Little-known fact: All Montana companies with five or more employees are required to have a Safety Committee. Even companies that do have one don’t always know how to balance the committee to make it truly useful. Sometimes everyone on the committee is a line employee; sometimes everyone is management. Neither of these is balanced enough to be effective, so companies frequently decide that the committee is a waste of time.
The Montana Safety Culture Act states that
Every Safety Committee shall be composed of employee and employer representatives…. The safety committee should be of sufficient size to provide for effective representation of the workforce and include in its employee membership volunteers or members elected by their peers.
A balanced and effective safety committee needs both employees and management. Employees bring line expertise; they frequently know exactly where the biggest safety problems are and often have ideas on cost-effective ways to solve the problems. If employees help make the decisions about a change, it is much easier to implement it in ways that allow it to accomplish the goal (rather than having ingenious employees develop work-arounds that defeat the purpose). In larger companies, include employees from all areas so that every department is involved.
While employees bring local knowledge, management understands the company’s financial constraints. No solution is a good one if it can’t be funded by the company, so cost needs to be a consideration right from the start. Management also is supposed to see the big picture and may have other ideas about how to handle a safety problem; if a production line will be overhauled in the next six months, maybe it isn’t cost-effective to make major changes this month. And most important, management participation demonstrates that the company is serious about safety, which makes employees more likely to take it seriously and contributes to lower accident rates.
If you are putting a safety committee in place, share the pain – I mean fun, and include both employees and management right from the start. Better balance will make for a more effective committee.
Thanks to Kirk Smith of Montana State Fund for a great safety presentation!