Creating or Re-energizing An Effective Safety Committee

Safety Committee Chairs graphic

A time-tested tool for helping employers and workers prevent workplace injuries

The loudest and most welcome noise at College Park may be the explosion of cheers from the stadium grandstand after a touchdown scored by the University of Maryland football team.

But the same cannot be said of the ear-splitting din from leaf blowers operated by workers for the City of College Park. With a decibel rating from 98 to 103.1, protracted noise at that level can be not only unpleasant, but physically damaging to the ear.

Safety committees make a difference

At a training program for outdoor work crews one day last year, the sound seemed especially objectionable to Carolanne Linder, the city’s safety officer. After discussing it with others involved in the program, she took the issue to the city’s safety committee, which includes about 10 representatives of supervisors and employees from various departments.

Mike Howard, a Chesapeake Employers loss control specialist who often attends the monthly committee meetings, agreed to check out the leaf blowers with a sound level meter and report the decibel readings to Ms. Linder and her committee. The committee was convinced that action was required.

As a result, the city adopted a formal hearing conservation program and issued protective ear equipment to be worn by workers operating the leaf blowers. Another test by Mike Howard was scheduled in the spring for College Park employees who operate mowers, grass blowers and other noise-generating equipment.

Ms. Linder sings the praises of the College Park safety committee but emphasizes the importance of employee participation in such groups.

“If you’re going to have a successful safety program, you have to have input from employees at every angle.”

Carolanne Linder, Safety Officer, City of College Park

The leaf-blower example represents just one of the benefits to be reaped from an effective safety committee, whether in the public or private sector. Will Ward, another Chesapeake Employers loss control specialist, cites several other examples from his work with safety committees set up by some of the companies with which he consults.

One of the more notable committee suggestions led to the recent development of a stair-step device that enables workers at Bond Distributing Co. to move 150-pound kegs of beer mechanically instead of manually, reducing the risk of back injury.

Another committee suggestion spawned a safety device for employees of Indusco Wire Rope & Fittings, which has served the Baltimore maritime industry since the early 1900’s. Previously, Indusco workers cut wire rope to the desired length by holding it in one hand and cutting it with the other. Now a clamp is used to hold the rope in place while it is cut, reducing the risk of severed fingers.

The value of safety committees has become so widely recognized that some governments, such as Canada and the State of Washington, have made them mandatory. Pennsylvania employers who establish a certified safety committee are eligible for a 5% discount on premiums for their workers’ compensation insurance.

Recruit the best management and employees from key departments

Whether mandatory or voluntary, as in the case of one recently established by Maryland’s Calvert County, safety committees can go far toward protecting the safety of employees and the economy of their employers.

Last year, not long after he became the Chesapeake Employers loss control specialist assigned to Calvert County, Will Ward was instrumental in establishing its new Safety Review Committee. Working with him in this were Gennie Zentgaft, the county’s risk management/benefits specialist, and J.R. (Bobby) Fenwick, its emergency management chief.

Members of the committee were recruited from divisions that generated most injuries, including the solid waste and wastewater division, the sheriff’s department, road crews and the detention center. Meetings are scheduled on a monthly basis, and a new communication tool, the “E Form,” was adopted to speed key information from divisions to risk managers, who channel summarized versions to the Safety Review Committee.

Formed only last August, the SRC has already produced evidence of improvement. Late reports of injury claims are down 30% from a comparable period one year earlier. There have been 38% fewer accidents involving lost time. Total claim costs dropped 43%.

To be most effective, membership on a safety committee should be recognized as not just another chore, but as a two-way communication opportunity for both management and the workforce. Staff your safety committee with your best employees representing key areas of your business, not just warm bodies.

It should, therefore, include representatives of both management and employees, and should encourage free expression of ideas for eliminating unsafe work conditions and for adopting procedures and equipment that enhance workplace safety.

Keeping a safety committee effective takes effort

Once established, a safety committee should not be taken for granted and allowed to degenerate through negligence or disuse. If it has, it should be revived and re-energized.

An effective safety committee should:

· Publicize its existence to all employees
· Meet regularly, preferably every month
· Provide members with copies of agenda before each meeting
· Require that agenda items include follow-up of old items, new items, and report of new
injuries since last meeting
· Keep minutes of meetings
· Make minutes available to all employees and supervisors
· Solicit safety recommendations from the workforce
· Set procedures for advancing committee recommendations, whether by majority vote,  plurality or otherwise
· Establish procedures for periodic inspections to identify hazards
· Review the organization’s hazard detection program
· Make recommendations, in writing, of specific steps to deal with hazards
· Conduct timely reviews of incidents resulting in injuries
· Schedule timely reviews of complaints about safety and health conditions
· Conduct evaluations of new safety and health equipment and its use, and
· Set date of next meeting

Periodic follow-up checks should be made to determine progress on implementation of committee recommendations.

Everyone can contribute to a safer work environment, and a safety committee can make that contribution more valuable for all.


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