Likely, the most significant thing a Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) does is investigate safety concerns and provide solutions. That’s their job. However, what should a JHSC be looking for in a safety concern? What should they suggest as a solution to reduce or eliminate the concern? It all comes down to understanding the factors which make something unsafe and how they can be compensated. We have developed the following step-by-step workplan to help you investigate safety concerns effectively and come to solutions that yield results.
Step 1: Organize a Report
Depending on the size of your JHSC, sending everyone to document a safety concern may not be practical, especially if that means upwards of 10 members. Instead, no more than three members should organize a report of the concern for everyone else to investigate together. These members only need to record everything about the concern, not investigate it. They should photograph and video the safety concern, write down the issue, highlight the specific concern, and record a few worker statements on the concern. Once this information is organized and provided to every member, the JHSC will have an effective way of investigating the concern.
Step 2: Identifying What is Unsafe
Every concern is different, and likewise the risks differ as well. When considering a concern, you want to focus on these factors: health risks; injury potential; property damage; and emergency risk.
Health risks are mainly associated with hazardous exposure or long-term decay of muscles (ergonomic issues). Some examples may be exposure to Asbestos, wood shavings, chemical fumes, or excessive weights.
Injury potential is exactly how it appears: in what ways could someone be injured? Could they be impaled by a beam, lose their head, be burned, stub their toe, or twist their ankle? Is debris being thrown through the air or will it trip people on the ground? Depending on the hazard, injuries could come from stationary objects or hazards that come from work processes.
Like injury potential, property damage is straightforward. Does the hazard pose a risk to property? Although at first glance this may seem unrelated to worker safety, property damage can mean the degradation of equipment or the working environment. In either case, this can endanger workers as they go about their shift. Perhaps the floor of a scaffold could be weakened, and someone would fall through it, for example.
Lastly, emergency risk is focused on considering the emergencies a hazard could create. The most obvious example would be a fire risk, but you should also consider floods, chemical spills, spontaneous combustion risk, and electrocution. Anything that can endanger multiple individuals in the workplace should be recorded.
Step 3: Finding the Cause
After you have identified what is unsafe, work backwards and search for the cause of the concern. Hopefully, this is something as simple as a leaky pipe or burnt light bulb, or anything that is a quick fix. Of course, not every concern is so simple. Often, issues are complex with multiple causes and working parts, or they are too abstract to have a unique solution that corrects it every time. Regardless, identifying the cause(s) of the concern is the necessary next step for finding a solution.
Step 4: Considering Controls
Solutions to safety concerns can be grouped into three major categories: engineering controls, administrative controls, and PPE. These solutions should be considered in that order as well, because another way of considering the categories is elimination, prevention, and protection.
Engineering controls are designed to eliminate the hazard. This may mean installing a barricade to protect employees, upgrading ventilation, or changing process chemicals. This solution will often have the largest upfront cost but can save countless dollars down the line.
Next up, administrative controls are meant to prevent exposure to the hazard, such as providing training, restricting access to an area, or changing processes. Administrative controls should be considered when elimination isn’t possible or feasible. This solution will have lower upfront cost, but more long-term costs to maintain prevention.
Lastly, personal protective equipment, or PPE, protects employees when the other options aren’t available. Think of hardhats, non-slip boots, etc. Depending on the PPE, the employer or employee might be responsible for purchasing it.
Step 5: Providing Solutions
Once the risk and cause are identified, and methods considered, your JHSC should discuss the best solutions for the problem. The issue should be approached from multiple directions, with at least two different solutions. Odds are, not all members will agree, and management may have their own ideas, so having a few solutions opposed to one reduces conflict while focusing on the goal: improved safety. Perhaps one solution eliminates the hazard altogether and the other prevents exposure and protects employees. Whatever the case, be open to perspectives on the matter. Finding a solution should not be about who can do it the best, but rather, it should be about how we all can make things safer.
Step 6: Review and Enact
Review your solutions within the committee and with management. Are there any flaws? In reducing this hazard, is another made worse? Could something go wrong? The aim is not to be perfect, but it is to reduce the chance of a foreseeable issue arising. What’s important is that the solution is enacted quickly and successfully, not that the solution was considered for a long time to be perfect. Enact a good plan as fast as possible; you can always adapt to new issues but you can’t resurrect people.