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Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Chapter IV



The success of your business depends in large part on the men and women who work for you.  Protecting their safety and health on the job makes good business sense.  It also is the right thing to do.  You need not face this considerable task alone.  In this chapter we will show how employee involvement can strengthen your safety and health program.

Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 " assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources." [29 U.S.C. 651(b)] One of the thirteen purposes Congress has specified as a means of achieving this goal is "by encouraging joint labor-management efforts to reduce injuries and disease arising out of employment." [29 U.S.C. 651(b)(13)] With this in mind, OSHA's Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines recommend that all employers "provide and encourage employee involvement in the structure and operation of their [safety and health] program and in decisions that affect their safety and health." This chapter looks at some of the reasons behind this recommendation, and some of the ways you can implement it.  Finally, this chapter's appendices offer some concrete examples and suggestions that can help you get started.

This chapter, more than others, raises significant legal considerations in the implementation of some of the suggested methods for obtaining employee participation in health and safety matters, namely, the establishment and administration of committees.  These legal issues arise as the result of two recent cases decided by the National Labor Relations Board under Section 8(a)(2) of the National Labor Relations Act.  In Electromation, Inc., 309 NLRB No. 163 (12/16/92), the NLRB addressed the lawfulness of joint labor-management committees in the non-union setting; in E.I. DuPont Nemours & Co., 311 NLRB No. 88 (5/28/93), it addressed some of these same issues in the context of an organized workplace.  These cases establish a conceptual framework and some "do's and don't's" for the lawful establishment of joint labor-management committees.  If you decide to obtain employee involvement by using a committee, you or your labor relations specialist should be aware of the legal requirements imposed by these decisions.

You may also find helpful the NLRB General Counsel's Advice Memorandum of April 15, 1993, which discusses these issues.  Some of the issues addressed by these decisions are the manner of selection of committee members, the degree of control exerted by the employer over committee functions, the method used to reach decisions, and the administration of committee business.  Since these issues are common to all committees, whether in a union or non-union workplace, a working knowledge of the legal requirements of Electromation and DuPont is a prerequisite to the establishment of one.

In writing this chapter, we at OSHA have been aware that the growing recognition of the value of employee involvement and the welcome proliferation of employee participation arrangements have legal ramifications.  The propriety of any particular program will depend, in large part, on the particular circumstances of the workplace.  We think it makes good sense to consult your labor relations adviser to ensure that your employee involvement program conforms to current legal requirements.


Involving your employees in a program that directly affects their safety and health is the right thing to do.  It is also the smart thing to do.  Here is why:

  • Rank and file workers are the persons most in contact with potential safety and health hazards.  They have a vested interest in effective protection programs.
  • Recent experience has shown that line workers and other rank and file employees make highly valuable problem solvers.
  • Group decisions have the advantage of the group’s wider field of experience.
  • Research show that employees are more likely to support and use programs in which they have had input.
  • Employees who are encouraged to offer their ideas and whose contributions are taken seriously are more satisfied and productive on the job.

Close Contact With Hazards.

You, the owner/manager, have a solid grasp of your overall operations.  Line workers, on the other hand, probably have a more detailed knowledge of each operation and task at your worksite.

Employees who understand the hazards associated with workplace operations will realize that they have the most to gain from preventing or controlling exposure to those hazards.  Knowledgeable and aware employees tend to be safe workers and also good sources of ideas for better hazard prevention and control.

Value as Problem Solvers.

For many years Japanese companies have used their workers to help solve various kinds of workplace problems.  American companies are coming to recognize the value of employee involvement.  At present, worker input in the United States is most common in the area of quality control.  Safety and health protection problems are even better suited to worker involvement for the reasons already explained.

Improved Support.

Managers often complain that they cannot get workers to comply fully with required safety measures, whether that means wearing appropriate personal protective equipment or following safe work procedures.  How do you change that?

Most of us do not like to have ideas forced upon us.  We are more apt to support ideas we help develop and implement.  Line workers allowed to participate in the establishment of work rules have a personal stake in ensuring that the rules are followed.

Try involving employees in establishing rules and procedures.  If enforcement remains a problem you still have the option to take disciplinary action.

Value of Group Decisions.

Decision making by committee frequently gets a bad rap.  But more often than not the complaint centers on the slowness of the process rather than on the quality of the product.  Using committees may not be the fastest way to reach a decision.  But group decisions are often the best.  They benefit from the many points of view and varied experiences of the group’s members.  This added information can help produce better decisions.

There are several group exercises that show this.  For example, first individuals, and then groups of these individuals, are asked to rank items in terms of their usefulness for survival in different hostile circumstances.  These lists are then compared with ranking decisions made by experts.  It is rare for individuals to come out ahead of groups even though the groups are made up of these same individuals.


Employees involved in helping their bosses uncover and solve workplace problems tend to enjoy their work more than those who simply do what they are told.  When workers enjoy work they take a greater interest in their job tasks and are likely to produce a better quality product.  They also are less likely to look elsewhere for jobs.  Thus, reduce turnover often is a benefit of increased employee involvement.


Employees can participate usefully in just about any activity related to safety and health.  The choices are yours, and should be made after consultation with your labor relations professional.  Examples of employee participation that OSHA has witnessed include, but are not limited to:

  • Participating on joint labor-management committees and other advisory or specific purpose committees;
  • Conducting site inspections;
  • Analyzing routine hazards in each step of a job or process and preparing safe work practices or controls to eliminate or reduce exposure;
  • Developing and revising the site safety and health rules;
  • Training both current and newly hired employees;
  • Providing programs and presentations at safety and health meetings;
  • Conducting accident/incident investigations;
  • Participating in decision making throughout the company’s operations.

Some of these activities require training if employees are to perform proficiently.  The training need not be elaborate and can be given at your worksite.


Joint labor-management committees are a popular method of employee participation.  They are extensively and successfully used in many European countries and Canadian provinces.  Other types of committees also have been used successfully for safety and health participation.  At many unionized worksites employee safety committees -- with members selected by the union or elected by employees -- work alone, without management, on various tasks.  At some worksites hourly workers participate on a central safety committee.  In addition, some worksites use employee or joint committees for specific purposes, such as inspecting the site for hazards, investigating accidents and incidents, and training new employees.  Finally, although they go by a different name, quality circles are another form of committee.  They focus, at least part of the time, on identifying and resolving health and safety problems.

Classic Joint Labor-Management Committees. These committees usually have equal representation of labor and management.  The chair may alternate between an employee representative and a management representative.  There usually are worked out through negotiation.  Although tasks depend upon the outcome of these negotiations, the committees typically conduct:

  • Site inspections with oversight of hazard corrections,
  • Investigations of employee reports of hazards,
  • Accident investigations, and
  • Safety and health awareness program development.

Sometimes the committees simply receive reports from the experts on these activities and monitor hazard correction and program effectiveness.

Other Joint Committees. In other joint committees there may be either more employee participants (for example, at construction site where several different trade unions represent workers) or more management participants (especially where medical, safety and industrial hygiene personnel are counted as management).  These committees frequently are chaired by the highest ranking safety "specialist" at the site, but sometimes they are chaired by an hourly employee who is elected by the committee itself.  They work by consensus and do not take formal votes.  Their usual functions are similar to the classic joint committees.

Employee Safety Committees. These usually are union safety committees with membership determined by the union.  Some worksites with more than one union will have more than one union safety committee.  The committee operates without direct management involvement, but it meets regularly with management and management staff.  At these meetings the committee raises concerns and management staff.  At these meetings the committee may conduct inspections and investigate employee reports of hazards, but it usually will carry findings to management for action.  The committee also may design and present employee awareness programs.

Central Safety Committee. At non-union sites, particularly in the chemical industry, the central safety committee consists of the site manager and the executive staff.  In recent years, some companies have discovered that it is helpful to have hourly worker participation on this committee.  Some sites rotate employee participation on the committee so that all workers take part.  At other sites management selects the hourly workers for their experience and achievements in other safety and health employee participation systems.

The central safety committee is an oversight committee with an interest in every part of the safety and health program.  It sometimes serves as the hazard correction tracking system.  As such, the committee receives reports of all inspections, accident/incident investigations, employee reports of hazards, and ensures that all reported hazards are tracked until resolved.

Specific Function Committees. Some companies use single-function standing committees very effectively.  Employees are given the opportunity to volunteer for membership.  These committees may consist of employees only with management liaison; or there may be joint membership with some management and/or safety and health staff (including plant nurse/doctor).  Each committee has a single responsibility, such as accident/incident investigation, site inspections, site safety and health rules, safety and health training, or safety and health awareness programs.  The company provides committee members with needed training and resources.  Such resources might include assistance from site safety and health experts, reference materials, films and videos, or equipment (such as cameras) for accident and incident investigations or inspections.

Quality Circles. Quality circles are work groups usually formed to address quality problems.  They spend some of their time brainstorming problems and solutions and frequently address problems that involve safety and health protection.  The circles can address all aspects of a problem, not just quality or safety and health.  For example, they also can look at productivity implications.  Just make sure that part of their focus is to help you find and resolve safety and health problems.


Employee involvement is common in site inspections.  Inspections can be conducted by a joint committee, an employee committee that performs several functions, a single-function inspection committee, or an individual employee acting as safety observer.

Whatever method you choose, you must train these employees to recognize hazards.  They also should have access to your safety and health "experts" and to written references.  For meaningful participation, the committee or safety observer should be able both to suggest methods of correcting hazards and to track corrections to completion.  For more information on making site inspections, see Chapter 9. and OSHA Publication 2209 (Revised 1992), "OSHA Handbook for Small Businesses".

Committee Inspections. The group making the inspection probably should not exceed four people in a given area.  At sites where larger committees perform several functions, inspections can be done by a subcommittee.  Where inspections are the only function of a large committee, inspection duties can be rotated or small groups can be assigned to different parts of the worksite.

Safety Observers. Some workplaces have safety observers who periodically check their areas for hazards.  Some check every day for the first few minutes of the shift.  Others do more thorough weekly or monthly inspections.  The frequency should depend on the nature of the hazards and the size of the worksite.

Safety observers usually work with the area supervisor to get hazards corrected.  Normally, they do their checking alone.  Some companies periodically bring together their safety observers to brainstorm problems or ideas that extend beyond the individual work areas.  For your safety observers’ involvement to be fully effective, they should also be involved in correcting the hazards that they spot.


Employees can be very helpful in analyzing jobs, processes or activities for hidden hazards and in designing improved hazard controls.  Employees and supervisors frequently are teamed up to accomplish these activities.  For complicated processes, the team probably will be led by a engineer.  Many companies find that workers who are involved with the procedures or processes on a daily basis make excellent analysts.

Workers are more likely to accept the changes that result from these analyses if they are involved in the decisions that revise practices and processes.  For more information on routine hazard analysis and job hazard analysis in particular, see Chapter 7 and OSHA Publication 3071 (Revised 1992), "Job Hazard Analysis."


Giving employees responsibility for developing or updating your site’s safety and health rules can be very profitable.  Employees who help make the rules are more likely to obey them and to remind others to obey them.  Your employees, who possess an indepth knowledge of their work and their co-workers, can contribute significantly to improving and strengthening the rules.


Use your best qualified employees to teach safety and health rules and procedures and other topics to newly arrived workers.  This technique can be highly effective; it can even improve your ongoing training efforts.  Many companies have seen excellent results from delegating responsibility for training of employees.  For more information on safety and health training, see Chapter 11.

New Employee Orientation. Your hourly employees can make excellent instructors for new employees.  You will want someone in management to present the personnel/employee relations portions of the orientation.  Any other topics can be handled by appropriately trained rank and file workers.  The trainer who provides this introduction to the job can follow up by acting as "buddy" and watching over the new employee, giving advice, and answering those questions that a newcomer might be afraid to ask a supervisor.

Ongoing Periodic Training. Many companies have found that making employees responsible for regular safety and health training sessions has two added benefits: it keeps interest in the sessions high, and it improves general safety and health awareness.  Your employees will need some help from management to get started.  They also will need management to provide ongoing assistance with new training ideas, materials, references, and other resources.  You can involve employees in providing ongoing training by setting up a special committee, using a multifunction employee or joint committee, or simply rotating your workers through the training activity.


We already have discussed using employees to present safety programs and other training activities.  You also can involve employees in planning and presenting awareness programs such as safety and health newsletters, award programs, and poster or slogan contests.  Remember, if you decide to establish an award or reward program, never encourage the under reporting of injuries or illness by rewarding employees for "hours worked without injury" or similar ideas.  For further information, see the discussion of reward programs in Chapter 8.


Employees frequently participate in accident/incident investigations.  This can be accomplished by involving a single-function committee or a committee with various responsibilities.  Employees doing investigations need special training to perform successfully.  For more information on accident/incident investigation, see Chapter IX and the National Safety Council's publication, "Accident Investigation. . .A New Approach." For this and other materials, contact the National Safety Council, P.O. Box 558, Itasca, IL 60143-0558, telephone (800) 621-7619.


Although they are a small fraction of American workplaces, the number of facilities where employees are involved in all aspects of decision making is growing rapidly.  Only a few years ago this type of participation was limited mainly to sites with highly trained and specialized employees.  Now, workers whose skills have been developed primarily on the job can be found performing complex ad sophisticated tasks such as computer analyses of product quality, production efficiency and safety questions.  Operator groups work closely with engineers to solve workplace problems and design improvements.

Where a system of participation by all employees exists no special program is needed to involve employees; participation already is built into all operations.  For companies that have not yet tried employee participation this method probably is not the best way to get started.  As a long-term goal it may be desirable for any type of industry or workplace.


Employee involvement at unionized worksites is achieved differently from that at non-union worksites.  Neither type of workplace, however, is necessarily more conducive than the other to successful employee participation in safety and health programs.  At both union and non-union worksites, successful employee involvement is characterized by a commitment to cooperative problem solving.  Just as important, employee involvement relies on respect: respect among individuals and representatives of organizations.

Given the continuing evolution of NLRB case law concerning employee participation in safety and health committees and other workplace issues, OSHA believes it is prudent for an employer to consult with his/her labor relations adviser concerning the legality and appropriateness of any arrangements.  OSHA also believes that as of mid-1994 the uncertainties about the legality of safety and health committees under NLRB case law are largely confined to non-union worksites.  In unionized worksites, such committees should be established and implemented in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement.


A reduction in occupational illnesses and injuries is clearly beneficial to both workers and management.  Consequently, this goal lends itself to joint union-management effort.  The union will need to be involved in such a project from the very beginning.

The most common form of cooperative, participatory effort is the joint labor-management safety committee.  Sometimes, however, an all-employee safety committee will be used.  (See discussion of COMMITTEE PARTICIPATION above.)

These committees' duties can range from reviewing hazard reports and suggesting corrections to conducting site inspections to handling accident investigations.  Some committees are advisory, while others have specific powers to correct hazards and, in some circumstances, to shut down unsafe operations.


It is not unusual for an employer planning to establish a system of employee involvement at a non-union site to encounter considerable worker hesitation.  You should be careful not to foist or impose voluntary employee participation on unwilling employees.  You may need to convince your employees that their participation is desired and will be taken seriously.  This includes protecting them from harassment when they get involved in safety and health activities.

A good way to initiate employee involvement is by asking your employees to suggest ways to get everyone involved in problem identification and resolution.  This can be the first participative effort.

Usual forms of employee involvement.  Employee involvement takes a variety of forms at the non-union sites OSHA has observed.  All of the methods for involving employees already discussed under the heading What Can Employees Do To Help? have been used at one non-union site or another.

At many non-union sites, employee involvement is rotated through the whole worker population.  Programs receive the benefit of a broad range of employee experience, and the entire workforce benefits from increased safety and health knowledge and awareness.  At other non-union sites, employee involvement relies on volunteers.  At still others, employees are appointed to safety and health committees by their supervisors.

The best method for employee participation at your worksite will depend on what you want to achieve.  If improved employee awareness is a major objective, rotational programs are a good choice.  If high levels of skill and knowledge are needed to achieve your safety and health objectives, volunteers or appointees who possess this knowledge may be preferable.


Management sets the tone.  Unless you are in total support of getting employees involved, and unless your employees believe you want their involvement, efforts at participation will be difficult and probably unsuccessful.

Managers sometimes claim that safety committees, for example, only want to talk about "trivial" things like cafeteria menus.  They may decide from this evidence that employees are either unwilling or unable to address the serious issues of worksite hazards.

Employees, on the other hand, often do not believe management actually wants their ideas on serious matters.  Consequently, they may limit their efforts to "safe" topics such as cafeteria menus.  It is essential that such mistrust and miss-communication between management and employees be corrected.  You can do this by showing visible management commitment and positive action.

Here are some things we recommend you do to make employee involvement work:

  • Believe that you will have a safe and healthful workplace, whatever it takes.
  • Show your commitment through leadership.
  • Communicate clearly to your employees that a safe and healthful workplace is a condition of their employment.
  • Tell your employees what you expect of them.
  • Give employees specific responsibilities within the safety and health program, appropriate training, and adequate resources for the job expected of them.
  • Get as many employees involved as possible: brainstorming, inspecting, detecting and correcting.
  • Put employees’ safety and health participation work "on the clock."
  • Take your employees' efforts seriously.  Implement their safety and health suggestions in a timely manner, or take time to explain why they cannot be implemented.
  • Make sure coworkers hear about it when other employees’ ideas are successful.


Time and again, employee involvement has been shown to improve the quality of workplace safety and health programs.  Your workers are uniquely equipped to provide excellent assistance in a variety of areas.  What they need are opportunities for participation, clear signals from you, and management leadership, training and resources.  OSHA has seen numerous workplaces where employees prove their value as problem solvers, rulemakers, site inspectors, investigators, committee members, trainers, hazard analysts, and able participants in a full range of safety and health efforts.  For examples of employee involvement and suggestion on how to get started, see Appendix 4-1 and Appendix 4-2.

Employee involvement differs at unionized and non-union sites.  OSHA recommends that you consult your labor relations adviser to ensure the legality and appropriateness of your employee participation arrangements.  Whatever forms of involvement you choose to establish, you have the opportunity and responsibility to set a management tone that communicates your commitment to safety and health and demands a high-quality response from your employees.  And remember, no matter what recommendations are gleaned by an employer from employee participation groups, ensuring workplace safety and health always remains the legal obligation of the employer.


See, for example, E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 311 NLRB No. 88 (5/28/93), and Electromation Inc., 309 NLRB No. 163 (12/16/92).