A NIOSH-commissioned survey has found that employers plan to hire 25,000 EHS professionals over the next 5 years, but only 12,000 students are expected to graduate from academic programs related to occupational safety and health. With that kind of demand for EHS professionals, what challenges are facing the profession and what does the next 1-5 years look like?
EHS Today asked a group of EHS leaders – agency administrators and directors, association heads, manufacturing leaders, consultants, working EHS professionals, educators, etc. – what they feel are some of the greatest challenges facing either their organizations or the EHS profession, workers or employers in the coming year and how they plan to meet those challenges.
We had three, very open-ended questions for them:
➠ What are the challenges facing your organization and/or the practice of EHS in the coming year and what are you doing, as an individual or organization, to meet those challenges?
➠ What do you think will have the most impact on the practice of EHS in the next 5 years and why?
➠ Is EHS more or less important to corporations now than it was 5 years ago and why?
While reading what they have to say, why don’t you answer these questions for yourself, and see how your answers stack up to theirs?
What are the challenges facing your agency and the practice of EHS in the coming year and what are you doing, as an individual or organization, to meet those challenges?
Dr. John Howard, M.D., MPH, JD: director, NIOSH: In the broadest sense, the challenges of 2012 are likely to change very little from those of the past several years. We will continue to be tasked to use our limited resources wisely. We will continue to seek proper balance in our research to address the wide range of issues that demand our attention.
We will continue to face the challenge of addressing emerging concerns while continuing to work with partners to make further progress against the legacy problems that persist from the industrial practices of 40, 50 or more years ago. This will mean completing next steps on several ambitious projects. These include moving toward a final Criteria Document on diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione, moving to finalize the Current Intelligence Bulletin on carbon nanotubes and taking next steps toward issuing a final strategy on emergency responder health surveillance. These goals also include pursuing discussion and review of our cancer and Recommended Exposure Limits assessment, and working with partners to address the research needs outlined in our recent Asbestos Research Roadmap.
Zack Mansdorf, Ph.D., CIH, CSP, QEP, consultant; former senior vice president, L’Oreal; past president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA): I think that the major challenge for EHS in organizations and as a profession is showing value given all the economic pressures for lean operations. I also think that highly specialized individuals will have an increasingly difficult time as companies are moving to EHS generalists.
Elizabeth Pullen, CIH; president, AIHA; industrial hygiene manager, Clariant Corp: At AIHA, our biggest challenge is keeping health and safety practices relevant. As early career professionals enter the industry, it is important that they are provided with the tools and resources essential to the field. Providing these individuals with the proper means to excel in their careers is the key to the development of a secure industry, ensuring correct EHS practices are used to protect the public’s health and safety.
Terrie S. Norris, CSP, ARM; president, American Society of Safety Engineers; risk control manager for Bickmore Risk Services: The economy [is the greatest issue facing our organization and the practice of EHS]. We will continue to provide our members with resources for dealing with a down economy – career resources, education, etc. and communicate with businesses and the public about the negative impact from cutting SH&E from any business or organization.
Janet Froetscher, president and CEO, the National Safety Council: The National Safety Council identifies trends in safety that will impact the practice of EHS. Four of these trends include distracted driving, off-the-job safety, a diverse work force and the organization of work.
Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of workplace injuries and deaths. With the rise in cell phone use and expanded use of mobile technology, distracted driving will remain a major challenge. Nine out of 10 deaths and three-fourths of injuries occur away from work. The promotion of safety off the job will be of increasing importance because that is where people are getting hurt and dying. We have an increasingly diverse work force, including young workers, older workers and Latinos. And finally, the revolutionary changes in the organization of work that has outpaced our knowledge of the implications of these changes for the quality of working life and for safety and health on the job.
Dan Shipp, president, International Safety Equipment Association: I think a big challenge to organizations of all sizes will be the continuing financial pressure to find quick, easy and cheap ways to deal with hazardous exposures. If this means taking shortcuts in hazard assessment and planning, then workers aren’t going to be provided the proper protection. Management focuses on what needs to be done to keep the OSHA inspector at bay, not what needs to be done to eliminate hazardous exposures, promote worker health, etc.
ISEA members are affected when this “quick, easy and cheap” approach controls a company’s selection and use of PPE. ISEA and other organizations develop standards to establish levels of performance and guide users to select the right PPE. These standards are widely recognized by users and regulators, and followed by responsible manufacturers, who test their products to the standards and maintain production quality. But there are also companies ready to sell PPE that looks like it meets the right standards, and may even be marked as such, but not may never have been tested to any standard.
E. Scott Geller, Ph.D.; senior partner, Safety Performance Solutions; alumni distinguished professor, Virginia Tech: With financial pressure to reduce industrial costs, more cuts in personnel and financial expenditures can be expected in 2012. And it’s likely EH&S will be first in line. Why this unfortunate ranking? It’s due to the same human-nature principle that motivates people to take risks. The observable consequences for safety efforts are neither soon nor certain, especially compared to the soon and certain financial consequences from daily production, which would not be immediately impacted by having fewer EHS personnel. The challenge is to leverage the most cost-effective principles of psychological science to overcome this basic dynamic of being human.
What do you think will have the most impact on the practice of EHS in the next 5 years and why?
Norris: The aging population – ASSE has professional development courses/information on how members/businesses can and should prepare for this (for the past few years) and we have and will continue to educate the public/businesses on this issue.
The demand for SH&E professionals is going up and people to fill spots is going down. Promoting SH&E to a shrinking population is a challenge. We are working with our members, schools, practice specialty groups, our councils, elementary schools (Safety Suitcase), high schools (counselors/teen work safety Web page, SH&E career brochure) and more on a variety of ways – old and new – to promote SH&E and the profession. We will be doing even more in the year ahead to identify best practices and communicate those as well.
Howard: Over the longer term of the next 5 years – and beyond – we and our partners must continue to make the case that safe and healthful workplaces are integral to companies’ profitability and to the nation’s economic recovery. We have made progress with this argument over the past 5 or 6 years, but we need to make more progress, and we are working diligently to do so.
For example, we have placed a high priority on working with partners to better measure the enormous costs of work-related injuries and illnesses, and the significant dollar savings that can result from preventing injury and illness in the first place. Such data are fundamental for encouraging more companies to adopt a safety culture as a core organizational value as they weather the current economy. The data are vital for maintaining public support for these initiatives at a time of competing federal needs. They also help us make the compelling argument that reducing the burden of occupational injury and illness is an integral part of reducing health costs in general in the U.S.
Along similar lines, we are working productively in a broad range of collaborations under the Total Worker Health program, and we expect to expand that network further in the next several years. Total Worker Health is predicated on the fact that the 20th century model of worker health no longer reflects the dynamics of most modern work environments. The old model relegated workplace health protection to one box in the corporate organizational chart, and workplace-based health promotion to another. This model was tailored to the traditional workplace of the previous economy, and it has become increasingly out of step with today’s economy… Without diminishing the need to eliminate hazards related to the workplace itself, we now recognize that we have greater opportunities for improving worker health by achieving synergies in health protection and health promotion.
The 21st century health and safety needs that demand our attention also include the implications of new technologies that are likely to play significant roles in driving tomorrow’s global economy. As we learned from the missteps of the last century, the introduction of new technologies must be coupled with early research to determine whether the technologies pose new occupational health and safety risks.
Pullen: I believe that international developments will have the greatest impact on the EHS practice in the near future. Already we are seeing organizations conducting international outreach and programs aimed at collaboration that extends beyond borders. These international relations will further aid in developing a flexible and sustainable industry. AIHA recently has embraced these global relations with our Asia Pacific Conference, which was held in Singapore this past October. Today, we see that global developments and standards, such as hazard banding, are top EHS agenda items. In the next 5 years, EHS organizations will implement these developments to promote and maintain international relations for the betterment of the industry’s future.
Mark Friend, CSP, professor and chair of the Department of Applied Aviation Sciences, Embry-Riddle University: I believe one of the most threatening challenges to safety will be budget cuts at every level. We’re seeing increasing resistance on the part of government toward the protection of the working men and women in our country. Last year, for example, despite the fact that they are losing many of their state and municipal workers due to injury, illness and death, one key state refused to pass legislation to protect those workers. Looming budget cuts in OSHA and NIOSH also threaten the infrastructure now existing to protect American labor.
One obvious response is to increase the educational opportunities in the safety and health professions within our colleges and universities and to insist that every working person in our country is exposed to, at least, the basics of occupational safety and health. The latter could occur in our high schools or as part of a curriculum required of any worker pursuing jobs in specified, high-risk working environments. The savings realized through reduced health care, benefits and retraining costs could provide a tremendous boost to our economy.
Jason Townsell, CSP, program safety manager for AECOM, San Diego International Airport: Education, education, education. The practice of EHS management is no longer something to be attempted by novices. Scholarship programs such as EHS Today’s Future Leaders, and those offered by ASSE, will continue to change and further professionalize the field of EHS over the next 5 years. More attention should be paid toward the psychological and leadership aspects of environmental health and safety management; many EHS and OSH degree programs emphasize this.
Shipp: Today, we’re seeing new technology applications in personal protection that give employers and workers more precise control along with improved wearability and convenience. Hearing protectors that are sensitive not only to noise levels but the type of noise, isolating hazardous noise from normal environmental sounds. Gas detection instrumentation that allows hand-held detectors to communicate with fixed systems. Better measurement of hazardous conditions and exposures, with PPE able to adjust as needed. Imbedded sensors that allow precise location of workers in hazardous environments, as well as measurement of cumulate exposures and use. This trend will continue and accelerate as companies design, make and market products that are sensitive not only to hazards but the wearer’s physical conditions.
On the hazard side, I think the use of nanomaterials presents the biggest challenge: understanding the hazards and exposure paths, and finding ways to minimize the risk.
Geller: As a researcher and teacher of the human dynamics of occupational safety for more than three decades, I view the greatest EH&S challenge to be the maintenance of human involvement in effective injury-prevention activities. With lots of hoopla around a new, well-marketed safety program, it’s relatively easy to obtain initial commitment and action. But the novelty soon wanes, along with employee involvement.
Like most complex endeavors, it takes time, resources, knowledge and relevant experience to tackle this culture challenge. Consider a physician trying to help a noncompliant patient: The doctor knows the diagnosis and the prescription, but doesn’t necessarily have the time, resources or knowledge needed to overcome the patient’s resistance. While the doctor is competent in human physiology and medicine, it takes specialized knowledge and skills in behavioral science to motivate long-term compliance.
Froetscher: The discipline of continuous improvement will have the most impact on EHS in the coming years. Safety leaders know that safety excellence is not an endpoint but a continuous quest to zero. NSC frames the process of continuous improvement as the Journey to Safety Excellence. By working with the world’s leading safety organizations and with our 51,000 members, we have identified four key ingredients of a successful journey – leadership and employee engagement, safety management systems, risk reduction and performance management. Working together, these elements form the foundation of a strong safety culture and serve as the heart of the Journey to Safety Excellence strategy.
Is EHS more or less important to corporations now than it was 5 years ago and why?
Mansdorf: I think EHS is more important to corporations today than it was 5 years ago. However, I do see a continuing trend to downsizing EHS staffing due to the current and probable economic future over the next 5 years. Economic times dictate doing more with less and EHS staffing will not be immune to this continuing pressure.
EHS is more important today because of the myriad of local, state, national and international regulations, coupled with the importance of showing good corporate citizenship, which constantly is being monitored by financial analysts and NGOs.
Friend: With increasing costs at every level – in terms of manpower, education, health care and an aging American population – it only continues to grow in importance.
Townsell: EHS is absolutely more important to organizational structure now than it was 5 years ago. There are several reasons for this, a few being: organizational integrity, risk/loss control (i.e. insurance premiums and other costs related to loss) and a greater emphasis on standard (e.g. ISO and ANSI) and regulatory compliance. This both is a good and a bad thing. It obviously is positive, as a greater focus has been placed on EHS programs. However, it has created a negative concern as it has forced many underprepared and underqualified individuals into EHS management roles.
Froetscher: NSC is finding that corporations increasingly understand the role EHS plays in developing a high-performing work force to achieve operational excellence. World-class companies understand that investing in safety pays off. The Campbell Institute, developed by the council in collaboration with Campbell Award Winners and world-class thought leaders, aims to demonstrate through case studies, forums and other outlets that environmental, health and safety management is at the core of business vitality and sustainability.