Course 701 - Effective Safety Committee Operations

Role, Purpose, and Function

SC Role Purpose Function
The safety committee must understand its role to fulfill its purpose and function properly.

What is the Role of the Safety Committee

You don't have to climb a mountain and sit on a big rock for six days to visualize the role of the safety committee. However, it will take a more thought to develop the safety committee so it meets the expected behaviors and outcomes necessary to fulfill its role.

First, let's look at the concept of "role" and how it applies to the safety committee. Look up the definition of "role" and you'll find something like:

  • A part assumed or played by a person or group in a particular situation;
  • The position a person or group has in a situation, organization, or relationship.
  • A prescribed or expected behavior pattern associated with a position or status in a group or organization.

As you can see, roles are labels to help define who we are, how we should behave personally and what we should be doing as an individual or group.

I'm sure the position you hold in your company has some sort of formal title that helps you and others identify your role and associated duties. Along with that role come assigned responsibilities and status. Every role you play has with it a set of expected behaviors and activities that are considered appropriate for that role.

Take a look at the following list of common roles we play. The odds are you play one or more of these roles.

  • At home: mother, wife, father, husband, son, daughter, aunt, uncle.
  • In the community: youth group leader, coach, club officer.
  • At work: receptionist, supervisor, welder, trainer, nurse.

Of course, there are many more roles we can play, but you get the idea. Each role is unique with its own set of performance expectations.

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1. Which of the following is a term we use to define who we are and what is expected of us in terms of individual and group behaviors?

a. Role
b. Responsibility
c. Accountability
d. Duty

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The Safety Committee's Role

You are not a cop.
The safety committee plays the role of a consultant group.

To help the safety committee function better, each member must understand this basic principle:

What we do depends on who we think we are.

For example, if safety committee members:

  • believe they are consultants, they will do and say things that send a message they can be trusted. Employees will seek their help and appreciate their work.
  • believe they are cops, they will do and say things in a manner that is likely to result in mistrust. And, as we know, an effective safety culture can not exist in a climate of mistrust.

The Vision Statement

To better understand and convey the role of your safety committee as an internal consultant team providing expert advice and assistance, think about creating a "vision statement." The vision statement describes who you are. A good vision statement will help you determine what to do and make it more likely that you'll realize that vision.

A committee with an appropriate vision is more likely to do the following to achieve their vision:

  • survey and interview employees to find out what they are thinking and feeling;
  • observe employees to analyze behaviors;
  • inspect the workplace to uncover hazardous conditions;
  • audit safety programs;
  • uncover the surface and root causes of safety problems;
  • develop and submit written recommendations;
  • monitor the progress of corrective actions and system improvements; and
  • evaluate the long-term quality of the safety culture.

Sample Vision Statement: "The safety committee helps management lead in creating a world-class safety culture through educating employees and consulting with management."

A final word about vision: You may be wondering why some safety committees fail. Well, I'm sure you're familiar with the saying, "Where there is no vision, the people will perish." (Proverbs 29:18) The same principle applies to safety committees.

2. What safety committees do depends on _____.

a. their vision: who they think they are
b. what they're told to do by management
c. the safety committee's directives
d. what makes common sense to its members

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Multiples Roles

Every person plays many roles every day.

As a safety committee member, you perform multiple roles. Let's see how this affects your responsibilities:

  • Safety committee member: When performing the role of a safety committee member you are basically performing the role of an internal consultant:
    • Warn employees, but do not report "names" to the supervisor.
    • Report unsafe behaviors to the committee chairperson so the safety committee can discuss how to fix the surface and root causes.
    • Help managers and supervisors gain the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to better enforce, supervise, and manage safety by giving them useful information.
    • Listen to employee concerns and suggestions about safety and give that information to the safety committee.
    • Educate and assist employees, but do not try to enforce safety rules: that's a line responsibility.
  • Line employee: When performing the role of a line employee, you have a responsibility to warn the employee, but again, you're not a cop. Report the behavior to your safety committee member, and if you are comfortable with it, to your supervisor without naming names.
  • Supervisor/Manager: When performing the role of supervisor or manager, you are the agent of the employer and are legally the "cop" who should enforce safety.
    • If you catch someone misbehaving and you have properly trained them, they have the proper resources, time, support, etc., you're probably justified in disciplining the employee.
    • Address behaviors with everyone in training and safety meetings. It resets employee accountability when the supervisor tells all employees they are not allowed to engage in a particular unsafe behavior.

Enforcing Safety Rules is Not the Safety Committee's Job

Remember, writing "tickets" for violating safety rules can be especially disastrous to the success of the safety committee's effectiveness: Don't do it. Enforcing safety is considered managing safety and is a line responsibility from the CEO down through first line supervisor.

3. As a safety committee member, which activity below would be inappropriate?

a. Monitoring the hazard communication program
b. Making recommendations to improve safe procedures
c. Reporting the names of individuals working unsafely
d. Helping the employer develop interest in workplace safety

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Role Conflict

Understand your role as a safety committee inspector.

If you are a member of your company's' safety team AND a supervisor, how do you discipline your employees for unsafe behavior? Let's take a look at a scenario below to set the scene.


Larry is an member of the company's safety committee. However, he is a supervisor as well. During his workday, he notices one of his subordinates is not wearing required personal protective equipment (PPE). Larry wants to correct the unsafe behavior; however, he is unsure how to proceed.

Since Larry is a line supervisor, should he discipline the workers or should he actually refrain from discipline because he is a safety committee member?

How would you respond in the above situation? The response depends on the role you are playing at the time you discover the unsafe behavior. For instance:

  • If you are a supervisor conducting a safety inspection as a member of the safety committee, you would most certainly intervene and make sure the employee gets and uses proper PPE. You would also admonish the employee to use proper PPE in the future. Disciplining the employee while performing the role of a safety committee member may be counterproductive to the mission of the safety committee. Be careful when considering discipline, especially when performing the role of a safety committee member.
  • If, on the other hand, you are conducting your own inspection as a supervisor and spot the unsafe behavior, then discipline may be necessary as appropriate.

To prevent role conflict like this, you might ask someone else to conduct the inspection in your department.

4. You are a supervisor conducting a safety inspection as a member of the safety committee. How would you respond if you see an employee failing to work in a safe manner?

a. Be sure to discipline the employee on the spot
b. Observe the unsafe behavior and take no other action
c. Intervene but do not discipline
d. Tell the employee that you will inform his supervisor of the infraction

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The Safety Committee's Purpose

Armed with insight into the role of the safety committee, let's take a look at what the committee's purpose and function might be. We'll start by looking at the purpose of the safety committee. A quick review of our friendly dictionary once again defines "purpose" as "a desired or intended result or effect."

Safety Committee
The purpose of the safety committee is to help management protect employees.

For safety committees to be successful in fulfilling their role, they need to understand their purpose and how to go about achieving intended outcomes. If the safety committee does not understand it's purpose, it may actually function to produce unintended outcomes.

Safety committees are created and developed to fulfill the following purposes:

  • help to protect the employer by providing useful information;
  • help to protect the employee by responding to safety concerns;
  • bring labor and management together in a cooperative way to solve problems;
  • help the employer educate and motivate all employees about the importance of safety; and
  • help the employer educate and motivate all supervisors and managers to identify hazards and take corrective action.

All these purpose statements emphasize the safety committee's responsibility to help the employer do (manage) safety, not to do safety for the employer. This important idea is why we encourage safety committees to think of themselves as internal consultant groups, but not as safety "cop squads."

The Mission Statement

A safety committee should write a mission statement that explains what they do to support their vision. The purpose of the safety committee might be viewed as its mission and describes the activities above to support its assigned role.

Sample Mission Statement: "It is the mission of the Safety Committee of XYZ Company to promote a safe working environment for all employees by assisting in the overall effort to minimize the frequency of accidents, and to identify corrective measures needed to eliminate or control recognized safety hazards."

5. To tell everyone what the safety committee intends to do, write a _____.

a. vision statement
b. mission statement
c. policy statement
d. company advertisement

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Safety Committee
If the purpose is not understood, the committee fails to function.

The "Function" of the Safety Committee

Purpose and function are related terms, but differ significantly in meaning. "Function" is: Something closely related to another thing and dependent on it for its existence, value, or significance. This definition implies that "function" is dependent on the "purpose" of the safety committee.

Whereas a purpose statement describes the intended result or effect of a safety committee activity, "function" describes the actual unintended result or effect. The actual outcome depends on the success of the attempt to carry out the intended purpose. If the safety committee does not effectively carry out its intended purpose, it may unintentionally function to hurt the company's safety and health effort.

The safety committee's function is dependent upon the effectiveness of a group to follow through with its stated purpose. The safety committee may have the best intentions, but if it cannot follow through effectively with its plans, it may actually function to harm a safety program or activity rather than help it.

Without education and training, safety committee members may not have the basic knowledge, skills, and abilities (SKAs) to perform their responsibilities. Given proper education and training, the safety committee is more likely to function to carry out its intended purpose.

For instance, the safety committee may intend to increase interest in safety by implementing a safety incentive program, but if its members do not have the SKAs to accomplish this task, they may unintentionally develop a totally reactive incentive program that results in dismal failure.

The lesson: It's not good enough just to do the right've got to do the right thing right!

6. "Purpose" states the intended result or effect and "_____" describes the actual or unintended result or effect.

a. accountability
b. role
c. responsibility
d. function

Check your Work

Read the material in each section to find the correct answer to each quiz question. After answering all the questions, click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and check your answers again.


Purpose vs. Function

Listen to Bryan explain one of the ways to deliver engaging service. Understanding the "purpose" of your job duties (functions) is a powerful way to deliver service in an engaging way.

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