Question: My coworkers recently nominated me as Chair of our company safety committee, probably because I’m very vocal regarding safety concerns at our facility (OSHA compliance, lack of surveillance, emergency preparedness, early warning alert system, first aid and evacuation plans, to name a few). How should I start communicating with my company and the rest of the committee? I want them to know how honored and committed I am to this nomination. Should I email them with my concerns and ideas?
Answer: Congratulations on your appointment as safety committee chair for your company. Safety committees can serve so many different purposes within organizations and it is important for you as the chair to first understand your company’s rationale and the specific purposes for your particular safety committee.
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The fact that there is a safety committee at your workplace shows there is at least some level of management commitment to workplace safety. In companies with world-class safety programs and safety management systems, safety committees are very active: conducting audits and inspections, developing or reviewing safety procedures, being involved with job hazard analyses and providing training for their fellow employees.
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If your company isn’t at that level yet, don’t despair, because many aren’t. In fact, it’scommon to find safety committees who really don’t even know their purpose. They simply meet so that someone can check off that box on some master checklist. Chances are, your company is somewhere between these two extremes.
It can be very easy to get caught up in making a list of everything you want to change or get done and to “publish” that list for everyone to see. And it is very common to have a great desire to check off all the items on your list. In fact, that kind of dedication is important for anyone who wants to be involved in workplace safety.
But to put this list in an email to the staff as a way of introduction may not be the best idea, because no matter how well-intended, it can be viewed as confrontational instead of as a statement of your commitment to improvement. Also, some of the items you mention may take considerable time (and monetary resources) to accomplish. Without knowing what resources will be available and what specific purposes your safety committee has, it may be premature to post such a list.
Because some of the items you mention are fairly basic and should already have been addressed (such as first aid and evacuation plans) it may be better to express your dedication to this new position in the form of a commitment to work with the site safety manager, supervisors, upper management and other safety committee members to review current procedures and prioritize any unmet needs.
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As the chair of the safety committee, you’ll need to be open to many different ideas and opinions. And what you perceive now as major issues within your company might be completely different from the issues your coworkers think need to be addressed.
My first recommendation is to meet with your site’s safety manager (if you have one) to find out what plans or improvement he or she may already be working on. To build a complete list of safety issues within your company, you should also:
- Review accident investigation forms and OSHA incident logs to help determine what is actually causing workplace injuries and illness at your site
- Look at near misses and other forms of leading incident indicators
- Talk to other employees to gauge their concerns
Understand any unique workplace hazards that may be present at your company because they can help you establish priorities for any work that needs to be done. For example (though I’m not familiar with your workplace), I would put the need for first aid training above an early warning alert system on a priority list. But, if you have a tank of ammonia in your workplace and lack an early warning alert system, I’d have that higher on the priority list.
It is never wrong to be vocal about unsafe conditions. No one deserves to be hurt at work and, for the most part, employers don’t intentionally put their employees in harm’s way. But, as the chair of the safety committee, it’s not enough to just shout about everything that is wrong. Instead, using that voice to discuss your commitment to making changes in existing (or nonexistent) programs will improve safety for everyone.