Health and Safety Manuals
A health and safety manual is designed to provide information to employees about health and safety precautions, regulations, and policies. Such manuals are frequently required for a number of reasons related to legal or contractual obligations, including but not limited to needing it to obtain insurance coverage, satisfy a contractor, satisfy government regulations at the local, state/provincial, or federal levels, support requests for compensation or aid, support a bid, pass an inspection, or as documentation for an audit. Like any manual, a health and safety manual is designed both to be read and understood by employees and to provide documentation of warnings issued by the employer in the event of a lawsuit or other legal proceeding in which evidence of prior warning is important for adjudicating claims.
A health and safety manual typically consists of a number of “boilerplate” regulations, rules, and policies aimed at employee safety and wellbeing. In the United States, it is a legal requirement that employees be informed of health and safety risks. Most manuals feature the following topics, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Health and safety regulations, risk assessment forms and instructions, health and safety policies, requisite forms, codes of practice, employee guides, and hazard tables. In addition, individual businesses may tailor the manual to their particular workplace situation, since the particular health and safety hazards faced by an employee differ depending on the industry.
An employee manual (or personnel policy handbook) is a document that collects in one place the policies and procedures governing employee behavior and operations within the organization. An employee manual is frequently used as an aid in training new hires, and it is also a useful reference for current employees in ambiguous or difficult situations. Many organizations require their employees to read the manual and sign a consent form indicating their understanding of the manual and their intention to live by its rules and regulations. However, courts routinely hold that employee manuals do not form a contract between employer and employee and are not legally enforceable, and the contents of the manual are subject to change at any point. When manuals do change, it is important to provide copies of the new manual to current employees as well as new hires so everyone remains up-to-date on the latest policies and procedures.
Most employee manuals contain a standard selection of sections, including (but not limited to) a greeting from the company president/CEO/or chairperson, discrimination and harassment policies, employee classifications, pay and overtime rules, hiring and recruiting policies, guarantee of equal opportunity, benefits (health, vacation, etc.), disciplinary and grievance procedures, privacy policies, a statement that workers work at-will, and an acknowledgement form for the employee to sign. These sections are designed to provide a basic framework for employees and to provide cover for employers in the case of dispute or legal action against them.
Construction manuals are health and safety guides created by construction companies to inform employees of policies and procedures designed to keep them safe and healthy. These manuals are frequently required by law for companies operating in certain jurisdictions, and they increasingly essential for proving employees with information about risks before they begin a job. Construction manuals are frequently required by insurance agencies in order to secure insurance, government agencies in order to pass inspections or receive permits, and by corporations awarding bids for work. Like all health and safety manuals, construction manuals are designed to inform employees about the health and safety policies, rules, and regulations of the organization and to protect the organization in the event of a lawsuit.
Construction manuals typically follow the same pattern as any other health and safety manual. They include the same materials outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Health and safety rules and regulations, risk assessment forms and instructions, health and safety policies and procedures, requisite forms, codes of practice, employee guides, and hazard tables, much of this traditional boilerplate that differs very little from company to company. Additionally, construction manuals tend to be customized with special sections devoted to the additional risks of construction work, including health and safety procedures related to on-site work, equipment usage, and hazardous materials.
Technical manuals are documents intended to provide detail about the manufacturing, assembly, instructional, or other technical information required for the use of a product or service. A technical manual can take many forms, including but not limited to assembly instructions, manufacturing specifications, an owner’s manual, an operations manual, of a listing of parts and supplies. What these manuals have in common is a need for clear, precise writing and a need to provide highly technical detail. Frequently, such technical manuals use jargon or industry-specific terminology intended for experts who are already familiar with the material covered in the technical manual. Other manuals, like instruction manuals, sometimes define such terms so that non-experts can use them as well.
Standard technical manuals are text-based and often feature illustrations or diagrams to facilitate comprehension of the technical information therein. Most are created following a process whereby the manual writer interviews the experts involved in the use of the materials to be discussed. The writer then takes the experts’ knowledge and attempts to place the material into language that non-experts can understand, though industry-specific terminology (as opposed to expert jargon) is frequently employed, depending on the specific technical manual. The manual is then prepared and sent to its destination, whether that be internal audiences (employees) or external audiences (customers).
Software manuals are a form of documentation intended to provide users of software with instructions for the software’s intended use. Such manuals frequently include technical specifications and a guide to troubleshooting. Software manuals are a form of instruction manual, which in turn are a subset of technical manuals. As such, software manuals are text based documents that often employ illustrations or diagrams to enable the reader to more easily access and process information related to the operation of the software. Frequently, software manuals contain sections in a number of languages which correspond to the languages the software is offered in to allow the software to be sold in multiple markets.
A joke has it that software manuals come in only two varieties: “dull and unintelligible.” This is because, like any technical writing, software manuals are produced to technical specifications which do not always match the end user’s idea of how a manual should work. Most software manuals feature sections on system requirements and compatibility issues, an installation guide, software setup, first time use, common functions and operations, and troubleshooting. In addition, software manuals instruct readers where they can obtain additional assistance installing, using, or repairing the software. Most manuals include screen shots of the software in action to help orient readers and guide them through installation and use of the software.
A policy manual is a handbook intended to inform readers about policies and procedures in effect at a given business, office, institution, or agency. A policy manual is designed to provide an overview of the organization’s policies and convey them to internal and/or external audiences in order to inform readers and provide evidence that the organization had made employees aware of policies and procedures in the event of a negative occurrence and subsequent legal action. Policy manuals are similar to employee handbooks, though the category is a bit broader and can include manuals intended for students, clients, and other groups. Many schools, for example, provide incoming students with a policy manual outlining the school’s policies on academic honesty, sexual harassment, and other topics.
Most policy manuals include a number of standard sections, including an introduction from the organization’s leader, and discussion of the organization’s guiding mission or philosophy, and an overview of the specific policies and procedures unique to that organization. In many cases, it is increasingly common for an organization to include an acknowledgement form which the employee, student, or other recipient must sign in order to acknowledge his or her understanding of the policies and procedures contained therein. Though this is not a legally binding contract, it is useful in demonstrating the employee’s or student’s intention to conform to the policies and procedures in the manual.
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