Common threads in workplace safety: How different committees work to ensure the health and safety of their workers

PRACTICAL WELDING TODAY® MARCH/APRIL 2001

April 24, 2001

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Although various safety committees differ somewhat from plan to plan, they all function as a means to promote workplace health and safety. Different components of a safety plan include responsibilities, activities, and the structure of each company's committee.

In an effort to address health and safety issues related to metal fabrication, many companies choose to form committees that research, implement, discuss, and suggest improvements for such topics.

Although some may differ in their tactics, organization, and delegation of responsibilities, safety committees essentially have the same goal: to promote safety and health in the workplace.

This article features four companies and their concepts of the safety committee: its organization, responsibilities, functions, activities, and procedures.

Thermal Components' Course of Action

"The purpose of our safety committee is to bring workers and management together in a nonadversarial, cooperative effort to promote safety and health in the workplace," said Ronald Wood, director of human resources at Heat Exchanger and Tubing Division, Thermal Components. "The safety committee assists management and makes recommendations for change."

Eight hourly employees, four general supervisors, and three management committee members comprise the company's safety committee. Hourly employees either volunteer or are elected by their peers. If no hourly employees volunteer or are elected, the management committee appoints them.

The management committee also appoints general supervisors who provide rotating representatives to the safety committee. Safety committee members serve a term of at least one year. Length of membership is staggered so that at least one experienced member is always serving on the committee.

Extent of Authority. The safety committee advises management on issues that will promote safety and health in the workplace. Written recommendations are expected from the safety committee, and they are submitted to the management committee. In turn, management considers the submitted recommendations and responds in writing to the committee within a reasonable time.

Objectives and duties of the safety committee include:

  1. Safety and health planning.
  2. Accident and incident investigations.
  3. Safety and health training.
  4. Committee meetings and employee involvement.
  5. Hazard assessment and control.

Procedures, Duties. The committee's plan of action requires procedures by which the committee may fulfill its role successfully. Procedures developed should include, but are not limited to:

  1. Meeting date, time, and location.
  2. Election of chairperson and secretary.
  3. Order of business.
  4. Records.

Duties of each member include, but are not limited to:

  1. Reporting unsafe conditions and practices.
  2. Attending all safety and health meetings.
  3. Reviewing all accidents and near-misses.
  4. Recommending ideas for healthful behavior; setting an example.
  5. Observing how safety and health are enforced in the workplace.
  6. Completing assignments given to them by the chairperson.
  7. Acting as a work area representative in matters pertaining to health and safety.

According to Wood, planning and effective joint leadership between management and the safety committee are essential to building a long-lasting safety program.

"The safety committee should be a constructive entity, providing guidance and leadership in matters pertaining to the overall health and safety of the company," he said.

The Minster Method

At The Minster Machine Co., the safety committee includes the facilities manager, Safety and Environmental Manager Dennis Elliot Rice, and five members of the union who are chosen by their president.

"These positions generally have been permanent, even though their president changes every three years. This has certainly helped both credibility and continuity. Three of the five members have been on the committee for more than five years," Rice said.

"The bargaining unit members come from both shifts and do the lion's share of safety training, accident investigation, and participate heavily in our quarterly audit process," he said.

Safety committee members receive special training and certifications before teaching all courses. Each class is assigned two instructors, who operate as a team. The committee meets formally three times each month and informally once a month. In addition, the committee gets three days per quarter to plan future activities.

"Our October planning meeting is used primarily to establish our budget for the following year and is a key factor to our success," Rice said. "Meetings also can take place spontaneously, depending on the nature and the immediacy of the subject.

"I support the committee to the max. They, in turn, are my eyes and ears," he said.

The company has two unions. A sixth trainer from the secondary union takes part in quarterly planning, but is not a regular member of the committee. No committee member is permitted to hold elected office in either union.

"We find that this works better, and we can avoid most conflicts of interest," Wood explained. "Our secondary union had difficulty with this rule, and therefore withdrew from the committee, thus returning to the traditional company/labor union meeting to discuss safety issues."

Eberl's Establishment

Eberl Iron Works, Inc., is a small, 18-employee company that formed a safety committee six years ago to improve workplace safety.

"Since its inception, a more focused effort by all employees has contributed to a safer work environment. In addition, this committee maintains and implements the OSHA-[Occupational Safety and Health Administration-]required inspection and training programs," said President George Eberl.

A total of six members--four permanent and two rotating--make up the company's safety committee. Permanent members are the safety director, plant supervisor, human resource officer, and a co-owner. The two rotating members are employees who participate for four meetings and then are replaced.

Safety meetings are held regularly, and the committee reviews injuries, near-misses, and work areas; discusses practices; and decides on corrective action.

The following activities held throughout the year help maintain the safety of the company:

  1. Plant walk-through: Occurs once a year at the conclusion of the annual meeting.
  2. Training programs: Each quarter, one or more training programs are reviewed, including personal protective equipment, hearing, fork truck training, power shear use, bloodborne pathogens, MSDS, lockout/tagout, fire extinguisher training, and powered press brake training.
  3. Powered fork lift truck: Inspections and reports occur on a weekly basis.
  4. Cranes: Inspected on a yearly basis.
  5. Chains: Tested every five years and inspected regularly.

Safety Matters. A safety log located at the time clock records the number of consecutive days without lost-time injury and the current streak. Upon completion of a quarterly period without lost time, employees receive a free lunch from the company.

To remind employees of safety procedures, a bulletin board is dedicated to safety regulations, regulatory compliance, and employee health. In addition, safety bulletins are located throughout the plant, and pay envelope safety stuffers are provided by commercial insurance carriers or other sources.

The success of this program is measured in reduced injuries, improved communication from all employees, and formal training programs for better understanding of equipment.

Bergstrom's Blueprint for Safety

In 1995, in an effort to improve the overall safety of its employees, Bergstrom, Inc., formed a safety team comprised of 10 volunteers who investigate, implement, and maintain the safety program.

Team Responsibilities. The safety team leader is the company nurse, and there is at least one volunteer from each area/department. Extensive initial training and continuing education are required for safety team members.

"All safety team members are responsible for, and become our in-house expert on, several OSHA regulations directly relevant to the industry," said Operations Leader Don Shearer.

Safety team meetings are held on a monthly basis, or more frequently if issues need to be addressed. The team reviews all injuries and near-misses and decides on appropriate corrective action.

All new employees receive safety training on their first day of employment. Safety training covers procedures on some general safety guidelines, as well as the company's hazardous communication policy, bloodborne pathogens, fire prevention, first-aid procedures, forklift safety, safety glasses, hearing protection, lockout/tagout, machine guarding, weather emergencies, power outages, respirators, and hot-work policies.

Annual fire extinguisher inspections and training take place for the fire brigade team. This involves a classroom session, as well as a practical demonstration and use of fire extinguishers.

Annual (or more often, as needed) audiometric testing is done in fabrication areas to test for exposure levels. All employees working in the fabrication areas have annual hearing tests conducted as well.

Respirator use is recommended for employees in the powder coating room. Initial and then annual pulmonary function and respiratory exams, as well as professional fit tests, are completed for all of those employees.

"The safety team works hand in hand with the workers' compensation provider, as well as our insurance company's loss control manager," Shearer said.

Safety Starts With Structure

No matter the design of a safety committee, one message is clear: Employees must learn about procedures and regulations that will aid in the productivity and safety of their work environment.

Organizing a committee that meets the needs of employees through research, discussion, and implementation of policies can help structure a safer workplace for everyone.

George Eberl is President of Eberl Iron Works, Inc., 128 Sycamore St., Buffalo, New York 14204-1492, phone 716-854-7633, fax 716-854-1184, e-mail george.eberl@eberliron.com, Web site www.eberliron.com. He also serves as the chairman of the FMA/CNA Safety Committee. Eberl Iron Works, Inc., is comprised of a metal fabrication division; a warehousing division through which it distributes metal products to industrial, commercial, and municipal customers; and an installation division that specializes in installing products that are sold.

Dennis Elliot Rice is Safety and Environmental Manager at The Minster Machine Company, 240 W. Fifth St., Minster, Ohio 45865, phone 419-628-2331, fax 419-628-7519, e-mail riced@minster.com, Web site www.minster.com. He also serves on the FMA/CNA Safety Committee. The Minster Machine Company is a producer of mechanical power presses, stamping presses, and related auxiliary equipment for the material forming industry, serving the contract stamping, OEM, electrical, lamination, and container market segments.

Donald Shearer is Operations Leader at Bergstrom, Inc., 2390 Blackhawk Road, P.O. Box 6007, Rockford, Illinois 61125-1007, phone 815-873-4460, fax 815-873-4461, e-mail dshearer@bergstrominc.com, Web site www.bergstrominc.com. He also serves on the FMA/CNA Safety Committee. Bergstrom, Inc., is a designer and manufacturer of climate systems for the commercial vehicle industry with more than 500 employees worldwide.

Ronald Wood is Director of Human Resources at Thermal Components, 2760 Gunter Park Drive West, Montgomery, Alabama 36109, phone 334-277-1810, fax 334-271-4210, e-mail rwood@thermalgroup.com, Web site www.thermalgroup.com. He also serves on the FMA/ CNA Safety Committee. Thermal Components manufactures a wide variety of products serving the heat transfer industry, including aluminum and copper/brass tubing, specialty heat exchangers, and aluminum extrusions.



Stephanie Vaughan

Contributing Writer

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