Health and safety committees over the past few years have become very effective ways of gaining stronger employee participation and buy-in when it comes to safety, health and welfare matters affecting employees at the workplace.
Such teams can provide a good option for organizations that have a significant number of workers that may be reluctant to take on the role of a health and safety representative, but be willing to participate in a group that can collectively provide input to the organization. A committee may also be effective if you have a large business and need to consult on matters that are the same across a number of work groups or workplaces.
In an ever-evolving workplace, safety practices and standards have very much started focusing on employee engagement and involvement in making safety decisions. This has even become more clear in the recently introduced ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management System, where employee participation in safety decisions is one of the key concepts being presented in the standard.
If health and safety standards are to improve, full cooperation and commitment of employees are essential. Where selected, they must be able to fully participate in the making and monitoring of health and safety arrangements within their workplace in order to gain their interest in accepting their full share of responsibility. Appointing a safety committee is surely one of the methods that can increase that commitment.
Very recently we started safety committees in my current organization, this was generally met with much enthusiasm and personnel involved were more than happy to participate and provide many credible options to some of the workplace safety concerns. I have had some experience organizing these committees in a number of previous organizations and have found that the following formula works the best:
Select a Sponsor: Start by having someone from top management act as a sponsor for the committee, with their biggest responsibility, to ensure that these meetings consistently take place.
It is no secret that successful safety initiatives heavily rely on leadership participation and being the sponsor of such a program is a way for the manager to demonstrate the importance of health and safety to their team, even though they may not always be able to participate themselves due to their other responsibilities.
They can be asked to choose the persons that would best contribute to the team and also be involved in selecting a chairperson for their meetings.
Assign a Chairperson: The chairperson should ideally be someone who is first at a supervisory level, secondly, being genuinely passionate about health and safety at the workplace and thirdly, be an employee of one of the operational departments. It is important that they are not members of the health and safety department.
The chairman is the focal point of contact between the sponsor and the committee and may escalate points directly to the sponsor where further management support is required to resolve high-level health and safety issues. They are to manage the meetings, work with the health and safety department where required and in turn track and delegate actions to members of the team where appropriate.
Provide meeting support: As the chairman or chairwoman normally has much of their own responsibilities, I normally have a person selected as a meeting support. Although I have seen some committees select secretaries and admin assistance for this role, I have found that having a health and safety department representative for this role works best.
In addition to basic administrative tasks such as taking actions and supporting the chairperson with the minutes of the meeting, having a health and safety representative as the meeting support allows for technical safety support to be provided. It is important in this situation to ensure that the safety representative does not take over the meeting and only contributes where required.
Carefully Consider the Members: Members of the different sections of the business need to be represented within the committees. It is preferred that the majority of roles be from the shop floor level or persons directly in charge of conducting the work within the business. Some supervisory positions could also be represented. Such an arrangement provides the best forum where employees could contribute and speak freely within the committee meetings.
The members must be willing to take on responsibilities outside of the meeting and be part of the solution rather than only highlighting safety problems during the consultation. As a rule, I normally worked on the basis that actions can only be assigned to persons present in the meeting, where further support or clarification was needed, one of the members was responsible to follow up or meet with the relevant personnel after the meeting.
The following points highlight some of the basic areas that should be discussed during safety committee meetings, a certain amount of preparation is usually required by the Chairperson as well as the Meeting Support prior to starting:
1. Start with a safety moment highlighting a relevant topic; This could be lessons learnt from an incident, recent safety concerns within the organizations or health and safety moments related to a certain period of time (hot summer months, cold winter periods, turnaround periods etc.). This could also be used as a very brief training opportunity on a common workplace risk.
2. Discuss improved areas from the previous month followed by areas that require further work
3. Review outstanding actions from previous months and ensure accountability and status of the actions are communicated and kept up to date.
4. Discuss any major incidents or near misses and highlight lessons learned and how it would be communicated to the rest of the company.
5. Review previous month health, safety and environmental statistics. Try to focus only on leading indicator data. Allow time for suggestions on how to prevent further future occurrences
6. Select a number of points to be communicated to top management.
As an advisory body, the effectiveness of the committee very much depends on the results it achieves, and this, in turn, depends on actions being taken by the management as well as the sponsor to implement the recommendations. It is at that level only that the recommendations can be truly translated into companywide actions. In time, given consistency in application, management teams will begin to more and more relay on the committees to provide effective solutions to health and safety problems.
All in all, these committees need to be used to empower employees to make health and safety decisions in relation to their workplace. The collective participation in improving health and safety aspects of their organizations has a huge impact on increasing employee morale, leadership and further enhancing the collective safety culture.