Building a High-Value Safety Committee

By Brian Haney, Vice President, Safety & Compliance

Safety is the most personal practice at any MRF. That’s because every employee – from the top down and the bottom up – is subject to the hazards of the job site, can experience pain and injury, and can make individual choices about behaving safely.

A MRF’s safety culture is built on standard behaviors that everyone knows and believes in. It’s “the way we do things around here” combined with common attitudes and behaviors. You can’t mandate a safety culture. It has to be nurtured and developed.

At Leadpoint, we believe one key to a strong safety culture is effective safety committees.

We have a 2018 initiative to build and sustain strong, effective safety committees at the sites where we work. Our leadership and onsite managers are behind this initiative 110 percent.

It Begins with Management
Safety committees aren’t new – but there are relatively few that reach their potential and generate the maximum value for the MRF.

I believe the key is management’s commitment. The local leader has to be willing to not only enable a safety committee, but also to listen to and act on the committee’s recommendations.

It’s also management’s role to give clear direction on the function, goals and expectations of its safety committee.

Even where they’re mandated by law, like in Washington and Oregon, I’ve seen safety committees that are operated with little more than a “check the box mentality”, rather than being leveraged as a resource that keeps employees safe.

There are three things that can kill a safety committee.
1 – Deaf ears. When a safety committee comes up with ideas, brings them to management, and gets no response, the committee is quickly “trained” to believe that their work doesn’t count. Even if the answer is “no” or “not right now,” management communication and responsiveness are important. Local leaders must be willing to listen.

2 – Prying eyes. It may seem like a good idea to put managers on the safety committee, but I disagree. As soon as you put a supervisor or manager on the committee, the employees start to hold back. Committee membership should be employee-based. That means no managers.

3 – Tight Grip. Management needs to be comfortable relinquishing a certain amount of control and giving the committee members visibility to data they may not typically have access to. Management has to be willing to take the committee’s recommendations and act on them (within reason, of course).

Grassroots Leadership
The most effective safety committees include the right employees. I think that a membership of six to eight people is ideal. Here are seven characteristics I recommend you look for.

1. Willingness to speak up. The best safety committee members enjoy participating in a group and aren’t afraid of voicing their opinions, even if they’re unpopular.
2. Confidence. Safety committee members should be confident in their knowledge of their job and of the site.
3. Attention to detail. Someone who is willing to look beyond the obvious and dig into the details typically brings value to a safety committee.
4. Unofficial Leaders. Seek out employees who have been part of the team for a while and have the respect of their peers.
5. Representative. Safety committees work a little like representative government: their members need to represent the views and ideas of their colleagues. They have to be open to hearing differing points of view and to draw out information from the rest of the group.
6. Varied. For the most effective safety committee, you want committee members who represent different areas of the operation. Consider sorters, maintenance and equipment operators for a balanced committee.
7. Ambitious. While not a requirement, I’ve seen safety committee members advance in a MRF. They’ve had a chance to prove themselves, connect with management, and implement things that make the operation better.

End Result
The result of a safety committee’s work is what matters, right? Their efforts have to translate to the bottom line. When these teams are at their best, operating effectively, management can expect these four results.

1 – A reduction in workplace hazards. The committee members’ eyes are trained to be on the lookout for safety hazards in the workplace, and they are empowered to correct them.
2 – Fewer injuries. As you eliminate hazards, improve training and create a culture of safety, a reduction in injuries naturally follows.
3 – Lower workers’ comp costs. Reduced injuries + fewer claims = lower workers’ comp costs, and that’s a business outcome every MRF wants to see.
4 – Improved productivity and quality. When employees are engaged as safety committee members or connected through their committee representatives, they will feel a bigger stake in the success of the operation. Watch for improvements in attendance, performance, turnover, and quality once your safety committee gets going.

Let’s Get Safer!
Safety committees are one of the most effective resources a MRF has to improve safety productivity and quality. It takes a little time, management commitment and clear direction, but the benefits gained are well worth the investment.

Leadpoint’s onsite managers can help. They can work with you to create, improve and evaluate your safety committee. Don’t hesitate to call on them or reach out to me personally for support.

We all have the same goal: keeping our employees safe.

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