Kevin Ian Schmidt

Establishing a Safety Committee

An effective safety committee may not only help prevent employees’ from getting hurt or killed on the job, it may help decrease future direct and indirect accident costs. An effective safety committee is a profit center, not a cost center for the company.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 3 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported by private industry employers in 2016. According to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, U.S. businesses spend more than one billion dollars a week on serious, nonfatal workplace injuries.

What do these statistics mean to you? Effective “profit center” safety committees have the potential to save not only lives and limbs, but lots of money. Many thousands of dollars each year can be saved in each company every time a safety committee uncovers and helps the employer eliminate hazardous conditions or unsafe work practices.

Every dollar invested in proactive safety, including safety committee activities, may return hundreds back. You’ve got to convince management that an effective safety committee not only saves lives, but saves money too.

To help the safety committee function better, each member must understand this basic principle:

What we do depends on who we think we are.

For example, if safety committee members:

  • believe they are consultants, they will do and say things that send a message they can be trusted. Employees will seek their help and appreciate their work.
  • believe they are cops, they will do and say things in a manner that is likely to result in mistrust. And, as we know, an effective safety culture can not exist in a climate of mistrust.

Benefits of a Safety Committee

  • The safety committee performs the role of a internal consultant to the employer. If your employer hired an external consultant it would cost thousands of dollars for the same service the safety committee can provide in-house.
  • The safety committee acts as a forum for management and labor to communicate safety related concerns. The benefits from improved communications may be hard to quantify, but they may be substantial.
  • Every hazard the safety committee identifies and is directly involved in eliminating results in significant savings in potential accident costs. We’ll talk more about this later.
  • The safety committee can serve as a valuable problem solving group that addresses workplace conditions, morale and quality. By developing solutions, the safety committee improves the company’s competitive advantage.
  • The safety committee is an excellent opportunity for employees to improve their professional skills in communications, human relations, problem solving, meeting management, and analysis. Since supervisors and managers should be informed about occupational safety and health, the safety committee is a natural “school” of preparation for future company managers. In fact, some companies even make it a prerequisite.

The Safety Committee Vision Statement

To better understand and convey the role of your safety committee as an internal consultant team providing expert advice and assistance, think about creating a “vision statement.” The vision statement describes who you are. A good vision statement will help you determine what to do and make it more likely that you’ll realize that vision.

A committee with an appropriate vision is more likely to do the following to achieve their vision:

  • survey and interview employees to find out what they are thinking and feeling;
  • observe employees to analyze behaviors;
  • inspect the workplace to uncover hazardous conditions;
  • audit safety programs;
  • uncover the surface and root causes of safety problems;
  • develop and submit written recommendations;
  • monitor the progress of corrective actions and system improvements; and
  • evaluate the long-term quality of the safety culture.

Sample Vision Statement: “The safety committee helps management lead in creating a world-class safety culture through educating employees and consulting with management.”

The Safety Committee Mission Statement

A safety committee should write a mission statement that explains what they do to support their vision. The purpose of the safety committee might be viewed as its mission and describes the activities above to support its assigned role.

Sample Mission Statement: “It is the mission of the Safety Committee of XYZ Company to promote a safe working environment for all employees by assisting in the overall effort to minimize the frequency of accidents, and to identify corrective measures needed to eliminate or control recognized safety hazards.”

It is also good for your safety committee to have a slogan, something they can push out in their internal marketing efforts to raise awareness around safety. Check out this post on safety committee slogans.

As a safety committee member, you perform multiple roles. Let’s see how this affects your responsibilities:

  • Safety committee member: When performing the role of a safety committee member you are basically performing the role of an internal consultant:
    • Warn employees, but do not report “names” to the supervisor.
    • Report unsafe behaviors to the committee chairperson so the safety committee can discuss how to fix the surface and root causes.
    • Help managers and supervisors gain the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to better enforce, supervise, and manage safety by giving them useful information.
    • Listen to employee concerns and suggestions about safety and give that information to the safety committee.
    • Educate and assist employees, but do not try to enforce safety rules: that’s a line responsibility.
  • Line employee: When performing the role of a line employee, you have a responsibility to warn the employee, but again, you’re not a cop. Report the behavior to your safety committee member, and if you are comfortable with it, to your supervisor without naming names.
  • Supervisor/Manager: When performing the role of supervisor or manager, you are the agent of the employer and are legally the “cop” who should enforce safety.
    • If you catch someone misbehaving and you have properly trained them, they have the proper resources, time, support, etc., you’re probably justified in disciplining the employee.
    • Address behaviors with everyone in training and safety meetings. It resets employee accountability when the supervisor tells all employees they are not allowed to engage in a particular unsafe behavior.

Safety Committee Written Policy

It’s important to make sure the safety committee has a written policy statement to guide its actions.

The policy statement should include:

  • the role and purpose(s) of the safety committee;
  • reasons for establishing the safety committee;
  • the need for management and employee participation;
  • the need for support by all departments;
  • responsibilities of the committee; and
  • duties of committee members.

What kind of structure should the safety committee take? Typically, the committee will have a chairperson (some will also have a co-chair), a recorder, and of course a number of members. You don’t need a complicated bureaucratic structure.

Duties of the Chairperson

The chairperson’s job is, of course, one of the most important on the committee. He or she is the key coordinator ensuring the safety committee operates effectively. Below are some of the very important responsibilities of the chairperson.

  • prepare an agenda for meetings
  • arrange for meeting room
  • notify members of meeting dates/times
  • distribute agenda
  • delegate responsibilities
  • preside and conduct the meeting
  • enforce committee ground rules
  • communicate with the employer
  • report the status of recommendations

Duties of the Safety Committee Recorder

Let’s not forget another very important responsibility: that of the recorder or secretary. This person assists the chairperson in making sure all communications are accurately recorded and distributed to committee members and others. Some duties of the recorder may include:

  • assisting the chairperson with agenda;
  • recording minutes of the meeting;
  • distributing and posting the minutes; and
  • assuming the chairperson’s duties if necessary.

Duties of the Safety Committee Member

For the safety committee to operate most effectively, everyone on the committee needs to be involved in some way. Safety committee members should do more than just report safety concerns from their departments. Below are some ideas for members.

  • Receive suggestions, concerns, reports from employees.
  • Report employee suggestions, concerns, reports to committee.
  • Report back to employees on their suggestions, concerns, reports.
  • Attend all safety committee meetings.
  • Receive training on safety and health subjects.
  • Review injury and illness reports.
  • Monitor safety and health programs and system.
  • Set example by taking action.
  • Conduct safety inspections.
  • Make recommendations for corrective action.
  • Assist in communicating committee activities to all employees.

Safety Committee Members

If one of the purposes of the safety committee is to bring management and labor together in a cooperative effort to improve the safety and health of workers, it just makes business sense to include representatives from management ranks as well as the work floor.

Management and labor can sit together and discuss their unique and common concerns regarding safety. The safety committee becomes a forum both management and labor may use, to ensure mutually acceptable solutions to problems can be reached.

It’s important the safety committee not be dominated by management in general, or any one individual, be it the safety director, chairperson, or member. To make sure this does not happen, establish ground rules, and techniques for decision-making that promotes group consensus.

Management representatives and the chairperson will be the primary conduits of communications between the safety committee and the employer. Committee members are the primary communicators with employees. It’s very important communication occurs in both directions.

The Safety Committee’s Purpose

Armed with insight into the role of the safety committee, let’s take a look at what the committee’s purpose and function might be. We’ll start by looking at the purpose of the safety committee. A quick review of our friendly dictionary once again defines “purpose” as “a desired or intended result or effect.”

For safety committees to be successful in fulfilling their role, they need to understand their purpose and how to go about achieving intended outcomes. If the safety committee does not understand it’s purpose, it may actually function to produce unintended outcomes.

Safety committees are created and developed to fulfill the following purposes:

  • help to protect the employer by providing useful information;
  • help to protect the employee by responding to safety concerns;
  • bring labor and management together in a cooperative way to solve problems;
  • help the employer educate and motivate all employees about the importance of safety; and
  • help the employer educate and motivate all supervisors and managers to identify hazards and take corrective action.

All these purpose statements emphasize the safety committee’s responsibility to help the employer do (manage) safety, not to do safety for the employer. This important idea is why we encourage safety committees to think of themselves as internal consultant groups, but not as safety “cop squads.”

Enforcing Safety Rules is Not the Safety Committee’s Job

Remember, writing “tickets” for violating safety rules can be especially disastrous to the success of the safety committee’s effectiveness: Don’t do it. Enforcing safety is considered managing safety and is a line responsibility from the CEO down through first line supervisor.

 

The “Function” of the Safety Committee

Purpose and function are related terms, but differ significantly in meaning. “Function” is: Something closely related to another thing and dependent on it for its existence, value, or significance. This definition implies that “function” is dependent on the “purpose” of the safety committee.

Whereas a purpose statement describes the intended result or effect of a safety committee activity, “function” describes the actual unintended result or effect. The actual outcome depends on the success of the attempt to carry out the intended purpose. If the safety committee does not effectively carry out its intended purpose, it may unintentionally function to hurt the company’s safety and health effort.

The safety committee’s function is dependent upon the effectiveness of a group to follow through with its stated purpose. The safety committee may have the best intentions, but if it cannot follow through effectively with its plans, it may actually function to harm a safety program or activity rather than help it.

Without education and training, safety committee members may not have the basic knowledge, skills, and abilities (SKAs) to perform their responsibilities. Given proper education and training, the safety committee is more likely to function to carry out its intended purpose.

For instance, the safety committee may intend to increase interest in safety by implementing a safety incentive program, but if its members do not have the SKAs to accomplish this task, they may unintentionally develop a totally reactive incentive program that results in dismal failure.

 

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