Safety Committees The What and Why (Part 3 of 3) feat. Eagle River Water and Sanitation District

By Jesse Brazzell, CHST, Manager of Safety Services, Safety Management Group as edited by the CSD Pool

Safety committees can be highly effective channels for delivering safety information as well as encouraging feedback and suggestions from your entire workforce. But some of the most well-intentioned safety committees fall far short of management’s expectations–usually for one of several common reasons.

By better understanding some potential pitfalls and taking steps to prevent them, your district can ensure that your safety committee will be more effective and improve its chances for success.Safety Committees

Clear roadmap. Successful committees have clear missions, achievable visions, and well-planned agendas. The importance of developing an agenda and sticking to it can’t be overstated. The safety committee at Eagle River Water and Sanitation District (ERWSD) understands this well. Dan Siebert, ERWSD’s Safety Coordinator, makes sure to send a draft agenda to their safety committee members before every meeting so that participants can be adequately prepared, as well as weigh in with additional topics or areas of concern that they’d like addressed at the meeting.

Setting a time limit is important, too. Keeping the meeting to an hour or less is the best way to head off the common problem of meetings that drag on forever and accomplish little in the process. It also minimizes the chance that committee members will feel that their time is being wasted.

Solid focus. Safety committees typically cover a wide array of issues, so they have to be careful that they don’t get bogged down by a single matter that consumes far too much time. For example, if the safety committee determines that an incentive plan would be a good idea, they shouldn’t devote hours and hours to working out the finer points. Instead, they could ask the company’s HR staff to explore the idea, or set up a subcommittee to bring it to life. Taking a high-level approach in meetings makes the best use of members’ time and energy.

Convenient location. Selecting a meeting site that isn’t convenient for all of the attendees discourages active participation. The most effective committees are those that rotate meeting sites so that all members have the opportunity to take part in meetings that are convenient for them.

Take ERWSD, which has operations in Vail, Avon and Edwards. In order to prevent some committee members from always having to travel farther than others, the district rotates its monthly meeting sites between their different locations.

Doing so adds some variety and allows members to see work environments that are different from their own (when implementing this rotating model, you may also want to set aside some time at each meeting for a brief tour of the site if some members haven’t been there before). Always hosting meetings at your main office can also make it far too easy for the district’s representatives to be dragged out of the meeting to solve that hour’s crisis.

Real-world examples. The committee can try to understand a particular safety challenge, but they’ll be more effective if they can get a firsthand look at it. Take fall protection: it’s possible for the committee to talk about harnesses and lanyards in an office, but the discussion is much more likely to be beneficial if the members are at a site where fall protection is needed, and they can see how it will be used (or how it can be misused).

Another effective strategy is to encourage the committee to perform walkthroughs to identify potential safety infractions. When the members spot shortcomings on other parts of the site, they’ll pay more attention to what happens in their own areas.

Communicate consistently. Since your committee is a channel between those responsible for safety and those who are being protected, set up mechanisms for two-way communication. Keep workers informed about what the committee is discussing and what decisions it has made. Publicize the names and locations of committee members so that workers can approach them with concerns or ideas. Post committee minutes or summaries on bulletin boards.

ERWSD communicates with district employees through regular email updates that draw attention to any current safety topics or areas of concern while also welcoming employee feedback and suggestions.

“We do our best to make sure that our safety committee is comprised of employees from every department,” said Siebert. “That way, all of our employees have a representative that they know they can approach to discuss their concerns.”

Siebert also says that while the safety committee’s representatives “drive” the program, management is in charge of communicating and reinforcing safety procedures and policy recommendations throughout the district.

Celebrate successes. Being on a committee is hard work, and it’s easy to lose sight of successes. That’s why it’s a good idea to take the time to recognize and take credit for successful outcomes. If one of the goals was lowering injuries, and the current quarter’s level is well below the previous quarter, make a point of it. Communicate it to the workers, too, because it will strengthen the committee’s reputation. Remember, nothing breeds success like success.

wellsafecardsOne way that ERWSD celebrates success is through their district’s safety incentive program. Employees are recognized for maintaining a safe work environment through Safety Jackpot, a company that makes scratchoff gamecards that can be redeemed for prizes.

Scratch-off gamecards are handed out to employees for accomplishing weekly safety benchmarks or goals. The cards reveal points and one letter from the word JACKPOT, which can be returned to Safety Jackpot to redeem prizes and be entered to win cash drawings. In fact, one of ERWSD’s employees won a cash drawing for over $150 earlier this year.

“Our employees have really responded to the Safety Jackpot program,” said Siebert. “It’s a fun way to get people engaged in our safety programs, which isn’t always easy to accomplish.”
While there’s no single formula that works for every district when it comes to forming and maintaining an effective safety committee, the guidelines outlined above are a good reference for any district.

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