AIHce: The IH Value Proposition

The large crowd came close to being standing-room only for the June 3 opening general session of the American Industrial Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition (AIHce), and with good reason: the session examined the value industrial hygienists add to an organization’s bottom line and the important role IH professionals have in communicating this value throughout the organization.

Tom Grumbles, manager, Product Safety and Occupational Health for Sasol North America Inc., introduced the Value of the Profession Study, which was sponsored by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH). The study provides a framework and tools for practicing IH professionals who want to better communicate about the critical importance of IH programs within organizations. ORC Worldwide developed the framework and tools for the study, EG&G was the general contractor for the study and a group of IH professionals known as the Value of the Profession Member Advisory Group all contributed to the final product.

Case studies from ExxonMobile’s Baton Rouge, La., refinery (radiation safety) and GE’s Morristown, Tenn., facility (hearing conservation and noise reduction) illustrated the value – both in terms of safety for employees and cost savings and cost avoidance – of the practice of industrial hygiene.

“Previous efforts [to show the value of IH] focused on reduced or avoided costs: reduced workers’ compensation costs, avoided OSHA fines, reduced disability and medical costs,” said Michael Brandt, president-elect of AIHA. “But business leaders expect that of us [industrial hygienists]. The value study moves us beyond cost reduction.”

The Model

The model takes the costs to the business before the IH program or activity and subtracts the costs after the IH intervention. The cost to implement and manage the IH program or activity is subtracted from that number to give the net savings for that intervention. The net savings number plus new revenue plus new benefits to the business occurring as a result of the IH program or activity equals the value of that intervention to the business.

Grumbles acknowledged the model is sophisticated, but said it was created with input from practicing industrial hygienists (the Value of the Profession Member Advisory Group) and offers the best tool yet to prove the value of the profession to business.

The final case study came from Sikorsky Aircraft, perhaps best known as the manufacturer of the famous Black Hawk helicopter. Dave Eherts, vice president of Environmental Health and Safety for Sikorsky, and Sikorsky CEO Jeffrey Pino, offered a frank discussion of how to talk in terms all CEOs understand: money.

Pino acknowledged that he “gets” the value of EHS programs and the practice of industrial hygiene. Sikorsky’s products are assembled by hand, often using overhead labor, with parts such as transmissions weighing as much as 15,000 pounds. “We are set up for disaster if we don’t value what you do,” Pino told the audience.

The $6 billion company has 15,000 employees – 4,000 of which have been added in the past 2 years – and production steadily is increasing. Yet injuries and illnesses are decreasing to the point that the company’s injury rate is less than half that of its competitors. “And there is an absolute competitive value in keeping injury rates down,” Pino insisted. “We have reduced workers’ compensation rates by $200 per employee per year in the United States. I don’t like doing math in public, but that’s $2 million per year.”

Pino pointed to three requirements for a successful EHS program: leadership commitment, employee engagement and solid risk management.

In terms of leadership, Pino said he meets with employees every 6 months and EHS is part of that discussion. In addition, he takes what he calls “engagement walks” through Sykorsky facilities. Though Pino jokes “supervisors call them something else,” these walks are taken seriously by supervisors, for whom one-third of their bonus package is tied to EHS metrics.

The purpose of the walks is to “point out things we could do better” and safety is included along with production, maintenance and other business concerns.

The company’s largest union, the Teamsters, is involved in the EHS process, and when an employee is spotted without safety glasses or doing something which is not safe, the worker standing to his left or right is asked, “Why are you allowing your brother to perform an unsafe act?”

As Pino pointed out, speaking to a CEO using financial and statistical language he or she can understand and support, can go a long way to improving occupational safety and health throughout an organization.

“If I say I want to paint the facility robin’s egg blue, we’ll have a robin’s egg blue facility,” said Pino. “If a CEO says he wants zero injuries, you’ll come damn close.”

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