The idea for this discussion began with a very simple question: Should my company have an executive-level safety committee? However, finding the answer to this question was not simple. Research on the subject revealed some information on companies with executive-level safety committees, but did not provide significant insight into why the committees were formed or how a company might benefit from a formal high-level committee.

The goal of this discussion is to provide a framework that will help Environmental Health and Safety professionals and others consider if the establishment of an executive-level safety committee is a concept that should be pursued within their organization. This framework includes definition of Executive Safety Committee (ESC), highlighting its Purpose; Roles and Responsibilities; Common Structures; ESC Appointment Considerations; Connectivity to Sustainability; Common ESC Pitfalls; and ESC Implementation Considerations.

Purpose of an Executive Safety Committee

An Executive Safety Committee is structured to be the governing body presiding over safety policies, procedures, and processes that have been implemented in order to protect an organization's employees, customers, and assets. It has been well established that executive management's support and commitment to environmental health and safety initiatives directly affect the safety culture within any organization. Due to the business and cultural impacts that xecutive support of an organization's safety and health process can have, it is critical to consider whether the amount of oversight and direction at various executive levels of an organization are appropriate.

Several organizations have increased their level of oversight of safety and health processes by appointing Executive Safety Committees, which are made up of several, if not all, executive anagement members. Additionally, larger corporations, such as Weyerhaeuser Corporation, Potash Corporation, BHP Billiton, GlaxoSmithKline, and VF Corporation, have linked and even included safety and health oversight responsibilities with corporate governance committees.

Roles and Responsibilities of an Executive Safety Committee

Organizations implement ESCs at a high level to ensure that safety and health consideration are a art of the company's overall strategic business plan. The following are examples of typical functions performed by an ESC:

  1. Develop and communicate a clear vision for the environmental health and safety programs to the organization's officers, managers, employees, and others.

  2. Establish broad safety goals for the organization.

  3. Evaluate an organization's progress toward meeting those goals with objective measurement tools.

  4. Provide a forum for the various employees, teams, business units, or other groups to bring forward their concerns and resolve issues internally, within the framework and without needing external regulatory intervention.

  5. Ensure mechanisms are in place for systematic identification and mitigation of risk.

  6. Review reports prepared by management with respect to any extraordinary event or condition involving significant risk to public health or safety, major public controversy, significant environmental damage, material liability, or the potential thereof.

  7. Identify and recommend health and safety priority areas for the purpose of rational resource allocation.

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