11 ways to revive your safety committee

Photos: SDI Productions/gettyimages

✔ Meet once a month.

✔ Talk about problems in the workplace.

✔ Discuss whether any issues have been corrected since the most recent meeting.

✔ Adjourn.

When it comes to your safety committee meetings, does this agenda sound familiar? It does to Camille Oakes.

“Who wants to even go to that meeting?” the CEO of Better Safety LLC asked. “You’re not getting paid extra. There’s not really a perk, other than you sit in a climate-controlled room.”

That’s why Oakes and other safety and health experts are working to transform safety committee meetings from stale complaint sessions into refreshing and engaging extensions of safety managers.

“We need to stop thinking about it as a safety committee and think of it as a safety team,” said Jonathan Thomas, senior director of research and survey services at the National Safety Council. “Whatever a team is tasked with, it’s always activity-centered and results-driven. Starting there is a way to keep it fresh.”

Based on his observations, Thomas said some employers form safety committees simply to check off a box.

This may be particularly true in states where committees are required.

“It just becomes a requisite thing they have to do,” he said. “If they can just meet, that’s good enough.”

One way to change that thinking, he added, is to steer the committee toward enhancing the organization’s overall safety culture and not simply reducing incidents and injuries.

With that in mind, here are 11 ways to help your safety committee grow and strengthen its impact.


Hone your message

A good place to start? Develop a mission statement or charter for your committee and share it throughout the organization.

“Not only have a mission statement for that committee, but review it, just like a safety committee would review all standard operating procedures for safety,” Thomas said. “Review the mission and freshen it up. And communicate the heck out of what the committee is doing.”


Put on your sales hat

When engaging with potential safety committee members, remember: “As a safety professional, we’re trying to sell safety,” said Mary Crabtree, workplace safety manager at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We need to first build trust. Then we need to show them we can create something that’s of value specifically to them, whether that’s on the worker level or the C-suite level.”


Get a different view

A good way to spark fresh ideas is to meet with an individual committee member in their work area, Crabtree said. “Start the conversation with, ‘Tell me what’s going on in your workplace.’ When they tell you, start posing questions. It helps the light bulb go off over their head.”

From there, you’ll have more information to share with the committee about safety challenges, concerns or opportunities.


Come together

With more people now working remotely, committee members may be attending meetings virtually. This can lead to a disconnect among some members.

“Try to have one in-person meeting every year so people can make those connections,” said Cathy Brennan, executive director of environmental, health and safety at UNC’s Chapel Hill campus. “We’ve also invited committee members to participate in outreach events, whether that’s a safety stand-down or a safety day.”

At UNC, safety committee members join in on inspections to understand the EHS team’s processes and duties. “We try to think of ideas that will help them be engaged and have an interest in what’s going on,” she said.


Choose variety

Make sure you have “a diverse mix of stakeholders” represented on the committee, Brennan said. This not only includes supervisors and non-supervisors, but people with various perspectives, including those with a different work status and from various units or divisions of the organization.

“Involve the person wearing the PPE or using the controls,” Brennan said.

Thomas added that having union (if your workplace is a union shop) and non-union representatives, along with several managers, increases the variety of voices.

“The ideal safety committee,” Thomas said, “has not just leadership support, but participation at various levels of leadership.”


Use the buddy system

Performing safety activities in pairs proved invaluable during the time Oakes’ spent in the warehousing industry. For example, during a training session delivered by safety committee members, one person who was comfortable speaking to co-workers took the lead to help another committee member grow their confidence in that setting.


Offer invitations

Invite workers and managers to sit in on committee meetings and observe. Brennan said this gives them a chance to see if they’d be interested in becoming a member, or at least taking part in the committee ‘s activities.

Oakes said her teams had success when conducting an application process, and then following up with all applicants after new members of the committee were selected.


Measure with metrics

Judging the committee’s effectiveness can be done with measurements.

“There are several metrics that a safety committee should be looking at: participation, attendance, effectiveness of their communication system, their ability to address safety issues, hazards and risks that have been identified,” Thomas said. “All those things are things you can measure.”

A tracking system can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet, Oakes noted.

The Campbell Institute at NSC has an extensive list of potential metrics in An Implementation Guide to Leading Indicators


Focus on training

One of the biggest impacts a safety committee can have, Thomas said, is being “another arm for training the workforce.”

While working in the warehousing industry, Oakes said her teams conducted training sessions on safe lifting, assisted with new-hire orientations and participated in policy development. They also expanded their safety knowledge via lessons from Oakes. The lessons covered the basics of safety, the Hierarchy of Controls, risk tolerance and risk perception.

“I view a successful safety committee as an extension of a safety manager,” she said. “You have this team that if you built its members into mini versions of you, then you could do things like that.”


Inject some fun

Motivational safety speaker, author and podcast host Richard Hawk says safety committee meetings should be fun. How so?

He suggests starting with an icebreaker. For example, each member shares an inspirational or funny quote before identifying who said it and explaining its origin story. In one meeting, Hawk said a committee member sang a song they wrote about personal protective equipment.

Oakes said committee members she has worked with often made videos, including some that became “commercials” that were shown during all-staff meetings.


Don’t forget the kudos

Every year, Oakes made sure each safety committee member was formally recognized via a note – sent to their managers around review time – detailing their achievements, activity and positive contributions.

“I’m showing you that appreciation in a way that matters,” she said.

From 1918 to today

1918 Safety Committee Bulletin

In 1918, the National Safety Council’s Information for the Manager newsletter published “Pointers for Safety Committees.” Much of the advice included still rings true today, says Jonathan Thomas, senior director of research and survey services at NSC. Pre-inspection tips listed in the newsletter include:

  • When conducting an inspection, the important question is, “Can an accident occur?” – not “Has an accident occurred?”
  • Inspect out-of-the-way places. Accidents frequently occur where it has been said “no one ever goes.”
  • Look not only for places where new guards are required, but see that old guards are being used.
  • See that the suggestions for safe practices that were made and approved at the last safety committee meeting are being put into practice.
  • Make notes on all unsafe conditions and practices in plants, in yards, on the lines, in cars or barns, and along trackway to discuss at next meeting.

Take a closer look at the original newsletter.

Which states require safety committees – and when?

Nebraska is the only state that requires all employers to have a safety and health committee. Fifteen other states require employers to have a safety and health committee under varying circumstances. They are:

Alabama: If requested by employees

Connecticut: At establishments with more than 25 employees or a high incident rate

Hawaii: At establishments with 25 or more employees. Employers may instead designate and train an employee to manage the facility’s safety and health program.

Louisiana: An employer’s safety plan has requirements for “designation of employees responsible for safety” and regular safety meetings

Minnesota: At establishments with more than 25 employees or a high incident rate

Montana: At establishments with more than five employees

Nevada: At establishments with more than 25 employees

New Hampshire: At establishments with more than 15 employees

New York: At establishments with a group dividend plan (Employer enrollment in safety and loss prevention incentive program)

North Carolina: At establishments with more than 10 employees or a high incident rate

Oregon: At establishments with more than 10 employees (meetings required at establishments with 10 or fewer employees)

Tennessee: At establishments with a high incident rate

Vermont: At establishments with a high incident

Washington: At establishments with more than 10 employees

West Virginia: At establishments with a high incident rate

Note: Although California doesn’t require employers to have a safety and health committee, having one puts them in compliance with the state’s Injury and Illness Prevention Program communication rule.

Source: OSHA

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