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5 Methods to Stop Safety Meetings From Getting off Track

Group of workers in a meeting at an office

Often, when employees gather for a meeting, it feels like a break from their regular duties so they may be more inclined to catch up with their co-workers, daydream or mentally checkout. This is one of many scenarios that can take your JHSC meeting off course. Here are some tips on how to prevent these situations from happening

1. Create a schedule

It’s critical to schedule health and safety meetings well in advance to allow enough time for preparation. The date, time and duration of the meeting needs to be strictly followed in order to create an effective meeting and set a precedent for future gatherings. Some people resent the fact that meetings take away from their regular tasks, so ensure the meeting is well-planned, on schedule and ends on time. Don’t push the meeting off for something else unless absolutely necessary—otherwise, you’re sending the message that the health and safety committee isn’t important.

JHSC co-chair tip: At the end of every JHSC meeting, set a tentative date for the next meeting. Follow up with a calendar invite to the committee members and ensure you have a quorum. Once the meeting is scheduled, include the date in the meeting minutes.

2. Have an agenda

Before your JHSC meeting begins, you need to set the stage. The leader of the meeting should send all committee members the minutes from the last meeting and an agenda for the upcoming meeting. This provides attendees with the information they need to prepare, it will encourage them to engage with any concerns expressed, and it will allow committee members to bring thoughtful questions and ideas to the table. Setting the expectation that all participants should arrive at the meeting ready to go will help the meeting to be more productive and stay on track. During the meeting, the agenda will act as a guide and reference, giving you points to come back to should the conversation begin to stray. The agenda helps the leader stay on track too—it’s not only the meeting participants that can go off on tangents.  

JHSC co-chair tip: Bring extra copies of the agenda to the meeting for each committee member and use the agenda to provide a clear outline of how the meeting will go.

3. Plan for topic transitions

Transitioning from one point to the next is where many facilitators lose control or momentum. Transitioning can also feel jolting for participants, particularly if they’re not finished with the previous topic. This is why it’s always smart to check in before moving on and it will open up space for any final remarks or ideas. Be careful though, this can invite ramblers. When people are engaged and passionate about a particular topic, it’s common for them to want their voices to be heard. And it’s tough to cut a person off when they’re on a roll, especially when they’re engaged in the meeting, but sometimes it’s necessary to keep the meeting on track. Ensure everyone is on the right page before moving on—if they’re not, be sure to tell them you’ll revisit their concerns at a later time.

JHSC co-chair tip: Speak to meeting participants who are notorious for taking the conversation off topic before the meeting. Ask them to set a separate meeting to discuss their concerns to reduce the likelihood that they will monopolize the health and safety meeting with their comments.

4. Call out socializing or interruptive behavior

Disruptive behavior is bound to show up at some point during a safety discussion. It’s important that the leader does not participate or get off-track as it sends the wrong message. When unproductive interruptions are dealt with early, it’s easier to control over the course of the discussion. Calling it out the moment that it happens sets the tone for the meeting. In order to get things back on track, it’s often necessary to be direct, but it’s also important to ensure you’re not being offensive. This will help progress the meeting without marginalizing people who didn’t strictly stick to the agenda. A safety discussion can be fun, it just needs to stay on topic.

JHSC co-chair tip: Share the stage when it comes to leading a meeting. Respect the opinions and contributions of the committee members—it’s important to stay on topic, but it’s also important to remember that you’re part of a committee and everyone’s opinion matters. Reiterate the purpose of the meeting when required but make sure all committee members are being heard.

5. End on an engaging note

Before ending the meeting, pose a few questions to the committee. The goal is to ensure all of the information has sunk in. By putting the ball in their court and asking committee members what they think the next steps should be, you also make them accountable for fostering positive changes.

Health and safety meetings should also conclude with action items. Assign at least one action item to each person that should be completed before a designated deadline (this is often, but not always, before the next committee meeting).

JHSC co-chair tip: Send committee members a follow-up email after the meeting listing the next steps, identifying who the action items are assigned to and the timeframe for when they should be completed.

Safety committee meetings can feel dry and, even worse, unproductive. However, with proper planning, you won’t have to worry about the conversation swerving too far from what you intended. Set a schedule, have an agenda, utilize your meeting minutes to your advantage and engage committee members. By creating a standard for joint health and safety committee meetings you’re ensuring they don’t get off track and committee members will find the meetings much more worthwhile.

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