Why Do Organizations Have a Safety Committee?

Estimates published in the OSHA Handbook for Small Businesses (OSHA 2005) place the business direct and indirect costs associated with occupational injuries at close to $170 billion per year. Direct costs to employers reported in the 2016 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index (Liberty Mutual 2016), for the most disabling, nonfatal workplace injuries amounted to nearly $62 billion in direct U.S. workers compensation costs. This translates into more than a billion dollars a week spent by businesses on these injuries. Clearly there exists today a compelling economic and humanitarian force to reduce the impact of occupational injuries and illnesses.

The conventional wisdom of the safety movement has overwhelmingly embraced the use of safety committees as a method of employee participation in the prevention efforts since the movement's beginning. For many programs, safety committees have helped foster an extraordinary means of achieving outstanding safety and health results while encouraging active employee participation. Large industrial concerns like U. S. Steel, Eastman Kodak and Midvale Steel, to name but a few, were cited by the safety movement of the last century as leaders in utilizing safety committees to reduce accidents. Common to each of these programs and a significant influence encouraging expansion of safety committees has been the labor movement. Historically, labor has long been a strong proponent for protecting their members from on the job injuries and illnesses. Steel industry collective bargaining agreements (CBA) have contained safety and health articles for more than 100 years. In 1951, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, 1951) reported that 28% of the 2,411 CBAs surveyed provided for joint labor management safety committees. A later BLS survey (BLS, 1972) of contracts covering 2,000 or more workers reported that joint labor management safety committees were required in 29% of the CBAs. However, with the enactment of the OSHAct, employers, with the support of OSHA, began efforts to encourage more worker participation in safety programs.

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