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How to create a successful safety committee

One of the reasons a safety committee may fail or be ineffective is due to a lack of member training. When an organization asks for volunteers to serve on a safety committee, the people that accept will most likely have a broad range of personalities, educational experience and work backgrounds.

On one end of the spectrum, a committee member may have no prior safety knowledge or experience, no team experience or skills, and developing problem solving and interpersonal communication skills. On the other end, a committee member may have extensive safety experience and knowledge, experience in committee or team work structures, and excellent leadership skills. Most safety committees are comprised of members that fall between these two extremes.

To promote a safety committee’s long-term success, member training can be provided. Rather than a one-time training session, on-going training opportunities may be more effective. With the rapid changes in technology and regulations, as well as the growing knowledge about teams, quality and ways to increase productivity, a company’s investment in the training of its people can help it maintain its competitive advantage.

Training for safety committee members can be organized into categories:

  1. Orientation to safety training
  2. Technical safety skills and knowledge training
  3. Safety management system training
  4. Regulatory compliance training
  5. Interpersonal skills training
  6. Problem solving skills training
  7. Leadership skills training

Training in each of these categories may be provided to all members as a group or to specific members based on their individual current knowledge and skill levels. Below is a more detailed description of each training category.

1. Orientation to Safety Training

New members coming into an existing safety committee or a newly formed committee may benefit from training session dedicated to orientation. In the case of a new committee, orientation issues may be identified and developed by the initial committee members during their first few meetings. Orientation could include the following subjects:

  • Purpose and structure of the safety committee
  • Safety committee mission/charter
  • Rules of conduct
  • Committee member roles and responsibilities
  • Reporting relationships with management and the rest of the organization

 2. Technical Skills and Knowledge Training

For those members who have limited technical knowledge in the areas that may be discussed by the safety committee, basic safety technical skill training may be provided. This training can help support their consideration of the effectiveness of current control and prevention programs. Some of these technical skill areas include:

  • Fire prevention
  • Machine safeguarding
  • Human factors and ergonomics
  • Industrial hygiene
  • Fleet safety control

3. Safety Management System Training

A highly successful safety committee is in a position to evaluate the quality of accident investigations, safety audits, methods for developing safe job procedures and using facts and data to target potential improvement areas or measure progress. Safety Management Systems Training can help the committee prepare for these activities. Topics include:

  • Components of an effective safety management system
  • Accident investigation techniques and procedures
  • Safety audits and inspection procedures
  • Post-injury management control concepts
  • Job safety and hazard analysis techniques
  • Accident/incident data analysis trending methods

4. Regulatory Compliance Training

Safety committee members with a basic understanding of the requirements of OSHA standards may be in a better position to evaluate the adequacy of compliance programs and required regulatory training. The committee members also should understand what the OSHA inspection process entails, the rights and responsibilities of the employer identified by OSHA, and ways to address OSHA citations, etc. Some of the most commonly reviewed program areas when compliance inspections are made include:

  • Accident recordkeeping
  • Hazard communication
  • Permit-required confined space entry
  • Electrical safety work practices
  • Personal protective equipment

5. Interpersonal Skills Training

The development of interpersonal skills can help the safety committee members become more effective team players. These types of skills include:

  • Communication skills – verbal and written
  • Listening and providing feedback to other members
  • Conflict resolution
  • Influencing others
  • Team building and teamwork
  • Effective meetings

6. Problem Solving Skills Training

Well-developed problem solving skills are a key component for highly successful safety committees. As with accident investigation, the role of the committee is not to find fault and place blame on people for safety problems, but to work with senior management to improve the overall safety management system. Problem solving skill development includes:

  • Analyzing root causes of safety system problems
  • Identifying improvement opportunities within the limits of the responsibility and authority of the safety committee
  • Making recommendations to management for systems problems that are beyond the authority of the safety committee
  • Developing action plans for improvement
  • Monitoring the impact/effectiveness of the improvements

7. Leadership Skills Training

Some leaders are natural born leaders; however, most leaders are not. Instead, they become true leaders by developing their leadership skills over time. A safety committee’s effort to make long-term, continual improvements in its safety program will be promoted if the committee has, or develops, effective leaders. Some of the leadership skills training that may be needed include:

  • Facilitation skills - the ability to get all members involved
  • Relationship building with peers, senior management, other committee members and other employees whose support the committee needs to be successful
  • Understanding team dynamics and working in groups
  • Goal and objective setting
  • Counseling and coaching others, helping them improve
  • Self and team effectiveness evaluation techniques

Safety Committee Training Tools

The Safety Committee Training Needs matrix is a tool to help assess the training and development needs of safety committee members. All of the subjects may not be needed for every member. It is suggested that each member of the safety committee initially complete the matrix for themselves. Collectively, the committee can then determine the common development needs and training priorities.

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