A Q&A with ASSE President Kathy A. Seabrook

A Q&A with ASSE President Kathy A. Seabrook

The vision of the organization she's led for the past year is to be "a global advocate and premier leader for the safety, health and environmental professional and the profession." Those same words could be used to describe Kathy Seabrook herself.

As Kathy A. Seabrook, CSP, CFIOSH, EurOSHM, president of Global Solutions Inc., winds down her term as president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), we had some questions for her.

1.) As your year as ASSE President draws to a close, of which accomplishments – for you personally and for the organization – are you most proud?

Personally and for ASSE, I am proud of volunteering my time and energy on behalf of ASSE this year, forging ties and continuing to build relationships with our ASSE members, sister organizations and other stakeholders in the United Stats and around the world. As a professional organization focused on our members and advancing our profession, this year ASSE has worked with AIHA in the United States and in China, Taiwan, Canada, Australia, Russia, Italy, Qatar, Kuwait and Mexico. 

The overall objective of developing relationships and collaborating with the SH&E community around the world is aligned with ASSE’s vision. Our vision is to be "a global advocate and premier leader for the safety, health and environmental professional and the profession," and our mission to be a "global association of safety, health and environmental professionals dedicated to the advancement of its members and the profession through education and advocacy."

I also am very proud of the colleagues I have served with on the ASSE board of directors. They are an impressive group of leaders who have worked very hard over the past 3 to 4 years to develop a governance structure that will take ASSE into the next 10+ years.

2) What are the greatest challenges facing ASSE and the EHS profession as we move forward?

ASSE challenge: ASSE’s first challenge is to continue to focus on moving the needle on the value of the safety profession with all of our stakeholders. Stakeholders include our members and their employers, the public and their perception of our profession, customers, government, legislators, standards-setting organizations, supply chains, sister organizations around the world, the investment community, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, business schools and the academic communities with safety and health programs. A focused strategy is needed to create alliances and collaborate with these stakeholders on value creation in the area of SH&E.

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Another challenge is with volunteerism. Volunteerism is down across associations in general, according to the American Society of Association Executives. ASSE’s challenge will be to find ways to balance volunteer workload with developing and engaging ASSE leaders who are looking to balance ASSE with their work and quality-of-life priorities.  

SH&E profession: Our challenge is business alignment and relevance. When SH&E risks are considered risks to the business, and risk reduction strategies are integral to an organization’s business objectives, this is an indicator we are relevant and our profession is valued by business leaders.

Specifically, when safety professionals are included in kaizens to assure there are no unintended safety and health risks with any process improvement, it demonstrates and recognizes people and prevention of injuries, illnesses and fatalities are essential to the business. 

The other challenge our profession faces is moving toward risk-based approach thinking for managing SH&E risks. The ASSE Risk Assessment Institute is launching a risk assessment certificate program to educate safety professionals in the area of risk assessment competency. The institute also is building a website of tools and resources to assist safety professionals in implementing risk-based approaches on the job. No longer is it just about hazards and control, but looking at how they impact an organization, identifying and prioritizing SH&E initiatives based upon the risks to employees and the business.

3) What OSHA activities will have the greatest impact on worker safety and health in the coming years? 

For OSHA, all risk-based approaches to S&H will have the greatest impact on worker safety and health in the coming years. But safety professionals need to move beyond compliance to a risk-based approach to managing SH&E. This benefits our organizations and is a win/win for all stakeholders.       

4) In your opinion, how has the economy impacted the practice of EHS and workers safety?

The economy drives business. Businesses that manage SH&E risk as a business risk understand this does not change when the economy goes up or down. In small companies, the emphasis on SH&E will continue to be driven by compliance and as experience demonstrated in the recent economic cycle, many will not survive, let alone focus on SH&E. 

The potential for positive impact is with the medium-sized company that understands the concept of process improvement and incorporating a systems approach to managing business risk, including SH&E. There is a learning curve with these medium-sized companies and that is where organizations like ASSE can make a difference, by educating these stakeholders on the value of SH&E. To do this, a strategy is needed to create alliances and collaborate with these stakeholders with a focus on value creation in the area of occupational safety and health within their organizations.     

5) Including safety in the discussion of sustainability is something you support and advocate … Are you seeing more of this? What are some of the roadblocks and how close are we to overcoming them?

Yes indeed, safety and sustainability is a passion of mine and has been for the many years now. It is because sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR) includes workplace safety and health in the true measurement of an organization’s sustainability/CSR performance. 

The SH&E profession can gain traction with business leaders who have embraced sustainability/CSR. Examples of companies who integrate safety and sustainability are L’Oreal, Sigma Aldrich, the Wood Group and IBM. This is another way to integrate SH&E into the business to meet our common goal of safe and healthy workplaces with no impact to the environment.  

The trend is continuing. The Global Reporting Initiative  has committed to forming an OSH working group, recognizing this is a gap in the current GRI Framework OSH performance indicators/disclosures.

Why is this important? The investment community measures OSH performance as part of its overall sustainability rating of an organization. According to a study by KPMG, 95 percent of the companies on the Dow Jones sustainability Index use the GRI Framework to report on their sustainability performance. 

Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you today, Sandy.  I wish you and EHS TODAY future success as you are a valuable resource for our profession.    
 

 

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