Saturday, January 18, 2014

How do I know if our Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee is effective?

The research literature reflects a consensus that effective joint occupational health and safety committees (JOHSCs) make a difference in the workplace.  Just because you have a JOHSC that meets the regulatory requirements, is properly constituted and meets regularly does not guarantee its effectiveness.  How would you assess the effectiveness of your committee? 

A good place to start is with the questions on the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) website at
1.       Are members' duties clearly defined?
2.       Is a list of duties available to each member?
3.       Do members understand what their duties are?
4.       Do members carry out their duties?
5.       Is the structure and duties reviewed periodically and revised when necessary?
6.       Do members know the extent of their authority?
7.       Do members exceed their authority [or fail to address health and safety issues within their authority]?
8.       Are the chairperson's duties and authority clearly specified?
9.       Are the secretary's duties clearly specified? 

This is a great starting point in assessing the effectiveness of your JOHSC.  If all members of the JHSC have positive responses to all questions except 7, you have the makings of an effective committee.   I’ve added the clause shown in square brackets to question 7 for a reason.  If there is any doubt in the responses, mixed responses, or if you find question 7 responses depict a committee or its members exceeding their authority or failing to exercise their authority, your committee may not  working as effectively as it could.  In this case, failure to address substantive issues within a committee’s authority may be more serious than overzealousness.  If a committee’s members find they are continually bumping into issues that are beyond their understood authority, there may be something wrong with their understanding or the responsibilities and authority defined for the committee.  In either case, the health and safety of workers and other persons in the workplace may be at stake.  At a minimum, a “yes” answer to question 7 should spark some serious discussion.  

The CCOHS questions (with my proposed amendment to question 7) are internally focused.  A important measure of effectiveness is the degree to which the JOHSC is perceived by management and staff to be an important and potent facet of health and safety in the workplace.   So, I recommend adding the following question to the list:

10.    Do management and staff perceive the JOHSC to be effective?

There are many ways of informing a response to this question.  The methods include:
·         Directly asking managers and staff members the question in a staff survey
·         Counting of issues and questions referred to the committee as a performance measure
·         Tracking the number of page visits to the JOHSC minutes posted to the organization’s intranet site

Each of these or several in combination will provide an indicator of the importance and confidence workplace participants place on their JOHSC. 

If you are just starting a committee or looking for ways to improve its effectiveness,  WorkSafeBC offers a Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee Foundation Workbook.  The workbook is full of resources and space for committee members to develop and improve the operations of their committee.  

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