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A joint health and safety committee (JHSC) is a company’s safety ally. Creating an effective JHSC is an important part of occupational injury prevention and, if done correctly, will yield safety benefits, says David Powers, director of health, safety and environment for Oxford Frozen Foods Ltd. in Oxford, Nova Scotia. Powers offered practical tips on how companies can reinvigorate safety committees at the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering’s Professional Development Conference and Exhibition in Halifax on September 18.
“Enthusiasm is one of the things that can be lacking,” Powers says. “If you have an enthusiastic committee, you are halfway there to having an effective committee.”
Legislation puts the onus of creating an internal responsibility system to ensure job safety on employers. Safety committees are mandatory for workplaces with 20 or more employees in most provinces. Different jurisdictions have varying requirements relating to the size of the committee.
The purpose of a JHSC is to increase safety awareness, examine safety issues and recommend policies to reduce or prevent injuries. Its duties include conducting inspections, identifying hazards, investigating incidents, handling complaints and work refusals, resolving safety problems and communicating oh&s messages.
Before an organization starts to build a JHSC, it needs to find out whether other workers know who the committee members are. Do they understand the roles and functions of a JHSC, and how do workers at large perceive the members — are they regarded as advisors, encouragers or enforcers? “If they see them as bothersome and getting in the way,” Powers says, “we need to work at changing that perception.
“T” for training
Having clear terms of reference is the first step in creating an effective JHSC. Terms of reference, which serve as a standard operational procedure, delineate not only the members’ term of office, but also the committee’s composition, mandate, duties and the frequency of meetings.
Providing training to JHSC members is a key ingredient in creating an effective safety committee. Training does not have to be long to be effective, as long as it addresses the key points. Training topics pertinent to JHSCs include the provincial OHS Act, the internal responsibility system, hazard recognition, incident investigation, the organization’s rules and conflict resolution.
“Training committee members goes a long way to building that enthusiasm and eventually, certainly building that effectiveness,” Powers stresses. “The more effective your committee members become, the more helpful they are in an investigation — particularly if an incident occurs within their department — and they can become a huge resource.”
Establishing exchange programs with other companies is an engaging way to educate committee members. By looking at how JHSCs in other companies operate, members can compare notes, consider new approaches or even adopt practices that are relevant to their circumstances. Good ways to drill in the safety message include arranging plant tours or field trips and inviting guest speakers.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Getting JHSC members to conduct targeted workplace inspections throughout the year is a good preventive measure, although that can be a challenge. Members may be reluctant to inspect workplaces due to competing work priorities, disinterest or lack of confidence from not having been trained to undertake such inspections.
To overcome these obstacles, Powers suggests creating inspection teams by pairing veterans with newer workers and breaking down a large workplace into sections. Identifying a specific target for inspection also reduces task uncertainty.
To ensure that JHSC meetings are more than just doughnut-and-coffee sessions, conducting an evaluation at the end of each gathering can help track whether a safety-committee meeting is productive. “They could provide an excellent tool where you can start the process to bring everybody up to speed and identify weak spots from the perspective of the members, but also build into that buy-in,” Powers says of these evaluations.
The importance of fostering buy-in among members cannot be underestimated. Bringing in an injured worker to share his or her story gives members sobering insight into the aftermath of workplace incidents and allows the safety message to hit home. So is giving due recognition to safety-committee members, Powers says. “If you can get your top person come in for five minutes at any time in that meeting and say something inspirational to them, people remember that for an awful long time.”
Jean Lian is the editor of OHS Canada.