Course 701 - Effective Safety Committee Operations

Role, Purpose, and Function

SC Role Purpose Function
The safety committee must understand its role to fulfill its purpose and function properly.

The Safety Committee's Role

You don't have to climb a mountain and sit on a big rock for six days to visualize the safety committee's role. However, it will take more thought to develop the safety committee to meet the expected behaviors and outcomes necessary to fulfill its role.

First, let's look at the concept of "role" and how it applies to the safety committee. Look up the definition, and you'll find something like:

  • A part assumed or played by a person or group in a particular situation;
  • The position a person or group has in a situation, organization, or relationship.
  • A prescribed or expected behavior pattern associated with a position or status in a group or organization.

As you can see, a role defines who we are, how we should behave personally, and what we should do as individuals or groups.

I'm sure the position you hold in your company has some sort of formal title that helps you and others identify your role and associated duties. Along with that role, come assigned responsibilities and status. Every role you play has a set of expected behaviors and activities considered appropriate for that role.

Take a look at the following list of common roles we play. The odds are you play one or more of these roles.

  • At home: mother, wife, father, husband, son, daughter, aunt, uncle.
  • In the community: youth group leader, coach, club officer.
  • At work: receptionist, supervisor, welder, trainer, nurse.

Of course, there are many more roles we can play, but you get the idea. Each role is unique with its own set of performance expectations.

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1. Which of the following is a term we use to define who we are and what is expected of our individual and group behaviors?

a. Role
b. Responsibility
c. Accountability
d. Duty

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The Vision Statement

You are not a cop.
The safety committee plays the role of a consultant group.

To better understand and convey the role of your safety committee as an internal consultant team providing expert advice and assistance, think about creating a "vision statement." The vision statement describes who you are. A good vision statement will help you determine what to do and make it more likely that you'll realize that vision.

To help the safety committee function better, each safety committee member must understand this basic principle:

What we do depends on who we think we are.

For example:

  • If safety committee members believe they are consultants, they will do and say things that send a message they can be trusted. Employees will seek their help and appreciate their work.
  • If safety committee members believe they are cops, they will do and say things in a manner that is likely to result in mistrust. And, as we know, an effective safety culture can not exist in a climate of mistrust.

Sample Vision Statement: "The safety committee helps management lead in creating a world-class safety culture through educating employees and consulting with management."

Click on the button to see what a committee with an appropriate vision is more likely to do to achieve its purposes.

Safety committees that perform as internal consultants will:

  • survey and interview employees to find out what they are thinking and feeling;
  • observe employees to analyze behaviors;
  • inspect the workplace to uncover hazardous conditions;
  • audit safety programs;
  • uncover the surface and root causes of safety problems;
  • develop and submit written recommendations;
  • monitor the progress of corrective actions and system improvements; and
  • evaluate the long-term quality of the safety culture.

A final word about vision: You may be wondering why some safety committees fail. Well, I'm sure you're familiar with the saying, "Where there is no vision, the people will perish." (Proverbs 29:18) The same principle applies to safety committees.

2. What safety committees do depends on _____.

a. their vision: who they think they are
b. what they're told to do by management
c. the safety committee's directives
d. what makes common sense to its members

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Multiples Roles

Every person plays many roles every day.

As a safety committee member, you perform multiple roles. Let's see how this affects your responsibilities:

  • Safety committee member: When performing the role of a safety committee member, you are basically performing the role of an internal consultant:
    • Warn employees, but do not report "names" to the supervisor.
    • Report unsafe behaviors to the committee chairperson so the safety committee can discuss how to fix the surface and root causes.
    • Help managers and supervisors gain the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to better enforce, supervise, and manage safety by giving them useful information.
    • Listen to employee concerns and suggestions about safety and give that information to the safety committee.
    • Educate and assist employees, but do not try to enforce safety rules: that's a line responsibility.
  • Line employee: When performing the role of a line employee, you have a responsibility to warn the employee, but again, you're not a cop. Your job is not to enforce safety. Report the behavior to your safety committee member. If you are comfortable with it, report the behavior to your supervisor without naming names.
  • Supervisor/Manager: When performing the role of supervisor or manager, you are the employer’s agent, responsible for providing training, resources and enforcing safety. For example:
    • Suppose you catch someone violating a safety rule. You have properly trained the employee and provided proper resources, time, support, etc. You're probably justified in disciplining the employee.
    • Address behaviors with everyone in training and safety meetings. It resets employee accountability when the supervisor tells all employees they cannot engage in a particular unsafe behavior.

Enforcing Safety Rules is Not the Safety Committee's Job

Some companies inappropriately assign safety enforcement responsibilities to the safety committee. However, writing "tickets" for violating safety rules can be especially disastrous to the committee's effectiveness: Don't do it. Enforcing safety is legally a line management responsibility, not a staff responsibility.

3. As a safety committee member, which activity below would be inappropriate?

a. Monitoring the hazard communication program
b. Making recommendations to improve safe procedures
c. Reporting the names of individuals working unsafely
d. Helping the employer develop an interest in workplace safety

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Role Conflict

Understand your role as a safety committee inspector.

Suppose you are a member of your company safety team and a supervisor. How do you discipline your employees for unsafe behavior? Let's look at a scenario below to set the scene.


Larry is a member of the company's safety committee as well as a supervisor. He notices one of his subordinates is not wearing the required personal protective equipment (PPE) during his workday. Larry wants to correct the unsafe behavior; however, he is unsure how to proceed.

Since Larry is a line supervisor, should he discipline the workers or should he actually refrain from discipline because he is a safety committee member?

How would you respond in the above situation? The response depends on the role you are playing when you discover the unsafe behavior. For instance:

  • If you are conducting a safety inspection as a safety committee member, intervention would be appropriate when observing unsafe behavior. Disciplining the employee, in this case, might be inappropriate and counterproductive to the safety committee's mission.
  • Suppose you are conducting an inspection as a supervisor and spot the unsafe behavior. In that case, discipline may be necessary as appropriate.

To prevent role conflict like this, you might ask someone else to conduct the inspection in your department.

4. You are a supervisor conducting a safety committee inspection. How would you respond when you see an employee failing to work safely?

a. Be sure to discipline the employee on the spot
b. Observe the unsafe behavior and take no other action
c. Inform the employee of the unsafe behavior, but do not discipline
d. Tell the employee that you will inform his supervisor of the infraction

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The Safety Committee's Purpose

Armed with insight into the safety committee's role, let's take a look at what the committee's purpose and function might be. We'll start by looking at the purpose of the safety committee. A quick review of our friendly dictionary once again defines "purpose" as "a desired or intended result or effect."

Safety Committee
The purpose of the safety committee is to help management protect employees.

For safety committees to successfully fulfill their role, they need to understand their purpose and achieve intended outcomes. If the safety committee does not understand it's purpose, it may actually produce unintended outcomes.

Safety committees are created and developed to fulfill the following purposes:

  • help to protect the employer by providing useful information;
  • help to protect the employee by responding to safety concerns;
  • bring labor and management together in a cooperative way to solve problems;
  • help the employer educate and motivate all employees about the importance of safety; and
  • help the employer educate and motivate all supervisors and managers to identify hazards and take corrective action.

These purpose statements emphasize the safety committee's responsibility to help the employer manage safety and not do it for the employer. This important idea is why we encourage safety committees to think of themselves as internal consultant groups, but not as safety "cop squads."

The Mission Statement

A safety committee should write a mission statement that explains what they do to support their vision. The safety committee's purpose might be viewed as its mission and describes the activities above to support its assigned role.

Sample Mission Statement: "The safety committee’s mission is to promote a safe and healthful working environment for all employees by assisting management in minimizing the frequency of accidents and identifying corrective measures to control recognized hazards."

5. To tell everyone what the safety committee intends to do, write a _____.

a. vision statement
b. mission statement
c. policy statement
d. company advertisement

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Safety Committee
If the purpose is not understood, the committee fails to function effectively.

The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions

Earlier, we mentioned that the safety committee’s "purpose" is why it exists and what it intends to achieve. How effectively the safety committee functions to achieve its purpose depends on how well each safety committee member performs.

The safety committee may have the best intentions in fulfilling its purpose, but what happens if the committee suffers from poor vision, leadership, and management? What if meetings are infrequent and boring, members think of themselves as cops, and no one wants to volunteer for membership? The committee may actually function so poorly that it harms rather than helps a safety program. Good intentions do not always produce the results you want.

The safety committee cannot function effectively without each member having a clear vision, strong leadership, and sound management practices. Members must have adequate knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to function successfully.

For instance, the safety committee may intend to increase interest in safety by implementing a safety incentive program, but if its members do not have the KSAs to accomplish this task, they may unintentionally develop a totally reactive incentive program that’s a dismal failure.

6. A clear vision, strong leadership, sound management practices are necessary to ensure the safety committee properly _____.

a. mandates safety requirements
b. meets at least weekly
c. enforces safety rules
d. functions as intended

Check your Work

Read the material in each section to find the correct answer to each quiz question. After answering all the questions, click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and check your answers again.


Purpose vs. Function

Listen to Bryan explain one of the ways to deliver engaging service. Understanding the "purpose" of your job duties (functions) is a powerful way to deliver service in an engaging way.

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