How to Get the Most Out of Your Safety and Health Committee Meetings
What is a safety and health committee and what is its purpose?
The committee should be a panel of individual employees from all aspects and levels of the agency that are interested in ensuring a safe and healthy workplace. The membership’s main purpose and goal is to assist management in promoting safety throughout the agency while striving to reduce accidents through hazard identification, elimination, and control as well as maintaining employee safety knowledge and awareness.
Frequently, committees do not focus their attention on risks that are causing or are likely to cause work-related injuries and illnesses, instead spending too much time discussing minor problems and regulatory programs, such as what is required by Occupational Safety and Health Administration/Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA/VOSH) standards. The typical result of this inaction is that the source of most injuries – hazards and unsafe work practices – goes unresolved.
Why are safety and health committee meetings so important?
The focal point of all safety and health committees is the periodic committee meeting. The members of an effective safety and health committee should exercise their responsibilities at all times. However, it is the committee meeting where the members are able to combine their individual efforts with the group, resulting in achievement of the committee’s primary goal of providing a safe, healthy, and productive workplace.
When assessing the dynamics of a safety committee, there are three main questions to ask:
- Are the right people serving on the committee?
- Do the members look forward to the meetings?
- Would most members think the meetings are productive or a waste of time?
The most effective safety and health committees are made up of management and staff employees, and, more importantly, of people interested in actively participating and contributing to the committee’s success. However, enthusiasm will eventually fade if top management commitment and support are not apparent and meetings are not productive or seen as a waste of time away from regular duties. To be effective, members should see the meetings as an important tool for improving and maintaining a productive, safe work environment. Participation on the committee should not be viewed as a chore, but as an important contribution to the well-being of friends, coworkers and the agency.
The balance between management and staff employees has two main advantages – authority and communication. Participation of managers and supervisors on the committee provides the authority necessary to get things done. The staff employees usually have a better understanding of the day-to-day activities and related hazards, and can relay their insight to the other members. Some employees in the agency may be reluctant to share their thoughts and ideas with a manager, so this provides an avenue of communication to the committee. However, it is critical that, except for the chairman, all members of the committee are considered equals, especially during committee meetings. Honest and open discussion is a key characteristic of effective meetings.
When forming a committee it is important to determine goals, objectives and committee structure. Select a chairperson and secretary and assign individual duties to the various members. Careful consideration should be given to the frequency, length, and location of meetings. Committees that meet too infrequently will not accomplish much. At a minimum, a monthly meeting is preferable, especially for larger agencies and new committees. As goals and objectives are achieved, less frequent meetings may be sufficient, but not less than quarterly. To help with member planning and attendance, meetings should be scheduled in advance. One suggestion is to have the meetings at the same time on the same day of the month, such as every third Thursday.
For agencies with only one worksite, the location of the meetings is usually not an issue. However, agencies with multiple locations may want to consider a central location or rotate meeting sites. The latter option allows committee members the opportunity to personally visit the various sites, which is an additional benefit of the committee’s work.
Length of meetings will vary by agency, but sufficient time must be allotted to thoroughly cover all of the items on the agenda. Since time is usually limited, firm start and stop times are necessary. To ensure the best use of the time allowed, meeting ground rules should be established.
Promptness and attendance should be required of all members. If a member will not be able to attend most meetings, they may not be the best choice to serve. Being prepared for the meeting and actively participating in discussions are essential. Each member has something to contribute, based on knowledge and experience and committee assignments. If a member does not attend or interact, that value will be lost. The primary job of the chairperson is to keep the meeting moving. Since every minute is important, interruptions should be minimal, and if possible, limited only to emergencies.
Thorough preparation for safety and health committee meetings can make the difference between a “gripe session” and an organized and productive meeting. The most important tool for keeping the meeting on track is the agenda, which should be prepared by the chairperson and distributed to members well in advance of the meeting. The agenda lays out the format of the meeting and topics to be covered, making non-safety and health related discussions more unlikely. It gives the meeting focus and direction.
A typical agenda will include, but is not limited to the following:
- Brief review of the minutes of the last meeting
- Follow-up to any pending activities or unfinished business from the previous meeting
- Summaries of status/progress reports from any task groups or sub-committees
- Discuss the results of any safety inspections and resulting corrective actions
- Review any injury-related information (including near-misses and trends)
- Review and discuss the accident reports for any incidents that occurred since the previous meeting, focusing on fundamental causes
- Report progress on any pending action plans and training programs
- Solicit new business discussion from committee members
- Safety training program presentation by assigned committee member or guest speaker.
- Other business or comments from the committee members
- Meeting recap and future meeting assignments, agenda items, date and location
Assigned reports should be prepared sufficiently ahead of the meeting date to allow for distribution to committee members. Committee members should receive these reports at least two days before the meeting to allow time to review, research and formulate questions, responses, or recommended actions. Meeting time should be reserved for discussion and planning. Short summaries of these reports can be presented to facilitate discussion.
As part of pre-meeting preparation, members should encourage comments and ideas from employees in their areas. The employees can be a good resource for identifying potential problems and can often offer some valuable ideas for solutions. This solicitation can range from face-to-face questioning to a suggestion box. A reward plan may help generate ideas. A sub-committee is a good way to evaluate suggestions, with only the best presented to the full committee.
During the meetings
Any time a group of people gets together, there is a tendency to divert attention to something other than the business of the meeting or discussion drifting away from the subject matter at hand. It is the committee chairperson’s job to keep the meeting on track to make the best use of meeting time. The agenda is the plan for the meeting and it is important to stick to it. Matters that may deviate from the established agenda should be held over to the next meeting or deferred to the part of the agenda that allows for new business to be introduced. Non-safety and health topics should be discouraged, such as staffing levels and maintenance issues, unless directly related to safety and health.
Discussion should be organized, with focus on the issue or problem being brought to the table. Members should be recognized by the chairperson in order to speak, but if kept under control, an open, round table discussion can also generate some productive brainstorming. The result of discussions should be some plan of action.
Meetings are for finding solutions, not placing fault or blame. When working directly on an issue, following these steps will help to reach a feasible, long-lasting solution:
- Identify and agree on the nature of the problem
- Map out the events to identify the fundamental or “root” cause
- Look for and rank potential solutions
- Select the best solution for the problem and develop an action plan (including implementation and follow-up evaluation)
All members of the committee should be encouraged to provide some input during the meeting. The chairperson can help facilitate this. If members frequently do not contribute to discussions then replacement may need to be considered. Since they should already have the agenda and supporting information before the meeting, members should come with some ideas or input from other employees. Members with assignments should come prepared to present a summary and discuss the material.
To add value to the meetings, a short safety-training program can be part of the agenda. Programs can be presented by a designated member of the committee, someone from within the agency, or from the outside, such as a loss control consultant. Such programs could be a valuable venue for a demonstration of new or proposed safety equipment or device by a vendor’s representative. Safety videos are available for a variety of topics and can provide good quality safety and health education, including visual imagery of the material covered. Some of the subjects that would be beneficial for the role of safety and health committee members include:
- Accident investigation and analysis
- Hazard identification
- Job safety analysis
- How to conduct effective safety inspections
- Injury prevention and control
- Regulatory issues, such as OSHA/VOSH standards
At the conclusion of the meeting, the chairperson and the secretary should recap the meeting discussion, as well as any action plans and assignments. Everyone should leave knowing what will be expected from him or her before the next meeting. The chairperson should then ask for any additional comments and then make any closing notes and express appreciation to all that attended.
Following the meeting
A written summary of the meeting should be prepared by the committee secretary and distributed to the members for review. Members should review the summary for accuracy and return any comments or corrections in a timely manner. The official meeting minutes can be developed from this information for approval at the next meeting.
If recommended actions must be presented to appropriate management, these proposals should be developed by committee designee(s) and if mandated by committee procedures, distributed to members for informal comments and approval. Management response and progress toward implementation can then be communicated to committee members before and during the next meeting.
It is a good idea to periodically acknowledge the actions and accomplishments of the committee. Not only will this keep employees informed of the committee’s efforts, but will likely motivate members to continue moving forward with their efforts. Remember, an effective safety and health committee consists of people interested in working to protect the health and well-being of their friends and co-workers, as well as the agency.
Army Center for Health Promotion & Preventive Medicine. (March 31, 2003). The Safety Committee: Ten Ways to Make Your Meetings More Successful. Retrieved July 12, 2006, from http://chppm-www.apgea.army.mil.
Centers for Disease Control-National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The Seven-Up Safety and Health Plan. (November 8, 2001). Retrieved July 12, 2006, from http://www.cdc.gov.
Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Company. (2003). Leading an Effective Safety Committee. Retrieved July 12, 2006.
Montana Department of Labor and Industry-Occupational Safety and Health Bureau. (n.d.). Guidelines for Effective Safety Meetings. Retrieved July 12, 2006, from http://erd.dli.mt.gov.
Sherman, Larry CSP, CPCU, ALCM. (December 1997). Tips For an Effective Safety and Health Committee. Retrieved July 12, 2006, from http://www.shermansafety.com.
State of Wisconsin. (August 1998). Guidelines for Developing an Effective Health and Safety Committee. Retrieved July 12, 2006, from http://www.doa.state.wi.us.
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