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Effective Safety Committees: A "How To"

Originally created by the Minnesota Safety Council for publication in the Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust publication Wellsping. Used with permission.

Joint labor-management safety committees have the potential to be an effective tool for enhancing workplace safety and health. But just how effective is your safety committee? This article will provide you with tools to evaluate your committee, and suggestions for improving it.

Guidelines for committee members

Safety committee representatives should understand that they are expected to be active contributors—the committee will not survive unless all members share responsibility for accomplishing its goals. The following guidelines provide expectations for members and can also be used as an evaluation tool:
  • Come to committee meetings on time and prepared.
  • Show respect for the committee leader.
  • Be an active and positive contributor.
  • Share your knowledge and experience.
  • Ask questions to increase your understanding.
  • Speak up when you disagree.
  • Help the committee leader bring ideas together.
  • Help the committee leader and members stay focused on the meeting goals.
  • Encourage others to participate.
  • Be flexible with your own opinions so that the group can build consensus.
  • Follow through with your committee assignments.
  • Set a good example/work safely—be a role model.
Top ten mistakes (and solutions for them)

Even with the best of intentions, a safety committee can fail to function effectively. Some common mistakes (and solutions for them) follow:

1. Lack of purpose/unclear mission and goals. A safety committee needs to identify its purpose and set clear goals. As a result, the members of the committee will have a common vision of what they are trying to accomplish.
2. Wrong size. Committees need to represent both labor and management. Committees that are too small do not always have adequate representation or enough people to carry out their mission. On the other hand, when a committee has too many members, it can slow down progress and it may take longer to reach consensus.
3. Inadequate training. Committee members need the necessary skills and information to fulfill their responsibilities.
4. Lack of leadership. A good leader will not only keep meetings focused on the issues, but will be able to stimulate and motivate committee members to participate.
5. Ineffective meetings. An effective meeting will include an agenda.
6. Lack of follow-up. Actions, decisions and assignments must be taken seriously, with follow-up from committee members.
7. Lack of communication. Minutes are a key communication tool for a safety committee. Minutes document and communicate the accomplishments of the committee. Minutes must be distributed and/or posted.
Remember: Communication does not occur unless there is understanding between the message sender and receiver. Checking for understanding and receiving feedback will help ensure effective communication.
8. Management domination. Remember that this is about joint labor-management committees.
9. Lack of member participation. Committee members must take their role seriously. Refer to "Guidelines for committee members" (above) for more details.
10. Lack of top management support. Management commitment is essential for a safety committee to realize its full potential. A safety committee will not survive without top management support and commitment. Demonstrating management support includes:
  • providing resources (time and funds) so that the committee can carry out its function
  • acting on committee recommendations
  • recognizing the committee's contributions.
What should a safety committee do?

There is no blueprint that fits every workplace. Each committee will need to be tailored to specific circumstances, and to its mission. Sub-committees can be formed to help a committee take on a greater number of activities. This also provides a mechanism for encouraging greater employee involvement. Activities and functions that a safety committee can be involved in include:
  • Educate workers in safe practices
  • Prepare inspection check lists for each department
  • Conduct regular safety inspections to identify hazards
  • Recommend corrective actions
  • Deal with employee safety complaints and suggestions
  • Investigate incidents (accidents) and make recommendations for corrective action
  • Review incidents (accident investigation reports)
  • Review and make recommendations on updating safety policies and procedures
  • Develop fact sheets or a newsletter
  • Conduct safety programs
  • Conduct or organize safety training
  • Work on both on-the-job and off-the-job issues
  • Assist in conducting job safety analyses
  • Conduct one-to-one meetings of committee reps and employees
  • Develop and implement an incentive system
  • Receive safety suggestions from co-workers; convey these to the committee
  • Organize a safety or wellness fair.
Keep the committee visible—promote its activities and accomplishments. Generate excitement about what you are doing.

Evaluation

Last but not least, an important activity of an effective safety committee is evaluation. Effective committees know where they've been and where they're going. Periodically evaluate your committee's strengths and weaknesses.

At least once a year devote a safety committee meeting to the following: 1) identify the committee's achievements over the past 12 month, 2) review work on the committee's key activities and 3) set new goals.

Success stories
  • The safety committee from a Minnesota manufacturing company conducted an exchange visit with a similar facility in Canada. They toured each other's operations, exchanged ideas, engaged in problem solving on safety issues, reviewed each other's safety statistics, and provided suggestions for improvement. According to a member of the Minnesota committee, this process was a very valuable learning experience, and provided new ideas for safety improvements that could prevent incidents.
  • The safety committee for a large suburb of Minneapolis brainstormed what they could do to improve employee safety and health. They focused on the goal of improving driving performance. The committee then investigated the array of training options available from numerous organizations—videos, computer based training, and instructor-led training—to determine which program would be the most beneficial. They settled on an instructor-based defensive driving course and submitted their recommendation to the city. The course was then delivered over a period of time to over 100 employees. At the beginning of each class the safety committee was given recognition for their efforts.
  • The safety committee at a Minneapolis plant has been instrumental in reducing the plant's lost time accident rate. One of the committee's first tasks was to tackle an existing safety incentive scheme and give it a more positive focus. The old system was directly linked to accidents and employee attendance. Instead of looking at accident records, the incentive is now linked to safety initiatives taken by individuals or a department—for example, undertaking safety inspections. The program illustrates smart thinking on the part of the of the committee because it recognizes that everyone should be involved in accident prevention, and it helps raise safety awareness.
Here's what folks at the plant are saying about the committee: "...people are more conscious of safety issues." "Everyone here is more committed to safety." "This committee has forged a new way of thinking about safety and developed a partnership for safety between management and the union." "We are now working closer with management to get things (safety improvements) done."

Resources:
Oregon OSHA
International Labour Organization
Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma
NJ public employees OS & H program
Resource Environmental Associates ltd

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