Safety Committees: Just Hype or Do They Really Benefit a Company
A number of safety committees I’ve encountered do not work and are not effective. Why? They do not follow-through with their safety vision.
These findings are based on my personal observations and conversations with top management, safety committee members, and employees. Unfortunately in these particular instances, the safety committee members lacked a clear understanding of what was expected from them when it came to preventing accidents and injuries in the workplace.
A safety committee’s potential value and benefit is only as good as its defined purpose, functions and activities – and follow-through. When the input and value of the committee and its members are recognized, employees, supervisors and managers welcome its services.
Before I offer suggestions on what it takes to have a motivated, productive, well-functioning safety committee, let’s revisit what a safety committee is and outline its purpose.
Typically, safety committees are a blend of employees and management. The committee’s purpose is to provide an open forum to discuss accidents, near-misses, recommendations for corrective action, and prevention of recurrence, together with opportunities for improvement.
Does OSHA require employers to have a workplace safety committee? No. However, I highly recommend having an effective safety committee in the workplace. Why? Because all workers have the right to a safe and healthy workplace. For example, The OSH Act of 1970 requires employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace and mandates that certain standards be met to ensure workplace safety. Safety in the workplace is everyone’s responsibility. So a workplace safety committee enables employee participation and involvement in the safety and health process, plus provides an opportunity to share the responsibility in maintaining a safe work environment.
Illness and injury cost companies a great deal of money in lost productivity and time away from work. The immediate role of the workplace safety committee is to reduce worker illnesses and injuries by identifying health and safety risks and potential hazards, making recommendations and developing strategies to decrease incidents, conducting periodic safety audits, and most important, empowering co-workers to play a role in workplace safety and health. In the long run, this all adds up to savings for the company, which in turn will lower workers’ compensation costs. So effective, well-functioning safety committees can truly benefit and have an overall positive money saving impact on the company.
Eight Tips to Improve Your Safety Committee
Here are a few key suggestions and tips I offer for safety committees to be effective:
- Training and education are essential. Committee members should be adequately trained in OSHA regulations and workplace safety and injury prevention so they can educate co-workers. Safety committee members should also be able to run effective meetings, since workers, who might not have any experience or training in management issues, will comprise a good portion of the committee.
- Clear and frequent communication between company management and the safety committee is very important. Communicate safety expectations, goals, problems, solutions and challenges. The safety committee should function as a communication link between employees, the safety department and management.
- Meet regularly on a specific day and time. When a meeting schedule is planned well in advance, members are then in a better position to arrange for their attendance and prepare for discussion. Have a planned, well-defined agenda and set goals and objectives. Members need to know what is expected of them.
- Give time to fulfill committee duties and responsibilities. Members should be given a reasonable time period to complete safety projects.
- Prohibit non-safety related issues during meetings. Discussing issues other than safety is not only irrelevant but also takes time away from getting things done. Identify the issue as having little or no impact on safety, stop the discussion, and move on to relevant safety issues.
- Enlist top management support and commitment. Since top management is ultimately held accountable for the safety of the company's employees, it is crucial for them to monitor the safety committee’s progress and provide direction, coaching and training as the committee proceeds in its efforts. Employees should know with 100% certainty that top management is dedicated and passionate about the safety committee's mission.
- Measure progress. Frequent checks ensure goals are being met. Every project or task should be assigned to a person, team, or subcommittee, and a follow-up report should determine the status of the action item, or if it was completed.
- Recognize accomplishments: Acknowledging and publicizing the committee's accomplishments in the company newsletter, for example, will further motivate members and keep employees informed about the committee's safety efforts.
Safety committees are effective in helping prevent unsafe practices and conditions, reducing the risk of injury and illnesses, and motivating employees and supervisors to become actively involved in the company’s injury and illness prevention program.
If you would like guidance and assistance on establishing a safety committee, request a free consultation. If you would like more information regarding safety committees, click here: http://www.osha.gov/dte/grant_materials/fy08/sh-17818-08/l2_safety_committees.pdf