7 tips for an effective workplace safety committee
Safety consultant Carl Potter once was told about a workplace in which an employee asked for his name to be deliberately drawn from a hat so he could be the new member of the organization’s safety committee.
Although he felt otherwise, the worker planned to feign disgust at the selection when his name was revealed during an assembly. Such irritation simply matched the workplace culture.
“It wasn’t popular to be a member of the safety committee and like being on it,” said Potter, who is based in Tulsa, OK.
Potter and counterpart Richard Hawk – a veteran safety pro turned professional speaker based in Bridgeton, NJ – believe it doesn’t have to be that way. Each spoke with Safety+Health about ways to build more effective and enjoyable workplace safety committees. Their thoughts, as well as guidance from the National Safety Council, helped shape the following seven tips.
“What are you going to accomplish?” Potter said. “Is there a measurement that you’re going to have? What can you do to push safety forward just a little bit? Not monumental, not huge, but one thing that you can hang your hat on Dec. 31 and say, ‘This is what our committee accomplished in 2017.’”
“This is not an authority position,” Potter said. “This is a representation.”
Committees should include current or previous safety champions as well. “Make sure you have people who are gung ho about it, because that’s really important when you get it going,” Hawk said.
Potter noted that numerous safety education resources are available. NSC and other worker safety organizations offer extensive training in a variety of areas, while the OSHA Outreach Training Program includes 10-hour and 30-hour classes.
Hawk also favors having one person serve as the committee’s “conscience.” This person’s duties would include keeping the group focused and ensuring the committee is acting properly, following pre-determined ground rules and treating all members with respect.
Consider the size of your organization and the committee when deciding the best rotation schematic. Hawk stressed the importance of a quantity of perspectives and the tendency of groupthink to build on an individual’s idea.
“That’s one thing that happens a lot – people get on a committee and then no one else can get on it,” Hawk said. “So make sure it rotates a lot.”
For most larger companies, Potter suggests a rotation of three years on, two years off.
“It gets to be so boring, like meetings can in general,” Hawk said. “So what can you do to vary it? Make it an agenda item. Talk about what we can do to make these meetings more fun and make them better.”
Suggestions include opening meetings with personal reflections or exercises before the traditional reading of minutes; using occasional guest speakers; and scheduling some meetings at a nearby restaurant, museum or park.
Professional decorum still applies, of course.
“Just getting your brain thinking differently. That’s exactly what it is. They’re going to have a different mindset and approach than you will. Plus, it’s more interesting for the committee members when they do that kind of stuff. Plus, it’s not hard to do.”