Joint health and safety committees (JHSCs) have been working hard for the past 18 months to keep workplaces and workers safe from COVID-19 despite pandemic obstacles. COVID-19 restrictions and a shift to new workplace models have made it more difficult to hold meetings, ensure participation, obtain certification training, and encourage employees to communicate concerns. In some workplaces, this may have pushed other health and safety issues to the back burner.
"All this can compromise JHSC effectiveness," says Jennifer MacFarlane, WSPS Senior Account Manager. "It's important to get back on track because the JHSC's role is critical." As an integral part of the workplace's Internal Responsibility System (IRS), the JHSC helps protect workers from injuries, illnesses, and fatalities, and promotes an effective safety culture.
Jennifer suggests seven ways committees can overcome obstacles and maximize their effectiveness.
- Establish terms of reference. This ensures everyone is on the same page, and that new members can be brought up to speed quickly. Terms of reference focus on committee operation - meeting frequency and location, committee functions (conducting inspections, identifying hazards, investigating incidents, consulting on health and safety programs, etc.), and more.
- Understand your role in remote workplaces. The JHSC's role is to identify workplace hazards and make recommendations to the employer to control the hazards, says Jennifer. "This role has not changed with the move to home offices. What's changed is the focus." For example, slips, trips and falls may be a concern in the workplace, while at the home office, it may be ergonomics or mental health issues.
- Encourage participation. "People are worrying about a lot of things right now, and may feel too stretched to participate," says Jennifer. She suggests using tried and true appeals to attract members, such as time off the floor, paid time, and the opportunity for extra training. Employers can encourage participation by recognizing the JHSC's work and successes, says Jennifer.
- Ensure meetings are productive and inclusive. Jennifer suggests increasing meeting frequency so that JHSCs have time to address issues effectively. (The legal minimum is every three months). If physical distancing requirements mean your committee meets virtually, make sure worker members have equal access to computers and software. To save time and promote consensus, ask for input on agenda items in advance, he adds. Other tips: begin and end on time, stick to the agenda, give everyone a chance to participate, take accurate minutes, and end on a positive note. Summarize what was accomplished and thank the team for their work.
- Don't forget about other hazards. The JHSC is not there just for COVID, but for all hazards in the workplace. Keep track of traditional safety issues as well as emerging issues - biological, mental health and psychosocial - which have moved to the forefront during the pandemic.
- Train members. Because of social distancing requirements, some JHSCs have had difficulty certifying one worker member and one management member, as required by law. "The good news is that certification training is now available virtually, so there is no reason not to have people certified," says Jennifer. She encourages certifying all members, so they share the same level of knowledge and skills.
- Ensure employees have a voice. With physical distancing and the move to home offices, established systems for raising concerns may have gone by the wayside. It's up to the committee to ensure that employees are still able to voice their concerns, virtually if necessary, and that a process is in place to review and resolve concerns.
How WSPS can help
Explore our JHSC resources, including the following:
- Certification training (now in classroom, virtual, and e-learning 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)
- JHSCs and remote work: 4 challenges, 4 solutions (article)
- JHSCs: an untapped mental health resource (article)
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.