Safety first Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2009

Every business is vulnerable to risk, making it critical for your company to have a safety committee in place to identify and minimize those risks.

“The main purpose of having a risk management team is to essentially create a safe environment for a company’s employees and visitors,” says Jonathan Theders, CPIA, who serves as president and chief operating officer of Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. and CTIA Risk Consulting. “It provides an overarching look at the safe practices of an organization.”

Smart Business spoke with Theders about how to create a risk management team — also known as a safety committee — and what that committee should do once it is in place.

Why should companies consider creating a safety committee?

It’s important to realize that a safer work environment and a culture that promotes all aspects of safety are going to be more productive. There is a gamut of positive influences that result from having an effective culture of safety.

Everybody thinks that they’re safe, and no one intentionally creates an unsafe work environment. But when you charge people with looking outside the box at what could potentially cause something down the road, it’s amazing what issues show up in even the greatest of companies.

What are the keys to assembling a solid risk management team?

In order to be effective, team members must be receptive to new ideas. They have to be familiar with the processes and the way things operate. They have to be interested in safety and health issues. They have to be able to express others’ ideas; it’s really important to not only recognize and understand them but to be able to communicate and express them.

An effective team member also has to be interested in the needs of the entire work force. A safety committee is not just about me and my job; it’s about the business as a whole. That’s why you have to visit other departments. When you see things from an outsider perspective, you often have a different perspective than if you’re living it every day.

Also, team members have to be willing to compromise, because you can’t be 100 percent set in your ways all the time. You have to be able to work as a team to come to a consensus.

Bringing in a third party can also be effective. It’s amazing how much information a third party can get out of employees — not because employees don’t want to talk to management, but a third party just brings a neutral factor to the equation.

How do you determine who should lead the team?

There needs to be a chairperson and co-chairperson. One should be from management and one should be an employee, in particular a union member if the work force has a union. The leaders serve as coordinators and must possess talents in order to communicate effectively. Everybody should be on an equal playing field. Everyone’s ideas should be heard, and nobody should be the complete ringleader.

In addition, some members may be rotated on an annual basis. Rotating through the leadership gives people who might not normally have that role in daily life a great opportunity to take charge on a committee and brings in fresh ideas and new directions.

What does a safety committee have to do in order to be effective?

A safety committee requires management and whoever else is on the committee to commit to helping create and distribute policies, best practices and procedures that promote overall health and safety for an organization. The team should consult with the safety coordinator for that company or that department on any proposed or actual changes in policies, practices or procedures and assist in implementation.

It should also assist management in the planning of any occupational health issues with regard to safety. This would include helping set priorities with each of those issues, some of which could be immediately life threatening, while others are less so. It’s important to prioritize those and make sure that they are being handled appropriately.

The team should also act as a problem-solving group and help identify and control any risk issues that exist. And it should look at overall prevention. For example, in an office setting, employees can have ergonomics issues from typing on a keyboard. The committee can investigate how to overcome that. Exercises, stretches, ergonomics training, making sure the desks are the appropriate height, new keyboards —whatever it is, it’s important to have those conversations.

Another important task is to maintain and monitor the safety and health program that the company has created.

How do you improve communication within the team?

You have to meet regularly. It should be monthly, at a minimum. Engaging in a safety committee charter is also recommended. In the charter, write down what the expectations are, who the committee members are, what the purpose is, how you’re going to move forward and how that will be communicated.

If you don’t have it spelled out through an agenda and meeting regularly, it’s just going to become another one of those things that we say we’re going to do but never actually do.

Jonathan Theders, CPIA, is president and COO of Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. and CTIA Risk Consulting. Reach him at (513) 779-2800 or jtheders@ctia.com.