National Safety Month and the importance of safety committees

Local governments, authorities and schools are challenged daily to develop effective safety programs that reduce workers’ compensation losses, resulting in both direct and indirect losses to both employee and employer.

The effectiveness of a safety program is increased by use of safety committees as a part of the overall program.

Safety committees

Safety committees encourage employee participation and provide invaluable communication between employees and management. Through regular meetings, they become a setting for creative problem solving and information gathering.

Further, safety committees provide a mechanism for employee recognition. Local governments, authorities and schools are encouraged to consider these advantages and evaluate their need to make safety committees a part of their total risk management programs.

Purpose of workplace safety committees/teams

A safety committee is a key element to achieving continuous improvement in a safety process.  The purpose of a safety committee is to regularly bring workers and management together in a non-adversarial, cooperative effort to promote safety and health in the workplace.  A safety team assists the employer and makes recommendations for change regarding occupational safety and health issues.  The committee’s primary focus is to detect and correct workplace hazards.

There are many benefits to having an effective safety committee/team. They:

  • Assist in the reduction in the number of workplace injuries and illnesses;
  • Promote employee participation;
  • Increase employee safety awareness in the workplace; and
  • Extend the effectiveness of the existing safety program by sharing safety responsibilities.

Safety committees are not required by OSHA, however, a safety committee is considered a basic element of a safety program and is viewed by OSHA as an indicator of an organization’s safety efforts.

Five-step action plan to start a safety committee/team

Listed below are the five basic steps that can be used to plan, develop and implement a joint workplace safety and health committee.  A brief description of each step is provided.

Step I    –  Establish the foundation
Step II   – Recruit safety committee members
Step III  –  Form safety committee
Step IV –  Conduct safety committee meetings
Step V   –  Perform follow–up activities

It is important to establish projected completion dates for each step in order to keep plans on track.  “Planning Guide” pages are provided for each of the five steps to assist employees and employers in this process.

Step I – Establish the foundation

Many factors can contribute to the successful operation of a safety committee.  Management commitment, employee participation, planning, training, documentation, communication and follow-up are all essential to a safety committee’s success.  The following are the key elements, that have been identified by the National Safety Council that contribute to the success of a safety committee:

  • A common objective and function
  • A joint commitment to achieve accident prevention
  • Mutual trust and respect
  • Mutual support
  • Effective communications
  • Reasonable, attainable and measurable objectives
  • Effective problem solving system
  • Effective conflict resolution system which is non-adversarial
  • Utilization of all member resources

Step II – Recruit safety committee members

Successful and effective committees must have competent leaders and dedicated members.  All employees must be actively involved in the workplace safety program.  Management commitment from the top to the lowest level of supervision must be vocal, visible and continuous.

Employee representatives must feel free to express their views and be committed to safe work practices.  Listed below are examples of actions that will be required of the management and employee committee members to ensure the success of the safety committee.

Management commitment can be demonstrated through the following actions:

  • Provide support from the top level down to first line supervisors in terms of  time, effort and money
  • Resolve scheduling and personnel conflicts
  • Provide realistic dates for correcting safety and health concerns
  • Support training for committee members
  • Provide leadership and direction
  • Attend safety committee meetings
  • Promote the positive effects of safety committee activities on an individual basis or at group meetings
  • Respond to recommendations in a timely manner

Employee actions that demonstrate active involvement and commitment to workplace safety include:

  • Identify safety and health hazards in the workplace
  • Report all unsafe conditions and practices in accordance with the safety committee procedures
  • Contribute to or make suggestions for improving workplace safety and health
  • Participate in committee activities
  • Follow procedures and practices adopted by the safety committee
  • Cooperate with safety committee members in the performance of their duties
  • Consider becoming a member of the committee

Step III – Form safety committee

One of the key components to effective safety management is a safety committee.  A committee ensures that safety is treated as an integral function of the organization, with an empowered membership of frontline workers, middle managers and executives who can routinely identify and solve the organization’s safety problems.

Equal members of management/employee representatives are to be selected to insure that an organization’s safety committee is successful.  Employees are asked to select representatives to serve as members of the safety committee.  Management representatives are chosen by the employer based on knowledge, dedication to safety, and the ability to interact with others toward effective results on the safety committee. Once formed, the committee can then choose a chair or co-chair to provide meeting leadership and structure.

Step IV – Conduct safety committee meetings

All safety committees should hold regularly scheduled meetings; monthly meetings are recommended to achieve maximum effectiveness.  Safety committees, however, should also be flexible enough to respond to changing situations and no correction should be delayed because a meeting is not scheduled in the near future.

Every meeting should follow an agenda.  A standard agenda helps the committee members prepare for the meetings.  Once again, the unique situations and arrangements of each workplace should dictate the agenda to follow, but an established order of business should be followed as much as possible.  Minutes should be taken at each meeting.  Include a listing of specific responsibilities, the individuals assigned and scheduled inspection dates.

An important item of business is a review of recommendations the committee has made and a report on actions being taken.  If recommendations are not followed, the committee should be told why, whether corrections are to be delayed and when they will be carried out.  Another important part of the safety committee meeting is the training component.  This time allows members to learn about successful safety methods.

Step V – Perform follow-up activities

Maintain documentation of the committee’s activities.  This includes keeping minutes of meetings as well as documentation of other activities.  A good written record makes it possible to monitor the safety committee’s progress on all of its activities, particularly, eliminating hazards and identifying accident and illness patterns.  The more complete the notes, the more through the committee will be in preparing reports and following up on tasks.