Do not be a Pinball Wizard!

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Many pundits, including myself, continue to question the effectiveness of the Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) in Canada.

What is happening with JHSCs in Canadian workplaces? Most organizations understand the legal requirement to have a JHSC, and most JHSC members are smart dedicated employees that are committed about health and safety. Canadian organizations spend time and money to make sure their JHSC works – but it usually doesn’t.  What is happening?  It is a strange paradox which I call the “pinball effect.”

Even though video games have long since replaced the old-style arcade pinball machine, I think millennials would understand how they work.  For those that have never played a pinball machine, it’s basically a metal ball hitting an electrified bumper and moving in random directions, where the player has very little control over where it goes.

Click here if you want to see one in action.

Most JHSCs behave like a pinball machine – hence the term pinball effect. Most JHSCs start off with direction, just like when the ball is shot out into the pinball machine, then the fun begins once the metal ball gets bounced around in a haphazard fashion. Let’s expand on this metaphor with a summary of a typical JHSC activity: the monthly safety inspection.

The JHSC does a safety inspection and they obtain a long list of complaints from the workers about all the things that need fixed. The JHSC member is now bouncing from complaint to complaint, in a random way. The JHSC member writes up the complaints and gives them to the managers or the maintenance department who quickly become overwhelmed and don’t complete the tasks.

The workers get frustrated at the JHSC because they never get anything accomplished, the JHSC members become disengaged because of perceived lack of support from management, and management feels it is spending time and money on the safety program but not seeing the results. Everyone is just compounding each other’s unmet needs.  That is why I call it the pinball effect.

Since no one has ever solved a problem by complaining, here is my recommendation to avoid the JHSC pinball effect. The number one way to overcome this pinball effect is to change the focus of your JHSC monthly inspections.  Your JHSC should not be walking around every month with a clipboard identifying hazards. What should happen is this: the JHSC becomes the auditors of how well the safety program is being embraced with the organizations; if they see a hazard on their inspection, they should not write the hazard down. What they should do is ask two very important audit type questions, one to the worker and one to the supervisor. Here are the questions:

  • To the worker: Why did you not report this hazard to your supervisor?
  • To the supervisor: Why did you not identify and correct this hazard?

The JHSC should be writing down the answers and then taking them back to the JHSC meeting for discussion and recommendations to correct the Health and Safety program. This is how you avoid the pinball effect.

Discussion Questions

What other interventions would you recommend as a HR professional to improve the effectiveness of your organizations’ JHSC?

Click on this link to download a JHSC assessment tool.

Review the tool. Identity which assessments questions you feel are more valuable to improve the effectiveness of a JHSC. Create a smaller questionnaire with the 10 questions your feel are the most important.