The news reports on the coronavirus have come fast and furious with everything from the daily counts to, more recently, lifting stay-at-home orders and re-opening businesses. The lifting of stay-at-home orders and re-openings may be good or may be bad but the reports offer little insight as to the plans needed no matter when the day will come.
In some locations, committees of business owners and managers are looking at new protocols and protections to keep workers safe when they return. That sounds great but have they involved the people that actually do the jobs to get their input as to what might help? After all, who but those on the front lines know best about the challenges that occur or can occur.
In unionized organizations, joint health and safety committees have long established a positive proactive record of creating safer and healthier workplaces which has also transferred to improving lives for everybody. Two articles from the National Institutes of Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318309/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4880255/, confirm the important role unions have played in improving health and safety not just in the workplace but in communities, too.
Successful health and safety committees are not limited to unionized plants. Many non-union facilities also have done great things. We have blogged before about Skinner Diesel and their successful safety committee. The owner was ready to close his shop several years ago when he experienced significant costs associated with workplace accidents. Before the safety committee, he tried the typical safety slogans, pictures and games but they didn’t work. Within a year of starting the committee, there was a huge improvement and it has continued with multiple years of no accidents. The owner attributes it to the employees and their ability to lead others to work safely. The business has expanded and employees have seen an increase in financial rewards and benefits.
So if these committees work, why aren’t more workplaces doing them? There are a multitude of excuses. Some think safety committees are a waste of time and provide little benefit or owners or managers lack the patience and think the process will be too slow or meetings will be unproductive and argumentative. And, of course, there are some who think workers simply don’t have enough knowledge and can’t suggest good ideas or they think the ideas will cost too much.
Getting worker participation can be a problem, too, especially if workers see little benefit. They know the difference between actual commitment and lip-service. If workers don’t see value placed on their ideas or have concerns about repercussions participation will be low to non-existent.
What can benefit the process is trust. Skepticism will prevail by both sides until each show a level of commitment to create a safer and healthier work environment. Depending on the existing relationship, trust may take a long time or it may not. More than likely it will take some work to convince both sides that there is a sincere, sustained effort to make it happen. Conversely, both sides need to realize trust can be broken quickly and the damage can take longer to repair so honesty and sincerity are absolute necessities along with any apology that may be needed.
One of the biggest factors that continues to help at Skinner is when the committee identifies something as a possible hazard, it’s acted upon relatively quick. The employees see their ideas valued and there is a genuine interest to create safe environment. That helps to build ongoing trust and commitment for both the owner and the employees.
In an article on the website of the Society for Human Resource Management(SHRM), the author states health and safety committees have a lot of benefits but below are a few recommendations the article also mentioned that can help create a successful experience.
Near the beginning of the article it talks about the process is not a quick fix. This is extremely important for people to understand. It doesn’t happen overnight. Patience is essential. It also can mean some extra work especially up front and until the committee members are working together. In addition, the health and safety committee should be working on real problem solving and problem solving may take some time depending on the issue being addressed. It’s important to allow that to happen.
it’s imperative to lay a firm foundation when thinking about establishing a health and safety committee. If that isn’t done, there is good likelihood a committee will have obstacles placed before it which could lead to the committee’s demise. The foundation items are next.
First and foremost is to make sure there is buy-in and support for the committee process throughout the organization especially at the top. If the organization is unionized, that buy-in and support must also come from the union side.
Along with support is to make sure everyone understands what the committee is about. Expectations for the work of the committee need to be established. Will the committee make decisions or provide recommendations? Will someone be overseeing the committee or will the committee be overseeing itself? Does the committee have a budget or is there a certain financial limit as to what they can do? These are some of the questions that need to be decided up front before the committee is formed.
Another important item is the committee make-up. There should be both managers and employees on the committee. Each bring a different perspective that is necessary. It’s also important the committee be representative of the organization even if that means a rather large committee. Some think large committees don’t function well but with the work we have done size doesn’t matter. We’ve seen large committees do better than small committees. It depends on the commitment of the members.
As a committee gets started, regular meetings are necessary to help make the process credible and to allow the committee time to do their work. These meetings need to be at least monthly so problem solving can take place. If meetings are not scheduled, or are cancelled, members will lose faith with the process. Setting meeting schedules such as the first Wednesday of every month or the last Wednesday helps everyone to realize it is an important process. This is not to say there probably will be times when a meeting may have to be cancelled but for the most part, meeting dates and times should be established and conducted.
Getting some assistance is something the article suggests. There is a great myth out there that putting people together automatically makes them a team. Wrong! How people work as a team is critically important to its work. For example, teams go through various stages of development. Having somebody available to help the team navigate through stages will help them be more productive.
These are just a few recommendations but what’s more important is workers, both managers and employees, should have a voice in making their workplaces safer especially now. The process has been proven to work. Starting a safety committee is a great way to start working together because safety is something most everyone can agree about and that can lead to other areas where people can work together. Check the CALMC Channel on YouTube for videos that can help with a committee process. Coming soon is a section of videos for supervisors.