ASSE: NIOSH Research Valuable to Increased Workplace Safety

At the March 13 "Direction for NORA's (National Occupational Research Agenda) Second Decade" national town hall meeting held in Washington, D.C. by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a senior official of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) noted, "Our members know that without an aggressive research agenda to addresses the risks workers face in a quickly changing workplace, their responsibilities will become increasingly difficult to fulfill."

ASSE Senior Vice President and Michael Thompson, CSP, of Houston, testified that ASSE supports the ongoing research efforts of NIOSH, saying, "This proactive approach in advancing the research our members rely on daily to fulfill their responsibilities in preventing deaths, injuries and illnesses in this nation's workplaces is very valuable."

Thompson discussed the need for research that will help determine the future of safety, health and environmental (SH&E) professionalism into the future; the need for NIOSH to interact aggressively with the standards development community; and the need to examine more comprehensively the role of broad safety and health management in the corporate and program structures of organizations.

"One area of occupational safety and health research that ASSE believes has been wholly overlooked is the role the SH&E professional plays in advancing safety and health," Thompson said. "The time has come to provide support for research that will give the safety and health community a better understanding of the professional preparation and accreditation needed for SH&E professionals to function appropriately as a manager of workplace risks. However much we know about addressing specific risks, if we do not have properly trained and assigned SH&E professionals in the workplace, a key component of achieving safer healthier workplaces may very well be missing."

Thompson noted a need to help define the SH&E practice at various levels and urged NIOSH to work with the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, the American Board of Industrial Hygiene and the Institute of Hazardous Material Management to help determine how to apply what is known to encompass the realities of SH&E practice so that a comprehensive understanding of tasks and capabilities throughout industry can be achieved.

"The appropriate levels of SH&E education and training needed can be examined, as well as how individuals enter and advance in SH&E," Thompson said. "Determining to what extent different SH&E professional segments have converged across traditional job roles is an issue both employers and our members would find helpful, as would the impact of change on roles and practitioner needs at each level. The role of technology on SH&E practice has not been examined, yet may provide some of the best opportunities to advance effectiveness of SH&E management. Finally, such research can help examine the effectiveness of SH&E involvement with others in the workplace, including their management of safety committees."

Thompson also noted a need to develop future academic leadership in safety stating that the safety community is faced with a retirement challenge among those who achieved PhDs in safety when, in the 1970s, educational facilities were quick to meet the challenge of educating those who could prepare safety professionals.

"With only one pure PhD program in safety, the circumstances for the future of safety education may be dire," Thompson stated. "If the safety profession is to continue to advance and meet the challenges of the future, finding ways to encourage more individuals to achieve the highest level of safety education will be necessary. Research to help determine how to achieve that encouragement as well as to help formulate PhD programs that challenge individuals to meet the future is needed."

As for standards, Thompson noted that the ASSE Foundation's Research Committee believes that in order for NIOSH-led research to help in achieving our shared research to practice goals, NIOSH must better involve the standards development community in its efforts. Cooperation and involvement in the national consensus standards process will help ensure that NORA applied research findings become operational in the field. Thompson went on to provide suggestions on how NIOSH could increase its participation.

As for safety and health management, Thompson noted that ASSE is concerned that little research is being done to examine the role of broad safety and health management in the corporate and program structures of organizations that ASSE members believe impact reductions in injury, illness and fatalities.

"We urge NIOSH-led research studies be factored to include the broad subjects of how the components of successful safety and health programs and the organizations that produce them can be evaluated," Thompson added. "Almost all of the literature in this area is anecdotal. Only NIOSH's leadership can bring forth definitive data-driven studies that will help set a value on making a case for the safety and health imperative."

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