It's important that the safety committee be composed of both managers and employees who understand its role, purposes and activities, and are interested in its success. But, sometimes it seems that most companies experience varying degrees of difficulty generating enthusiasm for the safety committee. We'll take a look at the possible reasons for this, and then try to come up with some solutions to the problem.
There are many reasons that might explain why both managers and employees have no interest in a safety committee. What drives that lack of interest? Their perceptions. Below are a few perceptions that might cause a lack of interest.
To get things done, you must have credibility: Expert power. To be believable, it's important that members of the safety committee have a clear understanding of their role, purpose, duties, and responsibilities. They need to understand where their responsibility ends, and where management's responsibility takes over.
When the safety committee realizes they play the role of an internal consultant to the employer, they know that their credibility depends on the expertise they bring to the role. How do you gain expertise? By increasing your knowledge and gaining experience.
Writing and submitting effective recommendations to management is crucial if credibility is to be gained. The most effective recommendations will discuss costs and benefits -- talk the bottom line to management, and it will offer reasonable options for correcting workplace hazards, unsafe work practices, and ineffective administrative controls.
Another strategy for gaining credibility is to increase the committee's "position power". Do you have an executive secretary positioned immediately outside the CEO's office? Why does this person posses position power? Because he or she "has the ear" of the person in charge. Likewise, the position power of the safety committee is strengthened when it communicates with the head of the organization. Which safety committee has more position power: The committee that reports to the deputy director for human resources, or the committee that reports to the CEO? That's pretty obvious. The principle here is that for the safety committee to increase its own position power, it must communicate directly with the powerful positions found within the organization.
Communication is the key here. Employees see the safety committee as a communications conduit to management. When an employee informs or makes a suggestion to the safety committee representative, he or she expects to get some sort of feedback soon thereafter. They want to see action. If the safety committee representative takes the information to the safety committee, but neglects to give the worker feedback, what is the employee going to think about the safety committee: A bunch of do-nothings? They're a waste of time?
Therefore, to gain credibility with employees, communicate regularly and often with them. If a hazard can't be fixed for a while, let the employees know the "what" and "whys" behind the delay. They will appreciate it, even if it's not the answer they want to hear. The safety committee has done its job.
Another good idea is to appropriately "brag" about safety committee accomplishments. I don't mean that members of the committee should go out and literally brag about how great they are.... just let employees know about its accomplishments, and do so with some excitement and pride.
Apathy towards the safety committee is common in many companies. There may be many reasons, but usually this problem is due to factors that can be controlled by top management. Lack of top management support is a common complaint forwarded by safety committee members. But, is the safety committee premature in "blaming" management for their ills? The safety committee may want to first reflect on how well they are fulfilling their own responsibilities before they accuse management.
What does it mean to be credible? A quick look in the dictionary tells us that to be credible means, "capable of being believed: deserving confidence". What's the message here? Credibility must be earned! So the real question to ask is, "What can the safety committee do to increase its believability and earn confidence in its recommendations?"
Management can demonstrate support through word and commitment through deed. and by investing time and money into the safety committee.
Support. How is support expressed? Formally through the mission statement, policies, job descriptions, and performance appraisals. Informally through word of mouth; a simple recognition of a job well done; or appreciation expressed before a group of peers.
Commitment. Commitment is more than an expression of support. It is achieved by investing time and money in safety. A few examples include:
It goes without saying that safety committee members should be volunteers. The committee will always be more effective as a group of interested volunteers who are enthusiastic about voluntary activities. But, when employees do not volunteer, management may feel obligated to do something. Consequently, management "volunteers" employees as members of the safety committee. Well, I'm sure you can understand why those employees might not appreciate their new responsibility and will likely not put more into the committee than required.
Blast from the Past - Here's another quick talk I gave as an OR-OSHA training specialist. The message: Be a "wanta-be, not a "haveta-be"!
As stated in the audio clip, it's better to get someone to do something because they want to be involved(a "wanta-be"), not because they have to be involved or do something(a "haveta-be"). Forcing people is not usually the most effective long-term policy. If they know why what they're doing is important, how it contributes to their own success and that of the company's they're more like to be a "wanta-be"!
If management controls the workplace, and has the greatest influence on corporate culture there should be some way to effectively enlist volunteers for the safety committee. Remember, we behave the way we do in the workplace primarily as a result of what we believe will be the consequences. So, the question is: How can management arrange positive consequences for involvement in the safety committee?
Answer the employee's question, "what's in it for me?"
Reward members of the safety committee with tangible and intangible incentives.
Management could let it be known that it is to an employee's advantage for career advancement to gain experience on the safety committee. After all, doesn't a member of the safety committee gain additional professional skills in communications, meeting management, problem solving, occupational safety and health programs, hazard identification, accident investigation, recommendation writing, and other areas?. That's quite a list. Consequently, safety committee membership should make an employee more qualified for advancement. I like to think of the safety committee as part of a "management apprenticeship" program.
Here are a few ideas for developing a proactive safety recognition program for your company:
Safety Buck: Supervisors carry safety bucks, and when they see someone doing something right, they reward them. The employee can take the safety buck to the company cafeteria for lunch, or they can use it at a local participating store to purchase items.
Bonus Program: When an employee identifies a hazard in the workplace that could cause serious physical harm or a fatality, they are rewarded with a bonus check. In some cases the bonus check is a fixed amount. In other programs the bonus check is a small percentage of the potential direct cost for the accident that might have occurred.
By the way, the average direct cost for a disabling claim in is around $10,000. Doesn't it make sense to reward an individual with $100 for identifying a hazard that could potentially cost the company thousands?
Safety Hero: After an extended period of time, employees are rewarded with a certificate or bonus check for complying with company safety rules.
Reporting Injuries: Wait a minute...Do I really mean that employees should be recognized for reporting injuries? That's right. If employees report injuries immediately, they not only minimize the physical/psychological impact of the injury on themselves, they reduce the direct/indirect accident costs to the company. Both the individual and the company win if the employee reports injuries immediately. These are just a sample of many ideas available. There are many other ways to recognize employees being used by companies across the country. Call your local OSHA office to see if they know of companies in your area that have developed successful proactive safety recognition programs. Use those companies as benchmarks.
Well, that about wraps it up for this module. In the next module, we'll take a look at communications and the use of safety committees. The only task left is the module quiz. Good Luck!
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