Hesperian Health Guides
Organize a health and safety committee
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Setting up a health and safety committee in your factory can help workers address health and safety problems and win changes. Health and safety committees can be formed in workplaces that have unions or in workplaces that lack unions. Health and safety committees usually include equal numbers of workers and management. Their job is to identify dangers, tell workers about the dangers, propose solutions to the dangers, monitor how the problems are fixed and that they stay fixed, and encourage workers to be active in their own health and safety.
Health and safety committees work well when they:
- include workers who represent the interests of the workers.
- hold elections to choose the worker representatives.
- allow workers to say what they think without fear of punishment.
- initiate changes and see them through.
- have procedures to confront dangerous problems that are not fixed.
Having a health and safety committee in your factory might be required by law. Ask a union or a lawyer about your country’s labor code. If a health and safety committee is not required, try to convince your boss that a committee would allow him to find factory problems before they become dangerous to workers and expensive to fix. A committee can also help the factory win more contracts by preparing for audits and ensuring the work is safe. One limitation of health and safety committees is they tend to ignore many labor issues. For example, getting paid enough and on time, as well as limiting the number of working hours and shift work, contribute to workers’ health and well-being, but health and safety committees usually do not cover these issues.
You can also organize a health and safety committee with workers only. If you cannot hold an election, look for workers who you know are responsible and committed to improving work. Informal committee meetings, without management, can allow safety committee members to discuss issues and decide how to share information with other workers. They can also help you stand up more powerfully to the boss. For example, your committee can collect all the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for the chemicals used and then organize a training to help everyone understand them. A formal health and safety committee can do this, too. You do not need a lot of people – you just need a strong group of involved people who want to keep other workers informed and involved.