What is a safety committee? And, do I need or have to have one?
Here at Affygility Solutions, we perform a lot of environmental, health and safety audits for life science companies. These audits typically involve all aspects of EH&S including occupational safety, potent compound safety, industrial hygiene, and much more. However, one area that often generates a significant amount of discussion is safety committees and their use for generating employee involvement.
In the traditional sense, safety committees are composed of the rank and file employees and management. The purpose of the safety committee is typically to provide an open forum where recent accidents, near misses, corrective actions, and opportunities for improvement can be discussed. During the course of the audit, one of the recommendations regarding safety committees is the lack of a clear purpose. I often recommend, when first starting a safety committee, that the first task is to establish a charter to define, as a minimum, the following items:
- What is a safety committee’s purpose?
- How will members of the safety committee be selected?
- Will there be standing members? I recommend that EH&S and a representative of senior management always be a standing member.
- How often will the committee meet? Be aware that certain states, such as Oregon, may dictate the minimum frequency. In addition, for scheduling purposes I recommend that it be scheduled as a standing meeting, such as the second Tuesday of every month.
- What type of issues will be discussed at the meetings?
- What type of issues will not be discussed? I typically recommend that safety committees stay clear of disciplinary action issues regarding safety policy or procedure infractions. This should alway remain a direct supervisor responsibility.
- How will records such as minutes of the meeting and corrective actions for followup be kept?
What to Avoid in Safety Committees.
Safety committees should never become complaint sessions, where everyone gathers for doughnuts and tells the environmental, health and safety representative what is wrong with safety. The employees on the safety committee need to be actively involved in whatever suggestions or corrective actions arise from the meeting. If the EH&S representative is the one walking out of the meeting with all the follow-up items, something is seriously wrong with the meeting. In addition, the EH&S representative should not be the one that is doing all the talking in the safety committee meeting.
Critical Items for Safety Committees
Safety committees need to ensure that whatever corrective actions are brought up in the meeting are closed out. Failure to address an alleged hazard that ultimately leads to an accident is a significant liability for the company. Close out all issues, even if they turn out to be incorrect.