double load: together with her supervisor, Tina enters her new tasks as Safety Officer in her job description. It rapidly becomes clear that she must either pass on various tasks or that her salary must be adjusted.

  • Disruption of work processes: In order to stop being interrupted so often when working, Tina has communicated the times at which she available to employees for questions in her role as Safety Officer.  She has also set up an additional email address for such questions. She can now take a focused approach to matters of health and safety.

  • Networking and exchange: Tina takes courses and further training in occupational safety and health protection. In this way, not only can she broaden her expertise and better explain the safety measures to her colleagues but also build up a network and connect with other safety officers on a professional and personal basis.

1 See EKAS Guideline 6508 about consulting work physicians and other occupational health specialists (ASA Guidelines). In organisations with special hazards and 10 or more employees as well as those without any special hazards and more than 50 employees must demonstrate that a safety organisation is in place.   

2 The safety protection contact person is normally the Safety Officer in small and medium-sized companies that are part of a sector solution.

3 Art. 7 Ordinance on accident prevention.

Are you already using the FCOS online tools?


In the seven chapters of the FCOS Box and a series of short video clips, you will find out how to improve health and safety at the office and what needs to be taken into consideration.

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FCOS Checkbox

With the FCOS Checkbox apps you can identify safety risks in the office or check to see if your workstation is set up ergonomically.

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FCOS Learning Modules

Easily accessible and entertaining, they will help you check and consolidate your knowledge of the basics in safety and health protection at work.

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