It's important 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 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.
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 credibility and earn confidence in its recommendations?"
To get things done, you must have credibility. To do that, safety committees must demonstrate expert power and position 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. A characteristic of position power is access to the decision-makers. Does the safety committee chairperson have access to the CEO?
Does the committee "have the ear" of the person in charge? A safety committee's position power 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? 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.
Effective communication is key in establishing expert and position power. Management and employees see the safety committee as a communications conduit. When employees inform or make suggestions, they expect to get something done, and some sort of feedback soon thereafter. They naturally want to see action. If safety committee representatives take the information to the safety committee, but neglect to give management and employees feedback, what are they going to think about the safety committee?
Therefore, to gain credibility with both management and employees, communicate regularly and often with them. If a hazard can't be fixed for a while, let people know why. 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 safety committee accomplishments and do so with some excitement and pride.
Employees see the safety committee as a communications conduit to management.
Apathy in and towards the safety committee is common in some companies. There may be many reasons, but usually this problem is due to factors that can be influenced by the safety committee and top management. Lack of commitment by top management is likely the most common complaint given by safety committee members for the lack of accomplishment that fosters apathy. But, are safety committees premature in "blaming" management for all their ills? It's good to remember that when you've got the finger of blame pointed outward, three other fingers are pointing inward. Safety committee members may want to first reflect on how well they are fulfilling their own responsibilities before accusing management for a lack of success.
As we mentioned in Module 1, safety committees must have vision to succeed. Management, as well, must have a vision for safety. Safety committees can help management gain that vision by "educating up" - giving management information about the benefits of successful safety committees.
Another less common but important reason safety committees fail is because meetings are too long and boring. Watch the video to get some good ideas how to spruce up the quality of safety committee meetings.
If safety committees suffer from a lack of involvement, ways to turn that situation around include:
It goes without saying that the most successful safety committees are composed of volunteers. Committees will always be more effective if interested volunteers are enthusiastic about committee activities. However, when employees do not volunteer, management can do something about it. They could motivate employees to volunteer using either recognition if they volunteer or some form of punishment if they don't. You can understand employees who are "volunteered," yet don't want to be safety committee members, might not appreciate it and perform less than enthusiastically.
As stated in the audio clip, it's better to get someone to do something because they want to be involved, not because they have to be involved or do something. Forcing people is not usually the most effective long-term policy. If they know why something they are doing is important or how it contributes to both their own and their company's success, they are more like to be a motivated volunteer!
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?
Management demonstrates support through communication and commitment through action: For example, support is shown by saying that the safety committee is important. However, commitment is demonstrated through action, for example, 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 serious time and money in the safety committee. A few examples include:
How can management best encourage employees to volunteer to become safety committee members? Management must answer an important employee question, "what's in it for me?"
Reward members of the safety committee with tangible and intangible incentives.
Management can 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. We encourage managers to think about involvement in the safety committee as part of a "management apprenticeship" program.
Here are a few ideas for developing a proactive safety recognition program rewarding and recognizing performance to prevent injuries in your company:
Safety Buck: Supervisors carry safety bucks, and when they see employees doing something right, they reward them. Employees 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 employees identify 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 very small percentage of the potential direct cost for the accident that might have occurred.
Safety Hero: After an extended period of time, employees are rewarded with a certificate, a day off, a gift card, or bonus for reporting hazards, making suggestions, or involvement in safety activities.
Days Without An Accident: We do not consider this program effective because it promotes reactive - after the fact - behaviors: failing to report accidents and injuries. Actually, the "Days without an accident" banner actually reflects "Days without a reported injury." consequently, the company may suffer from the "walking wounded syndrome" in the workplace.
Reporting Injuries: Wait a minute: Do we really mean that employees should be recognized for reporting injuries? Absolutely. 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.
For more information on developing successful recognition program, take OSHAcademy course 117 Introduction to Safety Recognition.
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