Health and safety committees are an essential component of any effective workplace health and safety program. They play a critical role in identifying, assessing, and managing risks to health and safety in the workplace, and in promoting a culture of safety among employees.
However, setting up an effective health and safety committee can be a complex and challenging process, requiring careful planning, communication, and collaboration. This article will provide practical guidance on how to set up an effective health and safety committee, including key steps to take, best practices to follow, and common challenges to anticipate.
Whether you are setting up a new committee or looking to improve an existing one, this article will help you establish a strong foundation for workplace health and safety that will benefit your employees, your organization, and your community.
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.
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.
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.
The most important step in setting up a health and safety committee is to gather the right people for the job. You want to make sure that you have representatives from all levels of the organization, including managers, supervisors, employees, union representatives (if applicable), and other stakeholders who will be able to provide input on important decisions related to health and safety.
You'll also want to select individuals who are knowledgeable about workplace hazards, have good communication skills, and are committed to making your workplace safe.
Best practices for setting up safety committees:
Select a Sponsor
Selecting a sponsor for a health and safety committee is an important step in establishing a strong and effective committee. A sponsor is typically a senior executive or manager who has the authority and resources to support the committee's work and help it achieve its objectives.
For instance, having a senior executive or manager as a sponsor sends a clear message that the organization is committed to workplace health and safety, and that the committee's work is valued and supported.
The sponsor can also provide leadership and direction for the committee, ensuring that it is aligned with the organization's strategic priorities and goals.
More importantly, a sponsor can help ensure that the committee has the necessary resources, such as staff, budget, and time, to carry out its work effectively. The sponsor can also help the committee prioritize its activities and projects, and ensure that they are aligned with the organization's overall priorities and resources.
Another major benefit is that a sponsor can help the committee communicate with other stakeholders, such as employees, management, and external partners, and engage them in the committee's work. The sponsor can also help the committee overcome barriers to communication and engagement, such as resistance or lack of interest.
Furthermore, a sponsor can advocate for the committee's work within the organization, and use their influence to secure support and resources from other stakeholders. The sponsor can also help the committee navigate organizational politics and power dynamics, and overcome resistance or opposition to its work.
Assign a Chairperson
Assigning a chairperson for a health and safety committee is crucial in ensuring that the committee operates effectively and achieves its objectives. The chairperson provides leadership and direction to the committee, setting its agenda, prioritizing its activities, and ensuring that its work is aligned with the organization's overall goals and objectives.
The chairperson is also responsible for communicating with other stakeholders, coordinating the committee's work with other organizational initiatives, and providing expertise on risk management and occupational health and safety.
Additionally, the chairperson ensures that all committee members are engaged and participating in the committee's work, and that their contributions are valued and recognized. Finally, the chairperson is responsible for maintaining records of the committee's meetings, decisions, and activities, ensuring that they are accessible and transparent to stakeholders.
Overall, the chairperson plays a critical role in leading the health and safety committee, ensuring that it operates effectively, contributes to a culture of safety in the workplace, and achieves its objectives.
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.
Safety Committee Meetings
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:
- 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.
- Discuss improved areas from the previous month followed by areas that require further work
- Review outstanding actions from previous months and ensure accountability and status of the actions are communicated and kept up to date.
- Discuss any major incidents or near misses and highlight lessons learned and how it would be communicated to the rest of the company.
- 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
- 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 company wide 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.