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Purpose: To understand how to make joint labor/management safety and health committees better at solving and preventing back injury problems.
1. How can you make sure that your joint labor-management safety and health committee is working well? Use Factsheets #1, 2, and 3 and your own experience to answer this question.
2. In general, what are the common problems faced by safety and health committees? Look at factsheet #4 to answer this question.
You have been chosen to be a member of your workplace safety and health committee. You are very concerned about the number of back injuries in your facility.
1. What would be the top two problems you would tackle first to prevent back injuries? Please refer to factsheets #5, 6, and 7 to answer this question.
2. Why did you choose these two problems?
What does a safety and health committee do?
Safety and health committees are the backbone of a solid plan to prevent back injuries.
Look High And Low
Joint committees can:
Joint committees can:
Who should serve on a safety and health committee?
A well-run safety and health committee should have equal numbers of labor and management representatives.
Labor representatives should be chosen by the union. The labor reps should represent and be in touch with workers in a wide variety of job titles.
Management members are usually picked by the company. The committee will work best if management representatives have real decision-making power.
Committee Roles And Responsibilities
The committee chairperson should switch off between labor and management. Switching the chair between labor and management helps both parties feel a shared sense of responsibility for the success of the committee.
In some workplaces, the committee secretary switches off between labor and management. In other workplaces, management writes up the minutes. Both sides should read and review the minutes before they become official.
Making it work
Make it regular. The committee should meet on a regular basis, at least once a month. The committee should have a plan to meet in case an emergency meeting is needed.
A solid agenda. Work from an agenda developed by both labor and management.
Write it down. Keep minutes and check them carefully. Minutes should be reviewed and approved by both sides. The minutes are your written record of every complaint discussed at the meeting. The minutes also record the solutions offered to the problems. Make sure that every important decision is in the minutes.
Know who's responsible. List every action to be taken in the minutes. The person responsible for the action should be clearly identified and given a timeline.
Report back. Management representatives should communicate with all management personnel to keep them up to date about all problems, proposed solutions, timelines, and other concerns.
Stay in touch. Union representatives should talk to all local officers, chapter chairpersons, shop stewards, and all workers about the ongoing work of the committee. Show them the minutes to keep them informed about what the committee is doing and to show them the committee is listening to what they have to say.
No free lunch. Work time should be provided for all committee activities. This includes times for committee meetings, regular workplace inspections, attending and conducting safety and health training programs, and other activities.
Make it happen. Include language about joint management safety and health committees in your collective bargaining agreements. This can also help start committees in workplaces where they have not yet formed and can give structure to weak committees.
Take a walk. Inspect the workplace on a regular basis. Since working conditions change all the time, a walk-through should take place once a month.
Learn as much as possible about the hazards and risk factors in your facility. Committee members can attend training programs together about sprain and strain injuries. Experienced safety and health specialists can be invited to give presentations to the committee. Use checklists in this workbook to help you decide where problems are:
Why joint labor/management committees fail
Sometimes joint labor/management safety and health committees don't work well for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the most common:
Too much planning but not enough action. There is a lot of talking but not much walking.
The list-making committee. If the committee spends a lot of time in its meetings talking about repairs that may or may not have been completed, or about specific workers breaking safety rules, then the committee is probably not getting much done. While it is important that repairs be completed and that workers follow established injury prevention rules, these are activities that should be done in a routine way while leaving most of the committee time for the bigger concerns:
The buck stops here. The committee may not have a budget. Without any money, the committee is unable to pay for safety equipment, safety and health training programs, or expert consultants who can make suggestions for a safer workplace.
No commitment. The joint committee may not have the full backing of top management. The employer representatives on the joint committee may be well-intentioned and sympathetic, but they may lack power to make decisions. To be effective, the management reps on the joint committee must include people who have the power to make decisions.
Road map for health and safety committees
An effective health and safety committee's main goal is to improve working conditions and prevent injuries and illnesses. Since there are many problems to solve, the committee will need to see its work as an ongoing process. There are several parts of this process.
Reach out to your co-workers. Find out what they think. Take the time to listen to their concerns. Asking workers to fill out checklists in this workbook is a good way to interest them in the work of the committee. Ask them what they think the committee should be working on.
Develop a list of health and safety problems. Write down what you find out from talking to other workers in your facility. This will help you choose which concerns the committee should address and in what order. It also keeps other workers informed and lets them know that the committee is listening to what they have to say.
Pick a few problems to tackle at first. The committee can't solve every problem at once. You will have to choose carefully which ones to try to solve and when. This may be one of the hardest tasks facing your committee. Concerns raised by some workers may not be the same problems you would tackle first. Make a plan of action.
Evaluate the activity to see if it is working. A health and safety committee will only learn by doing and then discussing what worked, what didn't work, and why.
Start small and build toward bigger changes. A health and safety committee should try to solve small or easy problems before they try to make major changes. Take a look at the list of problems given to the committee by the workers. First try to fix the ones you feel can be solved easily. Build your committee on small successful changes. Tougher problems can be solved based on the experience gained from small beginnings. Taking an issue on early that is too big can squash the life out of a committee before it gets started.
Everyone has a role. In order to solve problems on the job, you will need all the help you can get from your co-workers. Not everyone will have the same level of energy and commitment. Yet many people may be willing to help out with small tasks if not big ones. The job of a health and safety committee is to find the tasks and activities that will help change the present situation. Add new levels of activity as the committee's experience, knowledge and commitment grow.
Information is power
Joint labor/management safety and health committees need to be informed in order to function. Knowledge of ergonomic principles, laws and regulations, and prevention and treatment of injuries will help build the reputation of the committee.
Your committee will need to find and review information about the prevention of sprain and strain injuries. Luckily, there are many good resources and centers that can help you get the information you need.
Where To Get Information
Your union's health and safety department can help in many ways. They can get you additional information and provide training programs on health and safety. See Appendix E for the office near you.
OSHA has a resource library with pamphlets, booklets, and other information about a wide variety of safety and health topics. For more information, see Appendix D for the OSHA regional office nearest you.
COSH groups are community-based "Coalitions on Occupational Safety and Health." They are resource centers on safety and health problems, and can help in many ways. See Appendix F for an office near you.
Universities sometimes have programs that provide training on injury prevention. Ask your regional SEIU office to see if there is a program near you.
NIOSH is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. They research workplace health and safety problems. They have a toll-free number where you can ask for information on many hazards. Call: 1-800-356-4674.
Other government agencies may have helpful information. State OSHA, health departments, environmental protection agencies, and state and local fire departments may be able to get you information on certain health and safety hazards. Look in the blue pages of your phone book under U.S. Government, State Government, and City Government for the offices near you.
Other community organizations, such a research institutes, environmental groups, and charitable groups can also be good sources of information. You can get the names of organization from your local SEW health and safety representative, COSH group, or university program.
Your employers written policies on health and safety can be a good source of information. Most employers will have written plans for safety and health issues such a safe lifting procedures, chemicals you work with, accident reporting, and many others.
Health and safety committee activities
There is no set list of activities for a good joint labor/management health and safety committee. A really effective committee will be limited only by its imagination and energy.
Here are some activities that joint committees can do:
Use the checklists and surveys in this workbook to collect information.
Educate co-workers and management personnel. Some ways to do this include:
Keep records. An important job of the committee is to keep track of all injuries in the facility. Sometimes this is the only proof that there are hazards in the nursing home. Facts are needed to make changes.
Start a library and resource center. See Fact Sheet 6 in this chapter for a list of groups that may have materials free or for sale.
Do monthly inspections. Make sure that both labor and management reps are present at every inspection. Workers in every area being inspected should be asked questions about safety and health hazards.
Investigate all accidents and near misses. A thorough investigation after the fact can uncover the cause of an accident and steps can be taken to prevent it from happening again. Obviously, safety improvements should be made before an accident or near miss happens.
A plan for change: Safety and health committees
1. Joint labor/management safety and health committees are one of the best ways to tackle ergonomic problems. There should be equal numbers of representatives from labor and management. The labor reps should be chosen by the union. The management reps should have power to make real decisions.
2. The committee should set an agenda in advance, meet regularly, and always keep a written record of decisions made and problems discussed. The person responsible for completing a task and the timeline to solve problems should be clearly stated in the minutes. Minutes should be read and agreed upon before they ate put into the permanent record.
3. Work time should be provided for all committee activities. This includes committee meetings, committee activities, inspections, surveys, and training programs.
4. The committee can use the surveys and checklists in this manual to gather information from workers about hazards and concerns in the facility. Other important activities include: investigating accidents, training labor and management, keeping records, and getting a comprehensive ergonomic program started.
5. Joint committees fail when they lack the ability to make real decisions and changes. Without resources, the ability to make changes, and full support from top management, joint committees may be limited in their efforts to make the workplace safer.
6. The committee should pick problems that can be solved and are important to the worker. Make a plan of action, then evaluate how things went. Build your committee on small successful changes.
7. Information is power. Use the sources of information mentioned in this activity to learn as much as possible about how to prevent back injuries and other safety and health hazards.