Safety committees are nothing new at many work sites, according to a new, exclusive ISHN survey of readers.

Committees have been in place an average of ten years or more, according to readers who report using them.

And the average safety committee is large, with about a dozen employees and five managers or supervisors.

Hazard recognition work is by far the most typical committee task, reported by 78 percent of readers with committees. Other common responsibilities:

  • Incident investigation — 67 percent
  • Setting rules and policies — 61 percent
  • Audits — 60 percent
  • Conducting meetings for employees — 59 percent
  • Behavioral observations — 53 percent
  • Employee training — 53 percent

The role of safety committees is expanding in many workplaces as companies cut down on the size of safety departments and mid-level supervisors. In the next two years, employee safety training will be the job taken on by more committees, with 42 percent increasing responsibilities in this area.

Most committees are loosely structured and managed. Almost half (41 percent) of readers with committees say members can stay on as long as they want. Twenty-two percent of committees limit membership to one year. And the focus at meetings can wander.

"At times, too much time is spent on non-safety personnel issues," says one reader.

"The challenge is to keep the focus on safety rather than production issues," says another.

Time is the biggest enemy of committees. Fifty-three percent of readers with committees report getting time away from work to attend meetings and run committee operations is the biggest challenge they face.

Maintaining employee interest in serving on the committee ranks second, reported by 39 percent of readers.

Once management commits to a safety committee, money, support and authority don't tend to be problems. More than 80 percent of readers with committees say support from top managers is not a problem. Almost 70 percent say they have enough money for activities. Only 20 percent cite lack of authority as an issue.

Still, opinions vary on the effectiveness of safety committees. "It's a waste of time," reports one reader. "It's done to comply (with a state reg) and that's it."

"Every company should have one," says another reader.

One bit of advice from several readers: Make sure your committee doesn't get the rep as a safety police squad. "Sometimes a member gets a bit too heavy handed," says one reader.