Your Health & Safety Committee

by Jennifer A. MacFarlane
Jennifer A. MacFarlane
is a safety engineering technologist. She provides occupational health & safety solutions for Workplace Safety & Prevention Services as a senior account manager.

A Health and Safety Committee (HSC) is an integral part of an organization’s Internal Responsibility System (IRS). To explain the IRS in a simple way: everyone in the workplace is responsible for health and safety. An effective Health and Safety Committee can promote the IRS by monitoring the organization’s occupational health and safety program (OHS) by identifying and suggesting how to correct breakdowns (e.g., information about hazards is not communicated to workers).

Most Canadian Occupational Health and Safety Legislation ensures that the spirit of the IRS is reflected in the HSC by requiring members from both management and workers.

Creating a vision for the Health and Safety Committee is one of the keys to success. It is important to set a direction for the HSC to help it meet its goals to be as meaningful and productive as possible. The benefit of knowing where the organization is going and how it intends to get there ensures that the HSC’s recommendations will be written in consideration of these goals and objectives and therefore be realistic and sustainable.

The following questions help the Health & Safety Committee align itself with the goals and objectives of the organization:

  • What roles will the Health & Safety Committee play in contributing to the organization’s goals and objectives?
  • What are the organization’s goals and objectives?
  • What are the priorities of the organization?
  • What are the priorities for the HSC?

One of the most important characteristics of a successful Health & Safety Committee is effective teamwork. A team is a group of individuals with a common purpose, each with a valuable role to play in achieving that purpose.

Effective teamwork is built on:

  • Shared values and goals;
  • Mutual respect and consideration;
  • Valid debate and differing points of view;
  • Consensus-building;
  • Personal commitment;
  • Consistency of process; and,
  • Active participation.

What are the benefits to an organization of a Health & Safety Committee working as team? A team can be greater than the sum of its parts. By having a depth of expertise and a sharing of knowledge between positions, groups of individuals who operate as a cohesive team can provide a higher quality and more consistent service than individuals working alone. An effective HSC can increase engagement and productivity throughout the organization.

It has been shown that meaningful occupational health and safety programs have high levels of worker involvement. Worker participation in the development of the program is particularly important to create ownership and overall buy-in into the health and safety program. Additionally, worker participation in the development of an occupational health and safety program will help ensure a better fit with the culture of the organization.

To promote worker participation, actively involve the committee in the development of hazard assessment, inspections, preventative maintenance, training, emergency response, and incident reporting systems. Look for opportunities to get workers from all areas of the organization involved, and provide regular updates on the progress of system development to keep the feedback loop open. This type of worker and Health & Safety Committee participation is essential to taking an OHS program to the next level of full implementation.

An effective Health & Safety Committee can address issues that cannot be dealt with in the course of daily work, and offer recommendations for improvement to the organization’s health and safety. The HSC is responsible for recommending how health and safety challenges might be solved, not for carrying out the necessary changes.

Employers are obligated to take reasonable precautions to ensure the health and safety of their workers. Communication from Health & Safety Committee members through regular meetings, and by posting meeting minutes allows everyone in the organization an opportunity to bring concerns forward for consideration.

What makes Health & Safety Committees meaningful and productive as possible?

  • Going beyond legal compliance;
  • Clear direction and focus;
  • Effective team communication;
  • Training and education;
  • Goals that align with the organization, creating a relationship between the position of the organization and HSC;
  • Written terms of reference that include roles and responsibilities;
  • Sharing and celebrating successes.

The next step is to recognize opportunities to make the Health & Safety Committee as meaningful and productive as possible.