All types of committees struggle to achieve their goals, including joint health and safety committees (JHSC). While the challenges committees face are not unique, the JHSC's mission is.
As an integral part of the workplace's Internal Responsibility System, the JHSC inspects the workplace, identifies hazards, and makes recommendations that help protect workers from injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. It's important that committees are as efficient and effective as possible. "A smooth running JHSC can raise awareness, drive change and improve health and safety culture," notes Kart Vyas, WSPS Specialized Consultant and JHSC Certification Trainer.
But four common challenges can torpedo the work of the JHSC, says Kart. "Successfully tackling these challenges can re-energize and refocus the committee, enabling it to do its best work."
Four challenges and tips on how to solve them
- Some members require more knowledge and skills. Certification training provides members with the knowledge and skills needed to recognize and control hazards in the workplace. Although the law requires only two certified members - one management and one worker - in a setting with 20 or more regularly employed workers, the best practice is for employers to provide certification training to additional members, says Kart.
When that's not possible, certified members can coach non-certified members to help them get up to speed. One tool for doing this, suggests Kart, is by tackling as a team the ‘back at work' activities incorporated into certification training. Also tap into health and safety newsletters, free webinars, podcasts, and information from the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) and other organizations.
- Lack of goals or direction. "The best way to make the JHSC effective, efficient, and productive is to have clear expectations," says Kart. Terms of Reference, although not required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, are an excellent tool for aligning roles and establishing expectations. They should set out:
- how the committee will operate, how often it will meet, etc.
- the committee's purpose and scope of responsibility.
- overall goals - what the committee aims to achieve, such as complying with legislative standards for JHSCs, creating a safe workplace culture, supporting health and safety initiatives set by management, etc.
- objectives - the tangible ways you intend to achieve your goals. Examples include
- conduct monthly inspections
- review injury analysis data and incident reports
- make recommendations to employers and follow up
- respond, in writing, to health and safety concerns from employees
- develop a communication tool to increase your visibility in the workplace
- Poor participation in meetings. There may be two reasons for this, says Kart:
- Tasks are not shared equally. Be sure that everyone on the committee has a role to play. "If one or two people are carrying the bulk of the load, others will become quickly disinterested. When you share tasks everyone feels empowered and an integral part of the JHSC."
- Meetings are long, repetitive or unorganized. Here are some ways to spark interest and participation in meetings, says Kart.
- Have an agenda and stick to it.
- Give everyone a chance to participate in an orderly way.
- Switch it up: instead of just talking, invite guest speakers, watch documentaries and webinars, or have a pop quiz. "You can also encourage members to present to the group as part of their growth and involvement," says Kart.
- If the group has trouble interacting effectively, turn to HR for assistance. "They can show you how to facilitate meetings in a professional and efficient manner."
- Feeling burnt out and overwhelmed. This can occur when committee members:
- are having trouble balancing work/life responsibilities as well as committee duties
- are taking on too many tasks. "That's why a participatory approach is needed," says Kart.
- don't have the skills and knowledge required for the task. "If something is beyond a person's ability, they will keep struggling to find solutions and tire themselves out."
It's up to the co-chairs to recognize when someone is feeling overwhelmed and take action.
How WSPS can help
Explore our JHSC resources, including the following:
- Certification training (now in classroom, virtual, and eLearning formats)
- Health and Safety Representative (HSR) Basic Training (8 hours), a small business eLearning training program (for workplaces with 6-19 workers). Reimbursement is available for businesses that qualify.
- Joint health and safety committee (JHSC) Toolkit
- The Effective JHSC (booklet)
- Understanding Hazards in the Workplace (article)
- JHSCs and remote work: 4 challenges, 4 solutions (article)
- JHSCs: an untapped mental health resource (article)
- 7 ways to maximize the effectiveness of your pandemic-era JHSC (article)
- Forms - Terms of Reference, Notice of Recommendation, Meeting Agenda