Course 701 - Effective OSH Committee Operations

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Getting Started

Kick Start your Committee!

Don't pass this module up just because you already have a safety committee!

This module is designed to help you if you are trying to start a new safety committee in your company. However, if you already have a safety committee, be sure to complete this module because you'll still receive some good information to help you further develop your safety committee's effectiveness. At a minimum, it will be a great review for you.

Sell the Idea to the Boss

Let's say your company does not presently have a safety committee. You are convinced that the company would benefit if it started one, but how do you sell the idea to the CEO?

You've got to "$$ talk bottom line $$" to get management's attention.

An effective safety committee may not only help prevent employees' from getting hurt or killed on the job, it may help decrease future direct and indirect accident costs. An effective safety committee is a profit center, not a cost center for the company.

Benefits of a Safety Committee

  • The safety committee performs the role of a internal consultant to the employer. If your employer hired an external consultant it would cost thousands of dollars for the same service the safety committee can provide in-house.
  • The safety committee acts as a forum for management and labor to communicate safety related concerns. The benefits from improved communications may be hard to quantify, but they may be substantial.
  • Every hazard the safety committee identifies and is directly involved in eliminating results in significant savings in potential accident costs. We'll talk more about this later.
  • The safety committee can serve as a valuable problem solving group that addresses workplace conditions, morale and quality. By developing solutions, the safety committee improves the company's competitive advantage.
  • The safety committee is an excellent opportunity for employees to improve their professional skills in communications, human relations, problem solving, meeting management, and analysis. Since supervisors and managers should be informed about occupational safety and health, the safety committee is a natural "school" of preparation for future company managers. In fact, some companies even make it a prerequisite.

Who the Safety Committee Protects

As we just saw, by identifying and being involved in eliminating hazardous conditions and unsafe work practices, the safety committee may save the company thousands of dollars in potential accident costs. In fact, for each eliminated hazard that could have caused a serious injury, many thousands of dollars in direct/indirect accident costs are saved.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 3 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported by private industry employers in 2011. The rate reported for 2011 was unchanged for the first time in a decade. The number of fatal occupational injuries has declined since the mid-1990s. The 2010 total (4,690) was the second-lowest ever recorded by CFOI. The lower counts in both 2009 (4,551) and 2010 are likely related to the slower U.S. economy during those years. Each fatality results in well more than $1 million dollars in insured and uninsured accident costs.

According to the BLS, 4,609 workers were killed on the job in 2011. That equals almost 90 a week or nearly 13 deaths everyday. This is a slight increase from the 4,551 fatal work injuries in 2009, but the second lowest annual total since the fatal injury census was first conducted in 1992.

What do these statistics mean to you? Effective "profit center" safety committees have the potential to save not only lives and limbs, but lots of money: Thousands and thousands of dollars each year can be saved every time the safety committee uncovers and helps the employer eliminate hazardous conditions or unsafe work practices.

Every dollar invested in proactive safety, including safety committee activities, may return hundreds back. You've got to convince management that an effective safety committee not only saves lives, but saves money too.

Write it Down

It's important to make sure the safety committee has a written policy statement to guide its actions. The policy statement should include:

  • role, purpose(s) of the safety committee;
  • reasons for establishing the safety committee;
  • need for management and employee participation;
  • need for support by all departments;
  • responsibilities of the committee; and
  • duties of committee members.

Getting Organized

OK, you know the safety committee is going to be composed of a number of people from management and the labor force. What kind of structure should the safety committee take? Typically the committee will have a chairperson (some will also have a co-chair), a recorder, and of course a number of members. You don't need a complicated bureaucratic structure.

Duties of the Chairperson

The chairperson's job is, of course, one of the most important on the committee. He or she is the key coordinator ensuring the safety committee operates effectively. Below are some of the very important responsibilities of the chairperson.

  • Prepare an agenda for meetings
  • Arrange for meeting room
  • Notify members of meeting dates/times
  • Distribute agenda
  • Delegate responsibilities
  • Make Exercises
  • Preside and conduct the meeting
  • Enforce committee ground rules
  • Communicate with the employer
  • Report the status of recommendations

Duties of the Safety Committee Recorder

Let's not forget another very important responsibility: that of the recorder or secretary. This person assists the chairperson in making sure all communications are accurately recorded and distributed to committee members and others. Some duties of the recorder may include:

  • assisting the chairperson with agenda;
  • recording minutes of the meeting;
  • distributing and posting the minutes; and
  • assuming the chairperson's duties if necessary.

Duties of the Safety Committee Member

For the safety committee to operate most effectively, everyone on the committee needs to be involved in some way. Safety committee members should do more than just report safety concerns from their departments. Below are some ideas for members.

  • Receive suggestions, concerns, reports from employees
  • Report employee suggestions, concerns, reports to committee
  • Report back to employees on their suggestions, concerns, reports
  • Attend all safety committee meetings
  • Receive training on safety and health subjects
  • Review injury and illness reports
  • Monitor safety and health programs and system
  • Set example by taking action
  • Conduct safety inspections
  • Make recommendations for corrective action
  • Assist in communicating committee activities to all employees

Safety Committee Membership

The makeup of the committee membership is a very important consideration. Establishing joint labor-management committees is a popular method of employee participation. They are extensively and successfully used in many European countries and Canadian provinces.

Blast from the Past - Here's another short talk I gave as an OR-OSHA training specialist. The message: Management and unions must work together.

Steve's image

Other types of committees also have been used successfully for safety and health participation. At many unionized worksites, employee safety committees -- with members selected by the union or elected by employees -- work alone, without management, on various tasks. At some worksites, hourly workers participate on a central safety committee.

In addition, some worksites use employee or joint committees for specific purposes, such as inspecting the site for hazards, investigating accidents and incidents, and training new employees. Finally, although they go by a different name, quality circles are another form of committee. They focus, at least part of the time, on identifying and resolving health and safety problems.

Makeup of the Safety Committee

If one of the purposes of the safety committee is to bring management and labor together in a cooperative effort to improve the safety and health of workers, it just makes business sense to include representatives from management ranks as well as the work floor.

Management and labor can sit together and discuss their unique and common concerns regarding safety. The safety committee becomes a forum that both management and labor may use, to ensure mutually acceptable solutions to problems can be reached.

It's important that the safety committee not be dominated by management in general, or any one individual, be it the safety director, chairperson, or member. To make sure this does not happen, establish ground rules, and techniques for decision-making that promotes group consensus.

Management representatives and the chairperson will be the primary conduits of communications between the safety committee and the employer. Committee members are the primary communicators with employees. It's very important that communications occurs in both directions.

Final Words

You've sold the CEO on the value of the safety committee, written an effective safety committee policy statement, and recruited members. You are organized, but don't's not time to party yet. There's a lot of work ahead if you expect long term success.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. What is the number of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in the USA reported by the BLS for 2011?

2. Which subject below is important to include in a safety committee policy statement?

3. Which of the following is an important reason for including both labor and management in the safety committee?

4. Which of the following should not be the responsibility of the safety committee chairperson?

5. The safety committee member should not be required to ___________.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.