Safety committees are a key component to “self managing” OSHA compliance, not only at big companies, but for small companies too.
They provide a forum where employees and management can address company health and safety concerns in a supportive environment and where tasks and responsibilities can be assigned and managed.
Many companies make the mistake of hiring a safety manager and expecting that they will handle everything alone, which is a recipe for failure.
Safety committees help solve this problem by spreading safety responsibilities across the company and involving a diverse group of employees and management.
We have helped many of our small clients create and manage safety committees and have put together this set of bullet point considerations to help ensure a successful safety committee and potential pitfalls as well.
Keys to a successful Safety Committee:
- Must have management commitment. This means that senior management and ownership not only support the committee, but also attend meetings and actively participate in the process.
- Members, at all levels, must be empowered and trusted to bring up valid issues without fear of retribution, etc.
- Create a schedule and stick to it. This means a minimum of monthly meetings and NEVER cancel or reschedule meetings.
- Meetings should have a defined agenda and scope of responsibilities:
- Reviewing injuries and incidents to identify corrective actions or prevention solutions
- Discuss “near misses” and root cause analysis
- Assist with incident investigations
- Participate in workplace inspections and hazard identification
- Developing safe work practices
- Create and ensure OSHA compliance safety training plan
- Committee should be a made up of a majority of employees (supervisors and front-line), including senior management representatives. Depending on facility size, recommended size is between 5-10 employees
- Train members on what it means to be OSHA compliant
- Established time frame for committee members is typically 1 year at a minimum
- Initially, members should be volunteers, and then continue the volunteer aspect or election by employees
- Establish the following roles: Committee Chair, Vice-Chair & Secretary
- Members need to be trained on their roles and responsibilities
- Committee members are required to attend except in an emergency
- Identify short and long term goals
- Publish the minutes publicly so all employee are aware of the committee’s activities.
- Focus on legitimate safety issues instead of turning the meetings into general gripe forums.
- Members should solution based activities and not become the Safety Police. While they can assist with enforcement, being a safety committee members does not mean they should be writing employees up for safety violations
- Create plan for how to manage potential OSHA inspections
- Lack of management commitment or response. When committee makes recommendations the response is “No, or it’s too expensive,” this can totally undermine the committee and begin a downward spiral
- Habitually cancelling or rescheduling safety committee meetings
- Top heavy management representation. This minimizes employee involvement.
- No clear or defined goals, roles and responsibilities. Committee starts to lose focus.
- Members are not trained on what they are supposed to do.
- Insufficient budget/resources.
- Lack of follow-up on corrective actions or safety recommendations.
- Members lose interest. Typically because they are unable to effect change or management is not taking this seriously.
- Members not allowed to speak openly.
In summary, it’s clear that creating and managing an effective safety committee requires extensive planning, support and commitment. This can be challenging, especially for small companies, but it can mean the difference between providing a safe and healthy workplace for your employees, or the alternative which can include serious injuries, fatalities, failed OSHA inspections and even potential civil and criminal liability for the company and ownership.
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