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Making safety committees work

By Mari-Len De Guzman

If utilized well, safety committees and workplace inspections can serve a bigger purpose for your organization than just for regulatory compliance.

This is according to health and safety experts speaking at this year’s Western Conference on Safety in Vancouver last week.

“Worksite inspection isn’t simply to walk around the building from month to month,” said Isabel Krueger, a 22-year veteran health and safety professional and owner of Safety Matters, providing training for safety committees and supervisors.

Workplace inspections serve as an opportunity to talk to workers and find out if there are any ongoing health and safety issues that may not come to light by any other means, Krueger said.

Worksite inspections will also allow the safety committee to confirm whether recommendations from accident investigations are getting implemented.

The key for any safety committees doing workplace inspections is to understand — from the beginning — the purpose of the safety inspection.

“The committee decides the purpose or focus of next month’s inspections,” she said. “We stay focused by determining in advance what it is that we’re going to look for.”

Safety committees can plan to focus on a different task or hazard every inspection. For example, the committee can focus on recurring first aid incidents — where they are happening — watch how people are working, find out what’s causing the injuries and make recommendations to mitigate those risks based on the result of the inspection.

It is important to designate a committee member who will lead a specific inspection, said Krueger. Assign a different lead every inspection because chances are, that leader’s job will not end after the inspection is over. Reports and recommendations would have to be created, and follow-ups to ensure completion will have to be done as well.

Some of the areas that safety committees can focus on every inspections include: physical worksites, including buildings and structures; tools, equipment and machinery, such as ladders, scaffoldings; and work methods and practices, which include proper lifting procedures, ergonomics, equipment maintenance procedures.

A regular inspection checklist is helpful when doing inspection, but the committee would also benefit from having other things handy when planning an inspection, said Krueger, including specific or spot checklist for accident investigation, maps and floor plans, copy of work procedures and recommendations for follow-up.

The safety committee’s role in workplace investigation is vital in preventing future negative incidents, said Tom Lauritzen, former regional prevention manager for WorkSafeBC and now a health and safety consultant at 24/7 Safety.

“Correcting what’s wrong so (these accidents) don’t happen again — that’s what safety committees are all about,” Lauritzen told attendees at the Western Conference on Safety.

According to Lauritzen, under B.C.  laws, an employer is required to undertake an investigation into the cause of any incident that is required to be reported to WorkSafeBC or resulted in an injury to a worker requiring medical treatment. An investigation is also required for any incident that — although it may not have caused injury or caused only a minor injury to a worker — had the potential for causing serious injury to a worker.  

Workplace investigations should not only be triggered by serious accidents resulting in injury, it is also important that safety committees investigate near miss or close call incidents, Lauritzen said.

“Remember the difference between an accident and a near miss is luck and split-second,” he said, adding incident investigations should always be viewed as part of an organization’s accident prevention program.

The safety committee’s role in accident investigations is two-fold, Lauritzen said: participation in the actual investigation process and review of completed investigations at the committee’s monthly meeting for quality control and follow up, if required.

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