Sponsored By

March 29, 1999

5 Min Read
Making your safety and health program more effective

Editor’s note: William Koepnick, the author of this article, is the president of Professional Training Services Inc. (Brookfield, WI), providers of safety and health education to business and industry. Koepnick is affiliated with a number of professional organizations, including the American Society of Safety Engineers, and, among his many professional accomplishments, he is certified to teach the OSHA 501 Voluntary Compliance course.

A short time ago, I was asked by the safety director of a large organization to sit in on one of its safety committee meetings. He indicated the group was “spinning its wheels” and asked if I could help them get pointed in the right direction. I was delighted to receive the invitation and accepted without hesitation.

The meeting was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. The majority of the 23 members made it on time, but there were a few stragglers who arrived after the meeting had begun. The first order of business was to review past accidents. There had been a serious forklift accident at the facility a week before the meeting. The chair of the committee turned the meeting over to the safety director to explain the circumstances of the incident. I was surprised; there was not much discussion of the accident.

The next order of business was to have the committee members comment on any concerns in the departments they represented. Of the 23 attendees, three mentioned potential problems: A safety guard was found off a machine, certain employees were not wearing safety glasses in designated areas, and there was talk of what seemed to be a continuing housekeeping problem in Department C. There was a short discussion by the group about each item mentioned, but no definite strategies were established to resolve these issues.

The meeting went on for an hour. After it was over, the safety director and committee chairperson enthusiastically asked me, “Well, what did you think of our meeting today?”

I replied, “What do you think you accomplished?”

They looked at one another, then, in unison, they responded, “Not much.”

I have worked with many safety committees and have found this style of meeting to be typical. The majority of the items that are discussed in many safety committee meetings should never even have made it to the committee. They should have been handled and resolved between the employee(s) and the department supervisor. To meet a company’s future safety and health needs, members of a safety and health committee need to become visionaries.

Overcoming Obstacles

This will not be easy. There will be barriers for the team to overcome, such as past perceptions of a committee’s ineffectiveness, a lack of resources for committee activities, inadequate training for committee members, and poor support from upper management.

Committees need to establish objectives and action plans. Reviewing the injury and illness log and surveying employees is one way to do so. Another way is to take a page out of strategic business planning and perform a SWOT analysis, listing the safety and health committee’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

The opportunities part of the SWOT is the committee’s wish list. Challenge the group, asking, “If you could have anything you want, what would it be?” Break into smaller teams and have each team compile a list of opportunities. Some examples from committees I have previously worked with are as follows:

  • Better support from top management.

    A new employee orientation program.An effective safety and health inspection program.The development of an ergonomics program for preventing cumulative trauma disorders.A budget.The development of a safety program aimed at contractors. Involvement in the purchase of safety and health equipment.Employees who follow safety and health rules.The development of a newsletter dedicated to safety and health.An employee safety and health library.

The committee should come up with at least 25 ideas. List them all and have the committee members vote individually on which items are most important to them.

This exercise produces a priority list based on the consensus of the committee, not just one person. Once the objectives have been established, the team needs to develop action plans to meet the goals. Time lines must be scheduled, and individual responsibility for carrying out each action item must be assigned. Make sure each action plan includes information gathering, management approval, and evaluation.

The Vision’s Scope

I am a big believer that the committee’s scope should be in writing. The scope needs to address the following questions:

  • How often should the committee meet?

    How long should meetings be?How soon after the meeting should the minutes be disseminated, who will get copies, and where will they be posted?How will the committee be used if a bargaining unit exists in the plant?How will disagreements be dealt with?What is the required meeting attendance for members?What authority does the committee have?

Be careful of the language used in developing your scope. You do not want to pigeonhole yourself, so make sure the language allows flexibility. Here is an example: “The committee meetings will be held monthly, except for special issues and concerns that may require more frequent meetings, by consensus of the committee.”

Also, the committee needs to develop a statement of purpose and defined responsibilities for the committee chair, recording secretary, department representatives, employees, and management. This statement also should be in writing.

Ownership is a term frequently used in business today. The concept of ownership could not be more relevant than for a safety and health process. Employees need to feel they are part of the process. An effective safety and health committee is a good means of accomplishing this goal.

An effective program also can be a means to several beneficial ends, such as reducing the number of injuries and illnesses, creating a more comfortable workplace, and increasing production. It can also create better morale and reduce or eliminate OSHA fines while helping you avoid criminal liability.

Contact information
Professional Training Services
William Koepnick
Brookfield, WI
Phone/Fax: (414) 821-1300

Sign up for the PlasticsToday NewsFeed newsletter.

You May Also Like