What is a Health and Safety Committee
A Health and Safety Committee is a joint worker-management team that assists the employer in creating and maintaining a safe workplace. In most Canadian jurisdictions a health and safety committee is mandatory. Even in workplaces where a committee is not required by the law, the benefits of a joint committee in addressing workplace health and safety needs are widely recognized. As a result, there is a trend toward establishing a committee on a voluntary basis even where one is not mandatory.
The health and safety committee can also be said to be an advisory committee to ensure a healthy and safe workplace and not as a body responsible for enforcing legislation. The committee recommends actions to management who has the authority to make changes to meet goals and objectives. The following list illustrates some important activities of the committee :
- Hold regular meetings (at least as many meetings as
required by the law)
- Identify workplace hazards and recommend remedial
- Respond to employee concerns regarding health and
- Assist management in the development and
implementation of safe work practices and emergency
- Participate in the development, implementation and
monitoring of health and safety policies and programs
- Participate in workplace inspections
- Participate in accident/incident investigations
- Participate in resolving work refusals
- Promote health and safety education and training
Setting up a Health and Safety Committee
If two or more union-appointed health and safety representatives request in writing that you set up a health and safety committee, you must do so within a short time of the request. Although there is no such requirement if you consult health and safety representatives elected by the workforce, it is good practice to set up a health and safety committee where:
- You have several health and safety representatives elected by employees; or
- You have to consult both union-appointed health and safety representatives and employee-elected representatives.
If you and your health and safety representatives want to set up a dedicated health and safety committee, it is useful to agree together:
- The principles of how it will work best so that it is clear for all employees and members of the committee;
- Who the members will be;
- How often the committee will meet;
- What the committee will do;
- How you will make decisions and deal with disagreements; and
- What resources representatives will need as committee members.
How your committee will work
The best way to set out the basic rules and procedures of how the health and safety committee will work is to have a written constitution on what they will do to manage health, safety and welfare together.
This should include its:
- Purpose and objectives;
- Meeting arrangements; and
- Arrangements for reporting the outcome of meetings to employees.
ACAS can provide more information about committee constitutions, including a checklist on their website.
The idea is to create the most effective arrangements for your business, and co-ordination between the work of the committee and the health and safety representatives on the committee.
Membership of your H&S committee
There is no correct number of committee members because the circumstances will vary from business to business. How many management and employee representatives you have on your committee will depend on the size and spread of your business and the types of work done.
Generally speaking, committee members can include:
- Management representatives who have the authority to give proper consideration to views and recommendations;
- Employee representatives, either appointed by a trade union, elected by your workforce, or a combination of both, who have knowledge of the work of those they represent;
- Representatives of others in the workplace such as contractors; and
- Co-opted workers and others – People who are included because of their specific competences such as the company doctor, health and safety adviser, and other specialists.
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For larger businesses, you may need a health and safety committee at the group or company level, especially if decisions are taken at this higher level. This does not mean that you have to duplicate committees for the same workplace, but a single committee may be too large and impractical, or a small one may be too remote. In practice, you may have to set up several committees with arrangements for co-ordination between them.
It is good practice for management representatives to include:
- The person responsible for health and safety in the business; and
- A representative from the most senior level of management possible, such as a board member, to show commitment and leadership.
- Involve a variety of people – A health and safety committee made up of employee representatives
- Consult representatives – Consult employee representatives to agree the membership and size of a safety committee;
- Represent all groups – Keep the total size reasonably small, but ensure all significant employee groups are represented;
- Keep a balance – Make sure employee representatives are not out-numbered by management representatives;
- Represent employees – Consider agreeing to more employee representatives rather than equal numbers of employee and management representatives as this shows you are not dominating the committee.
- Keep a single location – Ensure a committee’s work is related to a single establishment not a collection of geographically different places; and
- Avoid duplication – Avoid duplicating committees for the same workplace, for example to represent different levels of staff.
Frequency of meetings
Your health and safety committee should meet regularly. The frequency will depend on the:
- Volume of business;
- Size and spread of the workforce;
- Type of work done in the workplace and their associated risks; and
- Issues to be discussed and other relevant factors.
The committee’s constitution should make it clear how often you will have meetings and how much notice members will be given. As a guide you should consider the following:
- Union appointed safety representatives can carry out inspections every three months. It is good practice to plan these together in advance. You may want to arrange committee meetings around the same time as these inspections, so you take up matters promptly. If these are planned in advance for six months to a year, then all members will have sufficient notice.
- If there has been a major incident or specific developments affecting health and safety like the introduction of new machinery, or organisational changes, the committee may want to hold special meetings.
Larger organisations with multiple committees will also want to co-ordinate the work of committees, so planning corporate or higher level as well as local level meetings in advance would be good practice.
- Plan meetings in advance – Where possible, plan a series of committee meetings in advance…
- Communicate – All committee members should have a personal copy of the planned meeting dates…
- Keep the date – Do not postpone or cancel committee meetings unless there are exceptional circumstances.
What the Health and Safety Committee will do
A committee meeting gives you the opportunity to discuss with your employee representatives the general matters about which you must consult your workforce.
To ensure you cover all relevant issues, the committee should agree some standing items for the agenda and allow for other items to be added as necessary. Consider standing items such as:
- Statistics on accident records, ill health, sickness absence;
- Accident investigations and subsequent action;
- Inspections of the workplace by enforcing authorities, management or employee health and safety representatives;
- Risk assessments;
- Health and safety training;
- Emergency procedures; and
- Changes in the workplace affecting the health, safety and welfare of employees.
If the health and safety committee is discussing accidents, the aim is to stop them happening again, not to give blame. Committees should:
- Look at the facts in an impartial way
- Consider what precautions might be taken
- Recommend appropriate actions
- Monitor progress with implementing the health and safety interventions.
- Think about minor incidents – When considering statistics on accident and injury records, examine information about minor injuries and incidents.
- Address strategic issues – To be effective, health and safety committees should address strategic issues.