Effective safety committees
Are you tapping into workers’ knowledge?
Tim Morse, professor emeritus for the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, co-authored a report published in 2013 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine (Vol. 56, No. 2) that looked at common characteristics of effective safety committees. Researchers found that committees that made a meaningful impact on workplace safety had clear and visible upper management support. This allowed committees to secure funding or support to quickly address a safety hazard, another key trait of effective committees, Morse said. In addition, “larger committees are generally beneficial for both detecting problems and getting reality-based solutions,” he said.
Management participation in meetings is important for the committee to make realistic decisions and recommendations, Ferkul said. Committee members need to see that their recommendations have an effect on workplace safety, and if too many are too costly or are never used, committee members’ enthusiasm may decrease, he said.
Uncommunicative or unsupportive management reduces the effectiveness of committees, Bloom said. He remembers one worksite with a safety committee that did not receive updates from management on whether an identified safety hazard was being addressed. Management actually was making changes based on the recommendations, but lack of communication made the safety committee members feel as though their efforts were not valued, he said.
When employees see that safety is important to management, this can have a positive effect on their own safety values, said Ryan Nosan, state program administrative director for Minnesota OSHA. Management also can help stagnant safety committees make a turnaround.
“Effective support from upper management goes a long way,” Nosan said. “Seeing management in attendance and active participants in the safety committee’s activities is a powerful tool.”
Committees and safety culture
Safety professionals can benefit in many ways from the information generated from a committee containing front-line employees. However, Hurliman advised against safety professionals taking too active of a role. “[That] takes away the creativity of the group,” he said. “You really want to let [employees] step forward.” Instead, he said, safety professionals should behave more as a coach and resource to the group.
Nosan recalled a worksite that initiated a committee-led behavior-based safety program. A safety supervisor attended the meetings to help coordinate management support, but otherwise the committee was entirely employee-led. The enthusiasm of the group led to significant ergonomics-related changes throughout the facility, he said.
For safety professionals struggling to establish a safety culture at their organization, safety committees can help, Hurliman said.
“Employee involvement is how employers can get their safety cultures to be bought into. How they really make a lasting impact in safety and health is by getting people involved,” he said. “Some of the things I have seen safety committees do have been just incredible, because the employer is allowing the employees to start driving aspects of the safety programs. Once that happens, I tell employers, ‘Hang on, you’re going for a ride. They’re going to take you to places you didn’t believe you could get to.’”
Selection of state safety committee requirements
The table below is a selection of states that, at press time, require some type of safety committee, and a summary of the state’s requirements. Please view the associated links for more detailed information on a state’s requirements.
In addition to this list, states not included may have mandatory safety committee requirements for certain industries, sectors or organizations using specific work processes. These states also may offer incentives such as reduced workers’ compensation premiums or reduced violation penalties.
To ensure your organization is compliant with your state’s safety committee requirements, contact your Department of Labor, local OSHA office, workers’ compensation board or other applicable agency.