Health and Safety

Get the Most from Your Health and Safety Committee

January 9, 2024

Health and safety committees in Canada 

  • A committee might be a legal requirement depending on the size of your company, but it makes good sense to view this committee as a strategic business opportunity. 
  • You can implement small but meaningful measures to increase the effectiveness of your health and safety committee. 
  • An effective committee contributes to legal compliance, fewer workplace accidents and injuries, a positive workplace culture, increased productivity and efficiency, and stronger working relationships between managers and employees.  

What does a health and safety committee do? 

Workplace safety is a top concern for every organization. Workplace accidents and injuries don’t just harm people, they also disrupt productivity, damage workplace culture, and can lead to legal and financial consequences for an employer. An effective health and safety committee is a valuable asset for any organization. The committee supports legal compliance, reduces workplace accidents and injuries, helps cultivate a positive workplace culture, increases productivity and efficiency, and forges stronger working relationships between managers and employees. Many health and safety committees exist simply to comply with health and safety legislation, but what if you viewed this committee as a strategic opportunity rather than just a regulatory requirement?  

Based on the size of an organization, a health and safety committee with multiple members may be required. In small organizations, compliance may be achieved by implementing a health and safety representative who acts on their own. Both committees and representatives have the same goals, though: to raise awareness of workplace health and safety issues, identify real and potential risks and hazards during workplace inspections, and provide recommendations to decision-makers. Health and safety concerns affect everyone, even those working from home, so including all employees in conversations about health and safety and supporting their varying needs is a continuing trend in health and safety training. Our blogpost, Health and Safety Concerns While Working from Home, includes information on ergonomic best practices and includes a free downloadable guide that can be reviewed at your next health and safety committee meeting. 

If you are unsure whether your health and safety committee is effective and functioning at its highest potential, ask yourself: Do your employees know the purpose of your health and safety committee and who the committee members are? Do employees feel comfortable communicating with committee members about health concerns? Do leadership, management, employees, and the health and safety committee or representative work together to identify and address workplace concerns? Overall, is your workplace safe and are safe work practices followed? 

If you answered “no” to any of those questions, it may be time to reassess the effectiveness of your health and safety committee and consider the recommendations outlined below. Even if you answered “yes” to all of them, you may be able to get more out of your committee. We will refer to health and safety committees throughout this article, but many of the recommendations also apply to health and safety representatives. 

What is the purpose of this health and safety committee? 

One of the best ways to ensure that your health and safety committee is effective, efficient, and productive is to set clear expectations. Health and safety committee members must know the purpose of the committee, as well as the committee’s overall goals and plans to achieve those goals. Having a well-defined purpose ensures focus and accountability from members. Consider the specific safety issues that your committee will address and what outcomes are expected. Also, consider any committee responsibilities that may be required by your jurisdiction’s legislation. 

Your associated health and safety committee policy should outline key details about the committee to align roles and establish expectations. Include important information like the committee’s purpose, objectives, and goals; when, where, and how often the group will meet, and the roles and responsibilities of each committee member. Having this essential information documented ensures that the committee will function as effectively and efficiently as possible, and anyone can refer to the policy to learn or review pertinent information. 

Open communication between your health and safety committee and employees is crucial for successful committee implementation. Not only should important information about your health and safety committee be provided to all new hires during orientation, but information like who is on the committee, where they work, and how the committee members can be reached should also be posted in an accessible common area for all to see. Posting committee members’ names and contact information is required in some jurisdictions, so check the legislation that is applicable to your business. Employees should also know about what the health and safety committee is working on, current health and safety concerns, and all recent health and safety changes that have been implemented, so this information can also be posted and shared.  

Without this information, employees may not know whom to contact if they have a health and safety concern, directly affecting the committee’s effectiveness and their ability to address health and safety risks and hazards. If it has been a while since the last workplace hazard assessment at your organization, our experts have created a free Workplace Hazard Assessments Guide to get you started. Incorporating a health and safety update in meetings or providing the committee’s updates through newsletters or companywide e-mails are simple ways to improve communication and show that the organization is committed to maintaining a safe workplace. 

Who should be on a health and safety committee?  

In addition to any legislatively required committee certification training, non-certified committee members need up-to-date health and safety training that provides them with the knowledge and skills to identify and control hazards in the workplace. Members who have a solid foundation of health and safety basics are more efficient and productive than members who have not received any training. In addition to training, certified members should coach and mentor non-certified members on the committee. 

Health and safety legislation in your jurisdiction outlines the minimum number of members who must be certified, as well as any other mandatory health and safety training requirements. You should also offer workplace-specific training and education to all committee members to enhance your committee’s knowledge of hazards and controls unique to your workplace, and industry-specific training to provide insight into other common hazards.

How to select joint health and safety committee members 

Your organization consists of employees with diverse knowledge and expertise, so it makes sense that your health and safety committee should reflect this diversity. Ensure that your health and safety committee includes members from various departments and levels of the organization. A diverse committee brings different perspectives to the table, leading to more comprehensive solutions. In most jurisdictions, legislation requires committees to have at least half their members represent employees, with the remaining members representing management. 

How to create a productive health and safety committee 

Regular meetings are particularly important to health and safety committees because they allow members to discuss workplace inspection findings and collaborate on recommendations. Many organizations have their committee meet monthly to ensure health and safety remains top of mind. It is important you review the legislation in your jurisdiction to ensure compliance regarding committee meeting frequency. However, like all meetings, it is easy for health and safety meetings to become mundane and unorganized regardless of how frequent they are, rendering them ineffective. 

A detailed agenda and accurate meeting minutes are essential to a productive meeting. Using a meeting agenda helps streamline meetings and promotes participation from all members. Prepare an agenda, allow all members to contribute any agenda items, and distribute the meeting agenda to members ahead of time so they can adequately prepare. You should also designate one committee member to be responsible for recording meeting minutes. Remember that a committee member is entitled to take time during their regular work hours to carry out committee-related responsibilities, such as preparing for and attending health and safety meetings, and should be compensated for this time. Review the applicable legislation in your jurisdiction to confirm posting requirements related to meeting documentation. When you need answers to questions about requirements of health and safety legislation in any jurisdiction, having our Live HR Advice service available to you can be a big timesaver. They have years of experience and are standing by to help organizations in any industry and jurisdiction, big or small. 

Try to keep your health and safety meetings dynamic and engaging. Allow committee members time to brainstorm ideas before and during each meeting. Inviting new and changing meeting attendees from around your organization can help the committee innovate and consider new ideas, which will create new and improved hazard recognition and controls. Switching up the format of your meetings from time to time can also help with member engagement. Inviting a guest speaker or opening meetings with personal reflections or an icebreaker are all ways you can breathe fresh air into these meetings. 

Maintaining effective health and safety committees 

Health and safety committees are most effective when they can drive organizational change and positively contribute to an organization’s safety culture. One way that a health and safety committee can inspire positive change in the workplace is through their recommendations. You may receive recommendations from your health and safety committee relating to current hazards that are negatively affecting your workplace, and you may receive recommendations on improving potentially dangerous situations through improvements to equipment, health and safety training programs, or modifications to health and safety policies and procedures. Take their recommendations seriously and respond to recommendations promptly.  

Review the legislative requirements in your jurisdiction; you may be required to respond to your committee’s recommendation within a certain timeframe. Above all, remember that health and safety committees need support and “buy in” from leadership and human resources to be effective.

Getting the most out of a health and safety committee 

An effective health and safety committee is an asset to any organization. It both enhances workplace safety and contributes to legal compliance, fewer workplace accidents and injuries, a positive workplace culture, increased productivity and efficiency, and stronger working relationships between managers and employees. By implementing the recommendations outlined here, you can be sure that you are maximizing the effectiveness and potential of your health and safety committee and creating a safer, more productive workplace for everyone. 

If you’re considering streamlining your health and safety goals, book a free demo and see just how easy it is to pull and implement policy documents, access hundreds of templates, or browse the dozens of safety training courses available.