From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Just Having a Safety Committee Is Not Enough

A recent RAND Corporation analysis of Pennsylvania firms that had state Certified Safety Committees (CSC) revealed mixed findings relative to the reduction of company injury rates.  The study, involving 364,840 businesses and 1,930,649 firm years from 1998 to 2005, found that employers that joined the CSC program did not experience a reduction in lost work time injury/illness rates when compared to similar firms who were non-CSC participants. 

However, among CSC companies that were found to have better compliance with program guidelines, there were greater decreases in injury rates.  Education of safety committee members was strongly related to a lowering of injury rates.  However, program audits revealed that approximately 5% of the CSC participants had no program at all while over 80% had at least one shortcoming.  When faced with the requirement that company changes relative to safety were needed to stay in the CSC program, firms may have felt it was not worth the effort – there was a strong association between dropping out of the CSC program and undergoing a program audit.

In 1994, the State of Pennsylvania legislatively authorized a 5% discount on workers’ compensation insurance premiums for employers that had a joint labor-management safety committee (what became know as a CSC).  The labor-management safety committee was expected to meet regularly and perform three activities:

  • Detect hazards
  • Analyze and solve problems
  • Assist in safety management

Nearly $30 million in discounts have been awarded to over 4,300 businesses as of 2006 – an average of $7,000 per employer. 

The level of program non-compliance by companies interfered with attempts to assess CSC impact and, noted the authors, “raises questions of both effectiveness and fairness”.

The Bottom Line – How This Applies To Ergonomists
This study verifies what most ergonomists have seen in the field – a safety committee needs certain ingredients in order to be affective.  This study pointed to management commitment and committee member training.  However, the basics were well expressed over two decades ago within OSHA’s Ergonomics Program Management Guidelines for Meatpacking Plants: Commitment by Top Management, a Written Program, Employee Involvement, and Regular Program Review and Evaluation.

Other Key Points
Companies that participated in the CSC initiative were:

  • primarily “blue collar” industries
  • large in size 
  • characterized by a markedly higher lost time injury/illnesses rate (2.6 per 100 workers) as opposed to non-CSC participants (0.9 per 100 workers)
  • non-union businesses 

Businesses with lost time injury/illness rates lower than 50% of the industry average were unlikely to have a CSC.

The authors note that participation in the CSC program grew from 0.5% in 1996 to 2% in 2006. Despite these low numbers, about 40% of the manufacturing employers with greater than 100 workers had a CSC program in 2006. 

Other studies involving the effectiveness of safety committees were reported by the authors of this paper as marred by design weakness leading to various conclusions:

  • A New York study of 51 unionized facilities with joint labor-management safety committees found that labor-management commitment had a larger impact on workplace safety than the safety committee
  • Several studies revealed that safety committee impact was influenced by training, good communication and senior management commitment
  • Two Canadian studies found that safety committees reduced the rates of work injuries

Research Method
Several data bases were accessed for specific information relative to each company:

  1. Employment statistics from the Pennsylvania Unemployment Insurance system (1996-2006)
  2. Injury/Illness data from the Pennsylvania Workers’ compensation system (1998-2005)
  3. CSC Program participants from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (1994-2007)
  4. Inspection information from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration Integrated Management Information System (1993-2007)

The key outcome measures were injury rate (the number of case with lost work days per 100 workers) and injury rate ratio (ratio of the company’s injury rate relative to the average injury rate of its four-digit Standard Industrial Classification).

Nine different analysis approaches were used to assess program participation and program impact.

This study can be acquired from the copyright holder at:

Article Title: The Pennsylvania Certified Safety Committee Program: An Evaluation of Particiaption and Effects on Work Injury Rates

Publication: American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 53:780-791, 2010

Authors: H Lie, R M Burns, A G Schaefer, T Ruder, C Nelson, A M Haviland, W B Gray, and J Mendeloff

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2010-08-30.