Many states require companies to have a Safety Committee that meets monthly to assess safety performance, review incidents and resolve safety concerns.  Unfortunately these teams are often ineffective  — meetings are dull, perfunctory and poorly-attended; the same issues are raised month after month; while the safety manager leaves with a bushel of new action items after each meeting, little changes before the next meeting and committee members become frustrated and disillusioned. At Humanus Solutions, we urge clients to use safety committees to foster leadership and personal responsibility, while also fulfilling a regulatory requirement. Here are six tips for turbo-charging your Safety Committee.
  • Commitment from the ‘top’: your safety committee will do exactly — and only — what company leaders expect.  If you want your committee to meet the regulatory requirement, it will… but that’s all it will do.  If you want it to change the culture, cause breakthroughs and invigorate leadership this expectation must be set by the owner!
  • Distinguish ‘technical problems’ and ‘adaptive challenges’: technical problems can be solved with a decision, an answer, a change in process or equipment; adaptive challenges require people to change the way they think, feel and act.  Worker safety is primarily an adaptive issuebut most safety committees focus on technical issues.   If you want your safety committee to make a difference, make sure they are working on bothtechnical problems and adaptive challenges.
  • Ask, “What’s the real problem here?”  One way to balance attention on technical and adaptive is to look for the “issue behind the issue”.  When a problem is brought to the safety committee, ask ,”Why is this being raised to us?  What prevented team-members from owning and resolving this issue themselves?”  So long as your employees rely on the safety committee to make safety decisions, the employees will never be responsible for safety.
  • Ask, “How are we part of this?” There’s a tendency for safety committee members to see their job as making change ‘out there’, ‘to them’, ‘on-site’.  The best safety committees recognize that safety behaviors on the job-site are a reflection of behaviors in the management trailer and home-office.  When something goes wrong, a good question for the safety committee to ask is, “How have we — each of us — contributed to the conditions that lead to this incident?”
  • Unintended consequences of safety metrics. OSHA mandates safety committees review worker safety metrics, but this often has unintended consequences.  Attention on the rate of safety incidents results in pressure to not report incidents, rather than eliminating hazards; attention on the severity of injuries drives focus on case management rather than caring for the injured person and learning from what went wrong.  If your safety committee looks at metrics, do it very briefly, view them with caution and skepticism, and frequently ask, “What are people likely to do in order to ‘game’ this number?”
  • Beware ‘action items’. Another way to balance attention on technical and adaptive work is to resist the tendency to assign action items.  Most safety committee meetings generate assignments and requests for the EHS managers.  The best committees recognize that the safety department doesn’t own safety — line-management does.    In place of traditional action items assigned to individuals, we recommend giving all team members the same homework — usually a question to ask or conversation to have with folks in the field.   See our article about ‘Listening Tours’ for more information.
It doesn’t take much to fulfill the regulatory requirement for a safety committee.  But if that’s all you set out to do, that’s all you’ll accomplish.  Making a realdifference in safety requires a safety committee willing to willing to look beyond the usual technical solutions; willing to examine their role in the behavior of others; and most of all, willing to do business-not-as usual. Interested in learning more?  Ready to make your safety committee matter?  We’re ready to help. 

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