March 11, 2007

Forming a Safety and Health Committee in Your Local Union

Safety and health committees have a proven track record of identifying and correcting safety and health problems in the worksite. This Fact Sheet provides steps that will help your NYSUT local form a safety and health committee and provides sample activities.

How to Form a Safety and Health Committee

The following steps will help a union president establish a safety and health committee.

  1. Communicate the need for a safety and health committee. The union president should discuss the need for such a committee and its composition with union officers and other members, where appropriate, in order to solicit input on existing and potential hazards, and their magnitude.
  2. Contact the membership. The union president should inform members that critical safety and health concerns will be considered at the union's next general membership meeting.
  3. Describe concerns. At the general membership meeting the union president should describe safety and health concerns raised, respecting confidentiality where called for, and seek input on additional safety and health hazards which may exist or which are foreseeable.
  4. Determine the committee make-up. Safety and health committees are either union committees , comprised entirely of members from one or more unions at the worksite, or joint committees , comprised of representatives from one or more unions and management representatives. In either committee the union president should appoint committee members who are broad-based, with as wide a representation as is practicable.
  5. Appoint a committee chairperson. In forming a union committee, the president should appoint a committee chair. Some unions place a member of the local's executive board on the committee in order to insure there is communication between the committee and union leadership. The chair-person should direct the committee and issue reports and findings in a timely manner. For joint committees, the union president should strive to alternate the Chair between the union and management.
  6. Set committee goals. Union and joint committees should have a clear sense of their purposes, what they are expected to accomplish, appropriate activities, frequency of meetings, and a date by which they should report findings.

Safety and Health Committee Activities

Safety and health committee activities should be consistent with the committee's purpose(s) and members' concerns. In certain cases, outside technical expertise may be required. Potential activities include:

  • conducting regular accident and visual inspections: Accident and visual inspections can be used to identify safety and health concerns and recommend corrective actions. They can be used to train committee members in the recognition and remediation of hazards, especially if committee members.

    take part in the actual inspections. They also visibly demonstrates the union's commitment to improving the safety and health of its members. The focus of visual inspections can be guided by employee complaints filed with the school district, violations recorded by worksite audits conducted by PESH (Public Employee Safety and Health) inspectors, and test and monitoring results.

  • insuring construction contracts address safety issues: A safety and health committee can play a central role in school construction projects by insuring that contract documents address safety concerns, before a bid is advertised. Contract documents can require drawings or specifications regarding fire and life safety throughout construction, air ventilation (so as to control odors), and dust control, etc.
  • monitoring safety during construction: Once construction begins, the committee can monitor on-going safety and health concerns. By holding a project meeting frequently (e.g., every two weeks), with construction personnel and school administration, the committee can effectively monitor construction progress, quickly resolve problems, and request and receive safety and health-related information rapidly.
  • creating a healthy school: New York State's Board of Regents has affirmed that every "... school employee has a ‘right to know' about environmental health issues and hazards in their school environment." A safety and health committee can implement this Right to Know by insuring that school districts make information available about known and potential exposures to environmental health hazards, provide access to environmental health test reports and abatement plans, and ensure that school buildings achieve good indoor air quality, etc.
  • training committee members: Training committee members increases the credibility of the committee and its recommendations. Potential training topics include how to incorporate safety into a construction document, protect the health and safety of school employees during construction, create a healthy school, and conduct a visual inspection, etc. Training is available from NYSUT, statewide occupational health clinics, COSH (Committee on Occupational Safety and Health) groups, or other organizations.
  • surveying membership: Surveys help determine the safety and health priorities of the member-ship, extent of safety and health concerns, and need for worksite inspections and monitoring.

How NYSUT can Help

Assistance with organizing a safety and health committee as well as selecting and conducting appropriate activities is available from staff in each regional office. They also have access to a wide range of resources on this and other safety and health issues, including NYSUT Health and Safety Fact Sheets on a variety of topics.