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Building Safety Committees

Safety and health committees exist at many mine sites, but are these committees giving the mine operator the most bang for the buck? Unless management,


Safety and health committees exist at many mine sites, but are these committees giving the mine operator the most bang for the buck?

Unless management, miners and committee members have a clear understanding of why the group exists and what it is trying to accomplish, the committee may not achieve its full potential.

Consultant Jerome Spear offers a set of success factors pulled from his personal experience and the literature that planners should consider when setting up a safety committee and overseeing its operation. One of the first tasks is to prepare a clear mission statement, such as: ìto continuously reduce the risk of injury and illness to employees and visitors at this facility. This will be done by using the organization's resources efficiently while striving to achieve an optimal level of safety and health.î

This allows the committee to make intelligent trade-offs, Spear reports in a recent Synergist article. For instance, when faced with deciding whether to implement an engineering control or safety procedure, the statement invites the group to ask questions such as: Will this procedure achieve injury and/or illness reduction? Will it produce an optimal level of safety? Is it feasible?


Developing a set of goals is the next step. These goals must conform to the mission statement, and be challenging, specific and have a timetable. Example: conduct a risk assessment of all work tasks (according to risk of injury) by the end of the first quarter. Either the group or management, preferably with group input, can set forth organizational goals. However, it is the exclusive role of the committee to determine how to accomplish these goals.

Spear identifies the leader, facilitator and committee members as those with key roles. He cautions that an in-house facilitator should be chosen with care because replacing that individual can harm group dynamics. Outside facilitators usually can be replaced with less trauma to the organization, he believes.

The leader is key during the formative period when the committee's design and direction are being established. After the group is up and running, the leader acts more as a coach and progress monitor.

Committee members must be carefully selected for what they bring to the table, and everyone involved should be aware of why each member is there. Besides considering an individual's expertise, avoid duplication of effort and conflict when choosing the committee's makeup. Size matters, also. Most committees function best with from five to 15 members, but size depends on the number of tasks, skills needed and complexity of the functions required.


The work of the organization should require members to team up. Spending time together is crucial, Spear maintains. The committee should not break up to do routine inspections, for instance. Rather, it should train others to do the job, then review the results, prioritize findings, determine root causes, and evaluate options for corrective action. Working together as a unit also builds trust and interdependence, which are crucial to success.

Management must support the effort, visibly show this support, and hold the group accountable. Accountability also is the responsibility of the leader. The group as a whole, not individuals within it, must be associated with its ultimate success or failure. Of course, if the group is to be held accountable, it must be given authority to manage its affairs. If management or the leader intervene, the group's sense of ownership will be adversely affected.

The committee also needs basic resources to do its job, and these ó meeting space, access to information, time to perform tasks, additional training, etc. ó must be negotiated up front with management.

Following these guidelines may not guarantee the group's success, but it will certainly greatly improve the chances of success.


James Sharpe holds a masters degree in environmental health sciences and is certified in the comprehensive practice of industrial hygiene. He has nearly 30 years experience in occupational and environmental health and safety. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.