Safety First — Time to Check on Your Safety Committee

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers had their first experiences with Oregon OSHA complaints and investigations this year, and there has been an unexpected outcome from these investigations: many employers have been surprised to learn they have not been complying with the safety committee and safety meetings requirements of Oregon law. 

These requirements, although not new, are easily overlooked, and violations can be identified during an investigation of a separate safety issue. Oregon OSHA can levy monetary penalties for violations and increased penalties for repeat violations. Oregon employers should take this opportunity to review their safety programs and confirm that they have compliant safety committees or meetings. 

Should I have a committee or meetings?

Unless you are the sole owner and only employee of a corporation, Oregon law requires that you have either a safety committee or safety meetings, but whether you can choose to have safety meetings or a committee depends on some of the facts of your business. A safety committee is usually the default option in retail or manufacturing establishments, but in some circumstances, safety meetings can be more time efficient.

First, if you have ten or fewer employees, you can choose between having a safety committee or holding safety meetings. In these scenarios, safety meetings tend to save time and keep paperwork to a minimum.

Second, assuming you have more than ten employees, ask yourself three questions: (1) Do more than half of my employees work at construction sites? (2) Do more than half of my employees travel frequently between jobs away from my location? and (3) Do more than half of my employees work in an office environment? If the answer to any of those was yes, then you can choose to have either a safety committee or hold safety meetings. If you answered no to each, you are required to have a safety committee.

Finally, if you are a business that has more than one location, you have two options. The rules allow you to have one safety committee or safety meetings at any location that has ten or fewer employers. Alternatively, you can also have a centralized safety committee that represents the safety and health concerns of employees at all of the locations. A centralized safety committee has additional requirements than those discussed here, and should be organized only with the assistance of counsel. 

I’m required to have a safety committee. What does that look like?

For employers who are required or choose to have a safety committee, a committee is formed of an equal number of employer-selected members and employee-elected members that become safety specialists, reviewing safety concerns and reporting back to non-member employees. 

We recommend reviewing Oregon OSHA’s detailed requirements or, if you don’t employ a safety professional, consulting with counsel when establishing a committee. There are many detailed requirements; examples include the size and composition of the committee (two members if you have 20 or fewer employees, otherwise four members), training requirements (members must be trained in accident and incident investigation and hazard identification), appointment terms (members must serve for a minimum of one year) and operating requirements (there must be an elected chairperson, and employees must be properly compensated for their time). 

I’m allowed to have safety meetings rather than a committee. Now what?

For employers who can choose to hold safety meetings, meetings often provide the easier and more efficient choice. The meetings replace the committee discussed above and involve the majority (if not all) employees, providing them an opportunity to discuss concerns. Meetings, however, must still meet regulatory requirements. 

Set schedule and content of discussion: Each safety meeting is held on a set schedule and must discuss any employee’s concerns about workplace safety or health conditions, as well as any accident investigations, underlying causes and potential corrective measures.

Safety meetings must be attended by all available employees, with at least one person holding management authority who will ensure that any hazards discussed are corrected. These meetings must be held on company time, with employees being paid their regular rate of pay. How often these meetings must occur depends on the nature of your work. Generally, meetings must be held on at least a monthly basis. For construction employers, a meeting must also occur before the start of any new job that will last more than one week. If your employees are largely office workers, then the meetings can be held quarterly.

There is an exception to these requirements for multi-employer worksites which are common for construction employers. If a primary contractor holds safety meetings that are attended by all of an employer’s employees, then the company does not need to hold its own meeting for those employees, although minutes of those meetings should still be retained.

Technically, the rules only require minutes to be taken if employees in construction, utility work or manufacturing, or if any employee is absent from the meeting. But failing to keep minutes makes it very difficult to prove that the meeting was held, or what was discussed or who attended. When the regulations require formal minutes, they must include the date, attendee’s names and issues discussed and these minutes must be retained for three years. 

With so many employees transitioning from remote to on-site work, now is an ideal time to ensure that you are complying with state law and keeping your employees safe and engaged. 

Wilson Jarrell is an employment attorney at Barran Liebman LLP. For questions on compliance with these rules or other labor and employment matters, contact him at 503-276-2181 or wjarrell@barran.com.

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