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February 25, 2008
Safety by Committee? You Bet!

How do safety committees help? Safety committees can perform a number of essential functions:

  • Accident investigations
  • Safety inspections
  • Hazard identification, including job hazard analysis
  • Reporting safety problems to management and recommending corrective action
  • Communicating safety and health policies and other important information to employees
  • Assisting in safety training and selecting training materials
  • Helping to develop and manage safety incentive programs and suggestion systems
  • Serving as role models for safe attitudes and practices

This is by no means a complete list. You can assign more, fewer, or different functions to your safety committee. Often the committee itself participates in selecting its activities. Although the overall goals of all safety committees are accident and cost reduction, there are frequently such desirable side effects as increased job satisfaction and morale and decreased absenteeism and grievances.

How do they work? Typically, management and employees each select their own members for a safety committee. Generally, the committee is composed of an equal number of management personnel and employees.

Why It Matters...
  • Providing a safe and healthy workplace is a big and important job--one has a better chance of success if employees and management work together.
  • Safety committees focus everyone's attention on safety and provide a key channel for communication about safety issues between employees and management.
  • Committees provide an ideal way to get employees involved in your safety programs.
  • Organizations with successful safety committees generally have fewer accidents, lower operating costs, fewer lost workdays, and fewer workers' comp claims.

There should be enough members to carry out various assigned functions, but not so many that it's difficult to conduct productive meetings. All shifts should be represented. In addition, the safety manager is usually involved. It's also a good idea to have a manager with budgetary authority on the committee so that resources can be more easily allocated and committee recommendations can be implemented more efficiently. Once the members have been selected, the committee itself selects a chair and decides on the procedure for rotating the leadership role periodically. Regular meetings of the whole committee should be scheduled at frequent intervals, complete with agendas that include planned activities, reports on previous actions, and follow-ups. Meeting minutes should be kept and distributed to all members and other key people in the organization.

How can you ensure success? The makeup of your committee is as important as structure and goals. Experts say it's not enough to select safety committee members based on availability or popularity. Safety committees require hard work, diligence, interest, and knowledge on the part of members. Characteristics of successful safety committee members include:

  • Commitment to workplace safety
  • Concern for co-workers
  • Leadership qualities
  • Ability to work cooperatively with co-workers and management

Other strategies for success include the following:

  • Choose the right employees, making sure that every member wants and deserves to be there.
  • Rotate leadership and responsibility for the agenda among members.
  • Avoid making a decision just to get an item off the table. Stay with issues until you come up with a solution that has a strong chance of succeeding.
  • Admit mistakes--there's nothing wrong with trial and error.
  • Monitor new policies and procedures to be sure they work. If they don't, change them.
  • Assign individual members specific projects with follow-up responsibility.
  • Make communication-with both employees, with management, and among committee members-a priority.
  • Never forget that the ultimate goal of the committee is a safe, health work environment.
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