Feeling Nostalgic

I'm a Leo. And if you know any Leos, you know we think the world revolves around us. We don't celebrate a birth day, we celebrate a birth month. We even celebrate a birth fortnight if our friends and family let us get away with it.

One thing you can say about Leos is that while we might think the world was created for us and we want to have fun, we want everyone else to have fun along with us. For me, this leaves a trail of very happy memories of celebrations past, full of friends, family, food and fun.

My birthday also makes me nostalgic for other reasons: my mother died of cancer three days before my 21st birthday; when I was younger, my birthday always signaled a few precious weeks until the start of the school year; and, in my neck of the woods, the end of August means the end of summer, the start of a too-short autumn and the dread of a too-long winter.

I’m not going to tell you how old I am; I honestly haven’t concentrated on age since I was a child and on any given day, I legitimately could not tell you how old I am. I would have to think about it, and, well, I’ve got better things to think about.

One of which is the list of the 50 most influential EHS leaders we’ve assembled for this issue. You probably have your own opinion of who should be on this list, but we chose the movers and shakers we thought currently had the most impact on the practice of EHS. Some of our 50 are relatively new to their professions, but their enthusiasm and willingness to teach and mentor others make them standouts. They are our future leaders and will impact EHS for years to come. Others, like Sen. Ted Kennedy and Jerry Scannell, have been around for a while, witnessing the birth of OSHA and, in their own ways, nurturing the practice of EHS.

Which brings me to my next nostalgia topic: What has been around longer than OSHA? Occupational Hazards, of course!

Occupational Hazards celebrates its 70th anniversary next month with a very special issue featuring articles by some insightful and surprising contributing editors. (And no, I was not on the editorial staff for that first issue, though I can’t vouch for Steve Minter, our publisher.) We will examine how the practice of EHS has evolved over the years and create a timeline of impactful EHS events of the past 70 years.

In 1938, when Occupational Hazards was launched, average annual wages were $1,730, gasoline cost 10 cents a gallon and the first Superman comic was published. At that time, the focus of the magazine was on serious workplace hazards, like asbestos, hazardous chemicals, falls and silica. Blinding eye injuries, amputations and broken bones, hearing loss and crush injuries were fairly common. There was a phrase – blood on the floor – that indicated the seriousness of workplace injuries and illnesses at the time. “Until there’s blood on the floor, they’re not going to do anything,” was something I heard my father say as recently as the late 1970s about working conditions at his job.

Times have changed, fortunately. The latest reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that overall, work-related fatalities have continued to decline. While a number of the same hazards exist now that existed 70 years ago, many companies have found a way to engineer them out or protect workers against them.

Though continuing vigilance is necessary to continue to reduce and eliminate workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities – and no one is resting on their laurels – many companies are looking beyond safety to quality of life issues in the workplace as a new frontier for EHS professionals. Employee health and wellness, environmental management, risk management, off-the-job safety for employees and their families, emergency response and contingency planning, sustainability, greening – these are just a few of the recent additions to the job responsibilities of some EHS managers.

In the coming months, we promise not to be too nostalgic here at Occupational Hazards. As your jobs evolve, we will change with you. We all have come a long way, baby, and we have some grand plans for our future.
If you’re going to be in Anaheim for the National Safety Congress, please stop by our booth – #157 – and stay tuned.

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