Active employee and management participation in a safety committee is a great way to prevent workplace injuries. This article provides guidance on how to create and maintain an effective safety committee.
Companies have known for years when employees and management work together to create and maintain safe places of employment, they succeed. A safety committee can effectively bring people together for hazard analysis, evaluation, and controls. How you establish and use a health and safety committee depends on your company and where your company does business. Whether you work in a state that has a federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) plan or a state with an OSHA-approved plan determines what safety regulations are required and if you are mandated to have a safety committee. Currently, there are no federal OSHA requirements for safety committees in the private sector. Because the rules are subject to change, check periodically with the OSHA governing your state or U.S. territory for updates. This map from OSHA can help you determine if you work in a state plan state and if the state plan covers you.
Creating and maintaining an effective safety committee will take an investment of time, planning, and effort upfront. This investment returns a value when the safety committee members work together using their unique workplace knowledge, influence, and skills to eliminate or reduce the risk of employee injuries, production inefficiencies, or quality problems. The first step is determining why the committee will exist (i.e., beyond regulatory requirements). Develop the committee's objectives through creating step goals. It is best to base initial objectives upon leading indicators. Maybe your company is establishing a safe behavior observation program. The committee may establish an objective of reviewing behavior assessments and then developing performance initiatives to increase safe work practices by ten percent in six months. Step goals will guide the committee's actions (frequency and depth) over the next six months to achieve their objective.
Forming the committee
The membership should be from employee and management positions. Management roles can help seek safety improvement funding, provide insights into overall process flow, communicate ideas with other management/leadership, and other valuable responsibilities. Employees are at the "sharp-edge" of the work. They see the work from the doer's perspective with its unique challenges to employee safety. This practical perspective brings real-world credibility and worker-to-worker relationships. Together employees and management bring valuable insights and responsibilities neither one possesses on their own.
Only select committee members that want to be on the committee. Make the role valued and talk up what the committee is achieving in manager and employee meetings. Most people want to do the things their company values and will reward them for doing well. The number of employees and managers on the safety committee should take several variables into consideration:
- The total number of employees employed who the safety committee oversees
- Whether or not the business operates single or multiple shifts
- Whether work performed at a single site or multiple locations
- The complexity of your business operations and unique knowledge of work processes necessary to assess, evaluate, and control hazards.
When determining the right number of members, consider that each employee should know who their safety committee "representative" is and have appropriate access to them, so they can share safety ideas or concerns.
Committee leadership is vital
A committee leader, generally called the "chair", leads the committee, sets up the agenda, leads meetings and hazard assessments, and helps committee members during onboarding and performing their committee responsibilities. The chair should be a stable role and likely serving for a minimum of two or three years. It is good to have a vice-chair who can step in when the chair cannot perform its duties. If your committee is few in numbers, a formal vice-chair role may not be necessary. Another key leadership role is the secretary. This person has a variety of responsibilities:
- Ensure meeting invitations are sent and posted on the safety committee board
- Schedule meetings and meeting rooms
- Take meeting minutes
- Review prior meeting minutes at the next meeting for accuracy and approval
- Collect any available incident forms for the committee to review
- Submit safety recommendations on behalf of the committee
- Maintain/retain records
Committee members provide a stable face for the workforce. Becoming an effective committee member does not happen instantly. Rotation of the committee membership is critical. Once the committee is established, stagger the membership tenure, so there are always experienced committee members to help support the objectives while newer members are learning.
Hazard assessment and evaluation
Hazards are energies that pose a danger of injuries. All committee members require training to assess workplace hazards, adequacy of controls, and to protect themselves from injury while performing their committee duties. Before injuries occur, conduct formal hazard assessments. This proactive step in safety management helps prevent injuries and other workplace losses from taking place. This identification process is vital to the work of an effective safety committee. It helps to have specific hazard assessment checklists for the committee to use, alongside a blank page or two of paper. Checklists can help the focus by guiding the assessor to seek out specific hazardous items and adequacy of controls. While using a blank sheet of paper for noting observations, this supports a broader look. Perform both without leaving the other one out. It is important to appropriately check with employees in the work environment to see if they have any unreported safety concerns that the safety committee should be aware of and check on. The employees have a job to do, so committee members should strive to limit communications about safety and workplace-related issues and keep them brief to avoid unnecessary work interruptions.
When reviewing incident reports, the committee should validate if it was thorough, completed timely, determine if improvement recommendations supplied, and – here is a big piece – were the recommendations implemented and likely effective? These recommendations may come from the employees, incident reports, and the hazard assessments completed before an incident occurs.
The safety committee, in promoting safety and interaction, may choose to host a safety fair and conduct specific safety demonstrations showing the correct (safe) way to do something. For example, the committee could show why pushing a two-wheeled hand cart is safer than pulling (most of the time). Illustrate the value of wearing personal safety protection equipment or set up visual demonstrations displaying a company vehicle's stopping distance at 25, 30, or 40 mph, using cones. Remember, the purpose is to help influence employees' behaviors, to put the safety committee in-front of the workforce, and yes, to potentially have a little fun.
Creation of/participating in a safety committee is a way for employees and management to join together to prevent workplace injuries. This prevention effort can help identify and control exposures before they cause injuries. Effective safety committees provide a way for employees to raise safety concerns and boost morale.