Safety Committees: What and Why (Part Three of Three)

Jesse Brazzell, CHST
Manager Safety Services
Safety Management Group

(See Part Two of Three)

SafetyCommitteePatchSafety committees can be very effective channels for delivering safety information to the entire workforce, and for encouraging feedback and suggestions from the workers. But some of the most well-intentioned safety committees fall far short of management’s expectations – usually for one of several common reasons. By better understanding the potential pitfalls and taking steps to prevent them, your company can ensure that your safety committee will be more effective and have better prospects for success.

Clear roadmap. Successful committees have clear missions, achievable visions – and well-thought-out agendas. I can’t overstate the importance of developing an agenda and sticking to it. Setting a time limit is important, too. Keeping the meeting to an hour or less is the best way to head off the common problem of meetings that drag on forever and accomplish little in the process. It also minimizes the chance that committee members will feel that their time is being wasted.

Solid focus. Safety committees typically cover a wide array of issues, so they have to be careful that they don’t get bogged down by a single matter that consumes far too much time. For example, if the safety committee determines that an incentive plan would be a good idea, they shouldn’t devote hours and hours to working out the finer points. Instead, they could ask the company’s HR staff to explore the idea, or set up a subcommittee to bring it to life. Taking a high-level approach in meetings makes the best use of members’ time and energy.

Convenient location. A meeting site that isn’t convenient for all of the participants discourages active participation. The most effective committees are those that rotate meeting sites so that all members have the opportunity to have meetings that are convenient for them. That also adds some variety and allows members to see work environments that are different from theirs. (If that’s the case, you may also want to set aside some time at each meeting for a brief tour of the site.) Having the meeting at the corporate office makes it far too easy for the company’s representatives to be dragged out of the meeting to solve that hour’s crisis.

Real-world examples. The committee can try to understand a particular safety challenge, but they’ll be more effective if they can get a firsthand look it. Take fall protection. It’s possible for the committee to talk about harnesses and lanyards in an office, but the discussion is much more likely to be beneficial if the members are at a site where fall protection is needed, and they can see how it will be used (or how it can be misused). Another effective strategy is to encourage the committee to perform walk-throughs to identify potential safety infractions. When the members spot shortcomings on other parts of the site, they’ll pay more attention to what happens in their own areas.

Communicate consistently. Since your committee is a channel between those responsible for safety and those who are being protected, set up mechanisms for two-way communication. Keep workers informed about what the committee is discussing and what decisions it has made. Publicize the names and locations of committee members, so that workers can approach them with concerns or ideas. Post committee minutes or summaries on bulletin boards.

Celebrate successes. Being on a committee is hard work, and it’s easy to lose sight of successes. That’s why it’s a good idea to take time to recognize and take credit for successful outcomes. If one of the goals was lowering injuries, and the current quarter’s level is well below the previous quarter, make a point of it. Communicate it to the workers, too, because it will strengthen the committee’s reputation. Remember, nothing breeds success like success.

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