96: 10 Tips for Effective Safety Committees

Interview with Drew Hinton, CSP, CHMM, SHRM-CP

Safety Committee

If you don’t currently have a safety committee at your workplace, adding one can seem like a daunting task. Listen to this episode with Drew Hinton, CSP, CHMM, SHRM-CP to get ten tips that are sure to help you create and sustain a successful safety committee!

If you don’t currently have a safety committee at your workplace, adding one can seem like a daunting task. While there are no federal regulations that require a safety committee, your state may be one of the 15+ states that require one under certain situations. For example, Alabama state code requires that “any employer subject to worker’s compensation rules must establish a safety committee upon the written require of any employee.” Connecticut states that “all employers with 25 or more employees, and employers whose rate of injury or illness exceeds the average OSHA recordable injury and illness rates of all industries in the state, must establish safety committees.” However, even if it’s not required by any legislation, it can potentially save you money on your worker’s compensation premiums, but most importantly, it gets your employees engaged in creating a safer, healthier work environment.

Before you can tell everyone that you have a safety committee, below are ten key guidelines that will help ensure you are getting the most out of your safety-leading employees:

  1. How many people should be on your safety committee? As a general rule of thumb, you want between five and ten employees on your committee. Having more than that can produce undesired results, such as meetings lasting longer than expected, creating too much to focus on, and confirmation bias among members. On the contrary, if you don’t have enough members, your committee may suffer from a lack of diversity, too much workload for such a small group, and a seemingly “close-minded” group. If you start out with a specific number during your first few meetings and then realize that you need more to add value and different backgrounds to your committee, you can always add more. It’s better to add more than having to essentially kick someone off the committee just because you need to reduce numbers.
  2. Who should be on your safety committee? When selecting members to be on the committee, you need to do so very carefully and be intentional. Picking people because they are a close friend and/or valued co-worker may seem beneficial, but it can also lead to the confirmation bias issue mentioned previously. At a minimum, you want to have at least one member on your committee from each department/area. For example, you may have the following departments/areas represented on your committee: EHS, production, maintenance, field service, general shop, engineering, and management. Some companies will choose not to have upper management attend the meetings (e.g., General Manager, Vice President, etc.) due to people being afraid to speak up and say something with them in the room. However, if you have established psychological safety in the workplace (which is another issue in itself), this shouldn’t be an issue. If you do feel that management may cause fear in others, maybe have them attend every other meeting, or simply follow-up with them separately after the meeting to review the meeting minutes with them one-on-one.By doing this, you can take the ideas of your fellow safety committee members to management and present them in an informal, yet documented session.
  3. How often should your safety committee meet? Most safety committees will meet at least once a month. However, this can vary depending on the size of your company. If your safety committee consists of multiple facilities, it may be best to meet quarterly, but stay in contact at least once a month. If you have a smaller group of members, you can schedule micro-sessions. Instead of meeting for one hour per month, it may be more efficient to meet for 15-20 minutes per week.
  4. I have a safety committee member who never shows up. Now what? Your safety committee policy should outline the minimum expectations of the members. Typically on an active and efficient committee, you need to require that all members attend at least 75% of the meetings during each calendar year.If a member falls below this quota, you should consider getting an alternative person to come in their place. Keep in mind, however, that the act of being on the safety committee should be completely voluntary, never forced.
  5. Once I’ve established a safety committee, do the members stay on indefinitely? Depending on the size of your company, this is up to you. However, as a best practice, rotating out the members on an annual basis will bring a fresh set of minds to the table to allow varying perspectives and ideas. You can have members serve from January 1st through December 31st, July 1st through June 30th, or whatever predefined term you want to go with. I will note that not every member needs to be rotated off. For example, you will want to keep the EHS Dept. and department/area supervisors on, but maybe swap out the hourly/front-line workers.
  6. What will your safety committee do? This is where you need to determine the goals and objectives of the safety committee. Some may want safety committees to review recent work-related injuries and illnesses, some may want them to be the go-to person in each department/area for safety-related issues and concerns, whereas others may want to get the committee involved with performing various workplace inspections (e.g., fire extinguishers, housekeeping, etc.).Safety committees can serve as a great cross-functional team for getting various safety-related tasks completed in the different areas of your workplace. Regardless of what you determine your goals and objectives to be, you need to do more than just meet once a month to review items that could have been sent out in an email. Of course, you want the safety committee to help maintain a safe workplace, but the big question is how will you do that? That is something you will need to determine based on your site-specific needs, but whatever you decide, be sure to document and track your short-term and long-term goals.
  7. How should you track the progress of your safety committee? If you have your goals established and documented, you need to track the progress throughout the year. This can be done independently or it can be included as part of your company’s KPIs, but regardless, you need to see a progression. If your goal is to implement a new incident investigation process, be sure and document the completion of each step. If you assigned a specific task to someone, follow up with them and offer assistance if they need it.Remember, you are steering the committee, but you are also in your position to be a coach and mentor when it comes to safe work practices and ensuring everyone meets minimum requirements.
  8. Should the items discussed during meetings be communicated to the rest of the company? ABSOLUTELY! Topics and discussions covered at each meeting should be documented and put into some form of “Meeting Minutes” document, then published so that the company can see that you’re not just sitting around at 7:00 AM every week eating donuts and talking about the news (although, that may happen from time to time!). The meeting minutes should be posted on an employee bulletin board, sent out via email, or communicated in whatever method you see fit.Employees who are aware that their company has an active safety committee and are “in the loop” of what’s going on tend to feel better about how the company takes safety as a whole.
  9. What if my employees work remotely or are “out in the field”? There are numerous web-based platforms that employees can interact from either a computer or a smartphone. You can choose from Microsoft Teams, Skype, GoToMeeting, WebEx, or a number of other different video conference call programs. This allows employees to call in from wherever they are, as well as see the documents and PowerPoint slides that you have to show.Not being in one place at the same time is not an excuse to not have a safety committee. This may also be a great idea to have a periodic meeting in which you have safety committees from other facilities call in so that you can meet others from across the country (or world) and gain even more diversity and experience. Use it to your benefit!
  10. Will my safety committee guarantee a safer workplace? Nothing will guarantee a safe workplace, but it will certainly help. If utilized properly and efficiently, the committee will help identify unsafe conditions and behaviors, help determine corrective actions, and boost compliance with applicable standards. BUT, that doesn’t mean this is the miraculous bag of solutions that will solve all the world’s problems. Even though it may help, it won’t fix everything. It takes a lot of effort from all employees at all levels to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.

You, along with the rest of the safety committee, must adapt to the changing times and determine how to approach your site-specific hazards. You are the ones that know your workplace better than anyone, so you need to determine what works best for you. There is no “cookie-cutter” curriculum for establishing a safety committee, but hopefully, these tips will help guide you on the path to progression!

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