Jason Townsell, a student working toward a bachelor’s of science in occupational health and safety at Columbia Southern University, was recently named the first Future Leader in EHS. He received a $5,000 scholarship and access to PureSafety’s safety and health software and information solutions. The judges selected Townsell based on his work and life experience, community outreach efforts, academic performance, his interest in teaching and mentoring EHS students and more. Townsell is a contributing blogger for EHS Today.
As an EHS professional, I find myself subconsciously observing and critiquing the health and safety culture of the places that I visit. From the bamboo scaffolds in Manila, to the open-toed sandals of construction workers in Nairobi, to the personnel riding headache balls in Puerto Vallarta, my travels have exposed me to the varying safety challenges facing EHS managers around the world.
Through these experiences, I have realized that the challenge among Kenyan, Filipino, Mexican, American and, frankly, all industrial EHS managers is uniform in nature. Rather than changing specific activities, this challenge is to change the attitudes, prejudices and behavior toward safety and environmental compliance among industrial workers. I have dubbed this the Million Dollar Challenge, as the individual who is able to solve such a concern stands to not only save millions of dollars in claims, insurance costs and lost wages but stands to improve the life and opportunities (both personally and professionally) of industrial workers a million fold.
Doing the Right Thing
Although these countries maintain their own environmental health and safety jurisdictional bodies, each varies in its enforcement and training campaigns. This inevitably produces varying attitudes regarding the importance of EHS-related values at the workplace. This, however, is the problem: attitudes toward safety can no longer be based upon Big Brother enforcing “overbearing regulations.” Rather, they must be based upon care for oneself and neighbor. This attitude must come not from a fear of authority but rather a place inside each of us that desires to do the right thing.
While the answer to this precarious position can be expressed in a written program (as many companies feel is an adequate answer) or in a blog as I am currently doing, it is much more difficult in application. With the varying cultures and regulatory standards around the world, EHS compliance must be derived from a unified, non-nationality based culture of responsibility, accountability and behavior conducive to safe and environmentally conscious activities. These values are based more on psychology than regulatory recall, more upon ethics than bottom lines.
So where do we begin? As with any movement, this change from compliance based upon regulations to compliance based upon a desire to conduct work in a responsible manner must be lead by progressive leaders with a desire to see more out their efforts than a generic safety program.
A partnership that encourages communication and feedback between leaders and associates must be implemented. Leadership can be simply summarized as influence. The modern-day EHS manager must desire to influence those he/she leads into appropriate behavior rather than simply mandating and administrating safe actions, as administration without leadership-inspired management is more of a dictatorship than a partnership. It is time for the leaders in the field of EHS to transcend the current expectation of minimal compliance and work for the establishment of a new standard, an ethical standard – a standard that strives to go beyond the status quo rather than just meeting it.