Members, Safety


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Safety Committees: The What and Why

Featuring Clifton Sanitation District

Clifton Sanitation (10)By Jesse Brazzell, CHST, Manager of Safety Services, Safety Management Group as edited by the CSD Pool

Brian Woods, District Manager for Clifton Sanitation District, certainly understands the importance of instilling a safety culture in the workplace. “We’re pretty emphatic about having the best safety program we can possibly have,” said Woods. “But it’s not enough to just have one in place and talk about it – you have to actually implement it and make sure every level of your organization buys in and does their part to maintain the safest possible work environment.”

Clifton’s program certainly seems to be working. Woods has been with Clifton Sanitation for more than 24 years, and in his time there, has only seen one workplace injury occur (when an employee cut his finger). Woods says that one of the keys to Clifton’s exemplary safety record is their safety committee.

Nearly every safety professional will tell you that the most effective safety efforts are those that involve participants from throughout the company or specific jobsite. While it’s rarely practical to gather everyone together for every decision regarding safety, developing a safety committee will help you reap many of the same benefits.

Broadly stated, a safety committee has two overall missions: to act as a conduit for delivering safety information to the entire workforce, and to provide a channel for feedback and suggestions from the workers. The specifics of each committee depend on the project itself and personalities and skills of those who serve on it.

Some companies and managers view safety as a top-down concept. Management sets out the rules, and the workers are expected to follow without question. But without buy-in from the workers, those rules are likely to create dissension and lead to bigger problems – or prove to be inappropriate in real-world situations.

That’s why a safety committee should include all levels of people within a company, from hourly workers to upper management. While you don’t want committees to become so large that they make meetings and decision-making impossible, it’s important to achieve that representation of people throughout the company or worksite.

Clifton Sanitation’s safety committee is comprised of three employees at a time who are all on a limited-term appointment. After six to twelve months, the committee appointees rotate and are replaced by three new employees, ensuring that everyone within the organization–from managers to the newest employees–gets the opportunity to take part.

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“It’s paramount that our employees are represented when it comes to our safety committee,” said Woods. “It’s far more effective when the message is coming from your peers, and not just management.”

Involving those who will be expected to follow the rules on a daily basis ensures that what may sound good in the executive office is actually practical and beneficial at the worksite. For example, management may react to an increase in claims for hand injuries by mandating that workers throughout a jobsite wear gloves. However, workers in some roles or areas may be able to point out that gloves will have such a negative effect on their dexterity that they may actually create more of a hazard.

Having a safety committee gives you a planned, practical way to address such issues. Instead of dictating the need for gloves, management’s representatives to the committee could make everyone aware of the increase in claims and ask everyone to bring ideas to the next meeting. It may be that the claims are actually the result of unsafe work practices or equipment that isn’t properly protected. Or, most workers may see gloves as beneficial, and those who don’t may be able to offer an alternate solution.

In any case, involving all the committee members in discussions like these creates solutions that are more likely to be accepted and followed than top-down decisions. Just as important, involving representatives from throughout the company sends a very clear message that safety is a company-wide priority.

“We see our committee as a tool to regulate our entire organization,” said Woods. “Once new members are on the committee, we do everything we can to support them and not interfere with the process.”

Once a committee is formed, its first goal should be to define its mission and vision. Again, a collaborative process will be more effective and meaningful than handing the members a list of responsibilities. The mission and vision will be slightly different with each committee, but it nearly always will focus on creating a safer working environment for all of the employees, on reducing injuries and illnesses, and on improving communication about safety throughout the organization.

One technique that works well for newly-formed safety committees is to talk a little about mission and vision at the first meeting, and to send participants home with an assignment to bring their ideas to the second session. That way, members are more likely to begin the process with thoughtful ideas. It may take a little longer, but ultimately, the results will more than justify any additional time and effort.

Clifton Sanitation’s safety committee meets once a month and works collaboratively to improve communication as an organization while reviewing past program initiatives’ successes and areas for improvement. They also use the meeting time to review the district’s major maintenance projects, perform Job Safety Analyses (JSAs), and actively seek out ways to improve organizational efficiency. The committee also performs monthly inspections and audits of their facilities, involving every district employee in the process.

“It’s essential that each of our employees understands that their personal work habits contribute to an overall safe working environment for everyone,” said Woods. “Anyone will tell you that the key to a successful program is buy-in from everyone, but it’s true. The key to our program’s success is that our employees, our safety committee, and our board are all fully committed.”

Clifton Sanitation has also incorporated regular ongoing safety training into their program. Each month, the committee–with employee input–prepares a safety calendar with recurring themes and topics that is distributed to all employees. Some of the items from the calendar are mandatory for every employee, while others are voluntary.

For example, the committee selects an online training course that every employee must complete before the month’s end, but there are additional courses available that can be completed voluntarily. For every hour that an employee spends completing additional training after hours, Clifton Sanitation awards that employee with an hour of additional paid leave.

“Employers will often only pay attention to safety once it’s too late and an incident has already occurred,” said Woods. “When a worker sees a potential problem with a worksite or a coworker, they need to identify the problem right away and speak up to prevent it from hurting someone. You’ve got to recognize problems and not turn away from them.”

“No matter what, you’ve got to set your expectations, communicate them to everyone in your organization, and follow through with implementing them,” said Woods. “While it’s easy to recognize safety positives, it can be quite difficult to reprimand employees for doing an inadequate job of maintaining a safe work environment. While writing people up for infractions is never fun, you’ve got to do your due diligence.”

Reprinted with permission from Safety Management Group and modified by the CSD Pool with input from Brian Woods at Clifton Sanitation District

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