Safety culture State laws Leadership

Effective safety committees

Are you tapping into workers’ knowledge?


Management support

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.

State Summary of Committee Requirements Law Link
Alabama All employers subject to workers’ compensation rules must establish a safety committee upon the written request of any employee. The requirement may be different for employers with a collective bargaining agreement with employees.
California Safety committees can be used to fulfill a requirement of the state’s mandatory injury and illness prevention program. Open page about state law
Connecticut All employers with 25 of 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.
Maine Employers must establish a safety committee if their workers’ compensation insurance is through an association or group of employers. Open page about state law
Michigan Organizations using highly hazardous chemical processes may be required to have a safety committee. Open page about state law
Minnesota All employers with 25 or more employees; smaller employers with A) a lost workday cases incidence rate in the top 10 percent of their industry, or B) a workers’ compensation premium within top 25 percent of all employers in state, must establish safety committees. Open page about state law  Open page about state law
Montana All employers with more than five employees must establish safety committees. Open page about state law
Nebraska All public and private sector employers that are subject to the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act must establish safety committees. Open page about state law
Nevada All employers with more than 25 employees, or employers that manufacture explosives, must establish safety committees. Open page about state law
New Hampshire As of Jan. 1, 2013, all employers with 15 or more employees must establish a “joint loss management committee” comprising an equal number of employer and employee representatives. Open page about state law
North Carolina All employers with 11 or more employees, not counting temporary employees, with an insurance experience rate modifier of 1.5 or greater must establish safety committees. Open page about state law
Oregon Every employer must have safety meetings or a safety committee. If an employer has more than 10 employees in one location, it must have a safety committee. Other considerations apply for the construction, agriculture and logging industries.
Tennessee All private and public employers subject to the workers’ compensation law with an insurance experience modification factor greater than or equal to 1.2 showing higher risk of worker injuries must establish safety committees.
Vermont Voluntary Protection Program companies must use safety committees, and they are recommended for all other employers. Open page about state law
Washington All employers that employ 11 or more employees on the same shift at the same location must establish safety committees.
West Virginia The West Virginia Worker’s Compensation Commission establishes the criteria for when an employer must establish a safety committee, such as if an employer’s experience modification factor exceeds a certain threshold established by the commission. Open page about state law


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