A well-trained safety committee is a very valuable tool to help management provide a safe workplace for employees and improve the bottom line of any company, large or small.
A safety committee should be comprised of managers, supervisors, workers and union representatives. This committee should reflect a diverse cross-section of the work force. Employee participation is very important to this committee. Volunteers, rather than appointees, are more likely to be active and interested in fulfilling the mission of the safety committee.
The purpose of the safety committee is to assist management in providing a safe workplace. The committee members, being active safety advocates, accomplish this. Acting as the liaison between workers and management, committee members work to ensure a cooperative effort to improve safety in the workplace.
Some of the tasks involved include discussing and resolving employee safety concerns, keeping safety awareness at a high level and creating procedures to ensure a safe work environment. Other tasks may include providing or sponsoring safety training to the employees, reviewing incident reports for trends or problems, participating in accident investigations and near-hit investigations, and evaluating personal protective equipment. To accomplish these tasks, the committee should meet regularly. As you can see from this short list, safety committee members need in-depth training to do their job.
Being an Advocate
To be an effective advocate, you must understand what you are advocating and why. Therefore, committee members should be instructed on the reasons for a safe work place and working safely. This instruction should include the reasons for a safe workplace, such as not wanting to hurt another human being. It should also review the business case for safety, including the fact that the higher the injury rate, the higher the costs (direct and indirect) to the business.
Some of the other topics to cover with the committee are the responsibilities of the employer and the employee according to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and understanding the safety regulations enforced by OSHA. Other specific topics should include recordkeeping requirements, hazard recognition and correction for the company's specific industry, conducting job safety analyses and other auditing tools, job safety observations, correct techniques for accident and incident investigations, and effective meeting practices. Specific training on OSHA regulations should include personal protective equipment (PPE), hazard communication (HAZCOM), bloodborne pathogens, lockout/tagout procedures, ergonomics, emergency procedures, housekeeping and any other topics that may be pertinent to the specific tasks of the workers.
Training of the safety committee is an ongoing process, not a one-day session. This training can be accomplished by having outside experts come into the committee meetings and cover one or two topics at a time. Also, the safety training given to all employees will cover many of the same topics, such as the existing safe procedures, HAZCOM, PPE, lockout/tagout, ergonomics and emergency procedures.
The term of a committee member should be a minimum of one year. The terms of committee members should be staggered so as not to completely remove the experience and training gained by existing members.
As you can see, having a safety committee change a portion of its membership each year makes the training of the committee members very important. The training is ongoing throughout the year. Once the initial members of the committee are trained, they can be the trainers of the next committee members. By rotating membership and providing training to each new member of the committee, the number of workers and management who have gained this valuable safety training and experience grows over the years. They will use this knowledge and experience on their job while members of the committee and long after they are off the committee.
Communicating the efforts and projects of the safety committee to the rest of the employees keeps the committee accountable to get the projects accomplished. This also encourages others to volunteer to be on the committee. This communication can be through a company newsletter, at a meeting or simply on a bulletin board in common areas.
Minutes of committee meetings should be kept to keep track of progress on projects. Information such as the date/time of the meeting, members present, issues discussed, training given to committee members, recommendations and responsibilities for action items should be recorded. Meeting minutes are not complicated to keep. One member can take the notes each meeting on a rotating basis. This same member can organize, type and distribute the minutes to each committee member and to the appropriate person or place for storage.
By having a well-trained, organized and energized safety committee, safety in the workplace can be kept in the forefront of the minds of workers and management and be considered as much a core value as production and quality.
About the author: Wayne Vanderhoof, WSO-CSS, is an independent safety consultant in southwestern Pennsylvania. He consults with manufacturing plants, light industrial environments, and off-ice environments. He is a member of the World Safety Organization.