Safety committees are a hot topic now, especially in global organizations, but they can also be a complex topic. Understanding the requirements and trigger points your facilities are subject to, which vary widely by geography, and then finding a way to implement and nurture a successful safety committee is no small task. It can all seem overwhelming, especially for nonmanufacturing facilities like offices, warehouses, and data centers.
However, after working on hundreds of sites all over the world, our expert auditors have identified three useful, actionable steps to help you get started. By breaking the task down into discrete pieces, you can succeed in mapping your organization’s needs and implementing a plan to move forward with compliance and confidence.
1. Understand Your Obligations
The requirement to have a safety committee can be triggered by several different circumstances—one of the more common is number of employees either at an individual facility or, if incorporated as one legal entity, the entire country headcount of an organization. 25 and 50 employees are both common tipping points in global regulations, but other triggers can include the length of time a facility has been performing work, meeting a specified risk threshold, or in response to an employee request. In some environments, safety committees are required for every company, regardless of size, time, or work performance. In others, there are cultural or societal expectations that must be met, even if there is no codified regulation.
Given this wide range of possible trigger conditions for a safety committee, taking a moment to gather facility information and comparing it to regulatory trigger conditions is a critical exercise. To do this successfully you must know your facilities’ head counts, and in many countries that total must include contract staff (including Argentina, Brazil, France Germany, Greece, Hong Kong and Malaysia). You will also need to know how the business locations are incorporated—does each facility have a unique business identifier or are all the facilities incorporated under one business unit in that country? With all the data compiled in one place, you will be better able to understand the full picture and what your next steps will look like.
2. Establish Your Committee
Once you’ve determined whether or not a safety committee is required, you still need to determine what that committee needs to look like and how it needs to function. In many cases, your applicable regulations will specify how often the group should meet (monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc.) and who must be included (i.e. the specified mix of management, line employees, and H&S experts.) Even within the U.S., the regulations on safety committee vary by state. There may also be instances where a safety committee is not required, but an alternative is—for example, a single representative may meet with management to discuss H&S concerns, or the employer polls the employees to capture H&S concerns and then periodically reports the results and actions taken.
For global organizations, we recommend a standard approach to committees worldwide. The first step to achieving this level of consistency is to have an expectation-setting meeting with country-specific managers who meet the trigger conditions for a safety committee. A successful agenda would include discussion on:
- Safety committee legal requirements
- Benefits of the safety committee
- Purpose and activities
- Committee membership
- Potential meeting agenda topics that support the company mission and reduce risks to employees
- Timeline for recruitment and launch
- Shared tools such meeting note templates, a resource toolbox, and expectations on document storage for meetings, inspections and corrective actions.
3. Recruit, Motivate, and Innovate
Once formed, safety committees have to actually perform their legal obligations, which can vary by country as well. These might include:
- Reviewing and providing comment on safety work practices—in some countries it is the committees that may be taking company policy and refining it to fit the local operations.
- Conducting workplace inspections and safety audits.
- Developing safety checklists.
- Promoting employees' collaboration on health and safety issues.
- Communicating safety issues to management.
Organizations who have a resilient and respected safety committee program focus on how the committee and its members are valued within the organization. The following are some commonly successful actions that lead to vibrant teams that aren’t lacking for volunteers:
- Provide budget, training, and resources to the committees
- Publicize the goals of the committees and make formal agendas and meeting notes accessible to all employees
- Ensure the work that the committee is doing is known and highlighted within the organization. Knowing that the work is “real” and that there is recognition will increase volunteer participation
- Provide t-shirts, special lunches, or just general recognition of the team’s efforts
The key to longevity is giving the committee members the training, authority, and tools they need to be successful, and giving them meaningful assignments that make a real impact.
Our final advice is to make sure that any and all safety suggestions from the committees are reviewed, acted upon, and even shared between facilities to improve the overall organization.
While safety committees have many legal responsibilities, and can present compliance complexities in large organizations, they can also be a powerful tool to reduce workplace risk and improve efficiency by empowering those people with the closest connection to the work itself.
Need some help understanding how safety committees can and should fit into your organization? Contact our experts today to get started.
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