Expert tips to make your safety committee thrive

Is your safety committee just OK? Would you like to energize and invigorate your group?

Kowalski's Market once faced this challenge, too.

Store Manager Jean Christensen and Training and Human Resource Director Tina Fournier talked about how they overcame it, and SFM Risk Consultant Joe Morin gave some additional tips for effective safety committees, at the 81st Annual Minnesota Safety and Health Conference.

No more 'Business as usual'

"Business as usual," as Fournier and Christensen call it, was the period when Kowalski's safety committee meetings were unproductive (and therefore not well attended) and felt dictatorial with little engagement from those attending.

Thankfully, that changed as Kowalski’s saw a need for a new approach. They implemented civic organizing as a solution. The civic organizing approach aims to build civic capacity of employees, helping them to become active citizens who see their role in governing for the common good. This approach is based on the Minnesota Active Citizenship Initiative's  framework.

One of the committee's early steps was collectively defining its purpose.

It’s important for all safety committees to define a purpose beyond just complying with OSHA requirements, Morin said. Identifying objectives gives the group a sense of purpose and provides a roadmap for accomplishing something significant.

"If you haven't done this, go to a whiteboard and let your committee members speak," Morin said. "I think you'll find it fascinating what people think your purpose is, and eventually you'll come out with something that's meaningful for you and your organization."

When choosing objectives, be sure not to overextend, he said. Start small, with objectives that are realistic.

Engage committee members

It might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the individual whose job description includes workplace safety isn’t the best person to chair the safety committee, Morin said.

"By taking yourself out of that role, you can get people outside of their comfort zones, you can mentor them, you can build their capacity and you can create informal leaders," he said.

If you're getting nervous about releasing that control, it's an indicator that doing so might be exactly what's needed, he said.

To get committee members to engage, start by creating a roles and responsibility sheet. Let committee members choose which tasks they want to take on and write them down, Morin said. This could include items like planning a safety talk or taking meeting notes.

At Kowalski's, all of the committee members have work to do prior to each meeting. When the meeting time comes, having done that pre-work improves the group's ability to come up with sustainable solutions together, Fournier and Christensen said.

Kowalski's found that viewing employees as active citizens helped create ownership and engagement within the committee. Ultimately, based on the store's civic business approach, all employees are obligated to create a safe working environment.

For example, when a safety issue arises, employees are public and transparent. They do not avoid conflict, but instead speak up in a constructive way until agreements can be reached for the common good.

No matter what a company's philosophy might be, one aspect of the civic business approach that's applicable for all organizations is fostering a willingness to speak up and approach coworkers about safety hazards, Morin said.

Safety committee at work

Creativity is key

Successful safety committees stay interesting, fresh and visible.

"The most successful committees I see really go out outside of their comfort zones and get creative," Morin said. "You've really got to go for it in unique ways."

For example, some successful committees have created their own logos to build awareness through branding, he said.

Simply the process of designing the logo can be an opportunity for awareness. For example, one school had the art class design the logo, and another organization had employees and their family members design it.

"You're involving the family. You're involving kids at home," he said. "That's going to positively impact that kid who's a future worker."

Morin also suggested a number of other ideas including:

  • Create a schedule of supervisor-presented toolbox talks that include opportunities for feedback from employees (such as SFM's Supervisor Initiated Training series).
  • Facilitate a find it/fix it incentive program to encourage employees to report safety hazards and see that they are corrected.
  • Plan an informational campaign — with email messages, posters, maybe even a contest — around a key safety topic like winter slips and falls. (There are many free resources on indoor and outdoor slips and falls in the Resource Catalog.)
  • Create a display and promotional board about using traction footwear  to prevent winter slips and falls in your workplace.
  • Implement a "virtual safety store" (a page on your intranet with links to recommended vendors) where employees can learn about recommended home safety products such as carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers.
  • If your business has a benefits fair, have a booth for your safety committee.
  • Issue awards or plaques to recognize employees who point out safety hazards, for example, a plaque on a machine that states, "This machine made safer by John Smith."
  • Conduct a volunteer event to draw attention to your safety committee such as a coat, hat and mitten drive.
  • Have fun at meetings by incorporating a quiz, team-building exercise, compelling video, etc.
  • Hold committee meetings outside during nice weather, or take a field trip for a team-building event.

At Kowalski's, safety committee members are encouraged to bring a guest to each meeting, who can be an employee at any level of the company. This helps increase safety awareness and sustainability of the safety organizing agency (committee).

Additional resources on safety committees:

This is not intended to serve as legal advice for individual fact-specific legal cases or as a legal basis for your employment practices.

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