By Vinny Gallo, VRSA Senior Safety Consultant
June is National Safety Month, and according to the National Safety Council (NSC), “now, more than ever, safety is crucial both inside and outside the workplace.”
This year, the NSC will be focusing on mental health, ergonomics, building a safety culture, and driving.
One important part of building a safety culture is having a safety committee. Commonly, organizations will delegate the vast majority of safety related responsibilities to one individual or department. However, while it is important to have a facilitator within the process, safety responsibilities must be shared within the organization as a whole.
A well-constructed safety committee with defined responsibilities and organizational buy-in can help foster the team-based approach to safety to ensure an organization can succeed.
City of Winchester Safety Committee
Towns and cities often struggle with their safety culture, due to their diverse operations. Some municipalities have workplace safety cultures that cause the organization to feel that individual departments are run as entirely separate organizations.
The City of Winchester is a key example of a municipality that strives to break the mold and operate its inclusive safety culture with a team-based approach. Winchester identified its key department stakeholders and selected representatives from its public services, police, fire and rescue, social services, parks and recreation, human resources, and the emergency management departments to help ensure all employees are provided a safe and healthy workplace.
The Safety Committee in Winchester has accomplished many feats in relation to its safety culture, but its complete review and revision of its written safety programs, with coordination from all safety committee members, is a noteworthy achievement.
Many organizations have written safety programs that are inundated with complex written policies and procedures that may be OSHA compliant in writing, but employees are rarely aware of what is included in these written programs, nor do they accurately reflect current practices.
The City of Winchester’s Safety Committee did a thorough review of its safety program and was able to generalize its written program to reflect an organization-wide approach and ensure it was not only an OSHA compliant safety program, but it was understandable for all employees. With collaboration from all of its members, the organization-wide safety program was able to condense the written safety program from more than 100 pages to approximately ten pages.
Safety committees quite often lose their way due to never establishing their purpose or mission. The City of Winchester’s Safety Committee has embedded itself into the workplace culture by meeting monthly to discuss the four functions that it can influence to build on as well as sustain its successes: written policy review, workplace injury and accident procedures, exposure control plans, and safety training.
Below, find more tips on ways to structure and organize your organization’s safety committee:
The members of a safety committee reflect on the committee itself. Committee members must be dedicated to their duties of being a central part of the safety culture. An organization should select an equal number of representatives from each of their main departments/divisions. The safety committee should not be a group of only leadership members and executives. Safety committees should have a balanced representation of employees and supervisors committed to safety.
The committee should include a mixture of senior staff who have seen the ups and downs of the organization, as well as less tenured staff who may bring new ideas and perspective to the group. Committee member positions should be filled in terms of which personalities would contribute and work together the best.
Tasks and Activities
Safety committees must be delegated meaningful duties to establish their legitimacy within an organization. Safety committee meetings without set responsibilities tend to turn into informal workplace gripe sessions. It is important to realize the human factor in these meetings and ensure committee members stay focused and on-task to improving the safety culture within the workplace.
Below are examples of tasks and activities that can be assigned to a safety committee:
- Take Your Committee in the Field: Periodic workplace inspections of departments, worksites, or buildings as a team can help give your committee a face within the organization and show action. During the inspection, processes and hazards should be reviewed and discussed. The committee can provide a document/report to the department with an after-action response required by the department to be reviewed by the safety committee.
- Task Your Committee Members: Prior to meetings, assign “homework” to committee members, such as to determine three safety risks specific to their department. The committee members should come prepared to the meeting with their three risks as well as possible solutions to those risks. Committee members must brainstorm the risks and solutions with their departments beforehand to obtain a collective response. Each group of risks can be added to a risk register and evaluated and modified as needed at each meeting to review progress.
- Safety Incentives: Successful safety incentive programs are built upon collaboration between the incentive organizers and incentive participants. Delegating safety incentive program creation and oversight to a safety committee can be seen as a helpful attribute within an organization to establish positive value to the committee. Many incentives such as “Safety Act of the Month,” safety training incentive raffles, and recognition programs can be built on a minimal budget.
- Incident and Injury Review: Safety committees should have access to some level of near-miss, incident, and injury reviews. When an incident occurs, an organization should ask themselves what can be done to prevent a re-occurrence? Determining collective post-action response as a committee or requiring post-action response by departments or supervisors can be valuable.
Obtaining true organization buy-in may be the toughest aspect when building a successful safety culture. Many organizations start building their safety culture at the bottom, which can provide some value in terms of increasing attitudes at a department level. However, without top-level buy-in, the safety culture of an organization will always be held back from its full potential. Management has the ultimate responsibility for the safety culture, but the safety committee can have an important role in assisting management with the success of a positive safety culture.
An organization can help obtain buy-in by displaying leadership and executive support for the committee. If an organization wants a true safety committee, then it must allow the committee to have a seat at the table and value its input and contributions. A safety committee without a voice may be seen as only a collection of employees on an extended lunch break. An organization’s employees will respond to the safety committee in the same manner as its executives and leaderships perceive the committee.
Developing internal policies and/or charters for your organizational safety committee will help establish the committee’s validity within the organization. However, a written policy is only as good as the follow through. If, over time, the committee disbands informally or needs a kick start, do not wait to give it new life to try again. A well-structured safety committee is like a machine that will always be in motion to evaluate and build upon the safety culture as needed.