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Safety Committees: Problem-Solving & Decision-Making Process

Health and safety committees are an important institution in the North American workplace. Committees are voluntary for most industries. Many companies also agree to establish them under collective bargaining.

Preparing for Implementation
Although the six-step process outlined in this article is straightforward, you will need a facilitator to help you implement it. It is suggested that you appoint someone to fulfill this role, a coach if you will.

The coach needs to spend some time familiarizing himself or herself with the six steps of the method and what's involved in overseeing it. The coach should be prepared to brief everybody at the subsequent meeting.

Let's now look at the six steps of the actual process:

Step 1: Defining the Problem

Committee members should all share a clear definition of whatever problem they are wrestling with. Only then will they all focus on the same issues, share ideas and work together as a team. You need to ask key questions about the problem, such as:

  • Is the problem real or just imagined?
  • Is the JHSC the appropriate forum to discuss it?
  • What are the symptoms of the problem?
  • How urgent is it?
  • What are the timeframes involved - when does it occur and when does it have to be solved?

When you write out answers to these questions, and sift through the results, you will have a written definition of the problem. Now, you can consider the defined problem in more detail.

Step 2: Diagnosing the Problem

Committee members need as much information as possible about the problem so they can determine what's at the root of it. They need to know when and where the problem arises, why it occurs and who's involved.

Step 3: Brainstorming Solutions

Once the problem has been diagnosed, solutions may be considered. Committee members should look at a number of options. To do this, they should brainstorm and come up with as many ideas as possible. Members should be encouraged to use their imagination and not criticize each other for suggesting ideas. Aim for quantity. Quality is also important and it will come. But for now the challenge is to get as many ideas as possible on the table.

Step 4: Selecting a Solution

Committee members will be justifiably proud of the long list of possible solutions they collect. But next they need to consider which of their ideas are feasible. Keep in mind that most can make only recommendations. So the solution or solutions they suggest must win management support. Committee members thus need to consider the options in light of the company's financial and human resources. They also need to consider which solution will be the most reliable, the most cost-effective.

Step 5: Implementing a Solution

They need to have a plan for implementing the solution they recommend. The plan should lay out:

  • The actions recommended;
  • Who's responsible for putting those actions in effect; and
  • Deadlines for implementation.

Step 6: Evaluating the Outcome

Evaluation will tell committee members whether their problem-solving and decision-making approach worked. This will enable the committee to suggest adjustments and at least prepare them to deal with similar problems next time. To do this, members need to decide what to evaluate. Suggestions:

  • Did the problem-solving and decision-making process work?
  • Did people understand it?
  • How might it be improved?
  • Was the recommended solution actually implemented?
  • If not, why not? If so, did it work?

Why bother with this elaborate process? Answer: Because solving problems as a team helps to ensure that everyone on the committee has an opportunity to be heard. The systematic nature of the questioning helps to get to the root of a situation. Writing down decisions helps to clarify them. Solving the problem together helps to build a common understanding and a common sense of purpose.