As the events of 2020 have unfolded in their strange and not-so-glorious way, thrusting countless challenges at us we hoped never to have to confront, the role of safety leadership has come to the forefront. The entire world is looking for answers—real answers, not just the placating “everything will be back to normal before too long” bromides that politicians and talking-head pundits specialize in. And more often than not, it’s an EHS professional who has the clearest and most practical answers to what’s ailing society, because they’re dealing with the very same issues every day on the job.
From my vantage point, editing a magazine brand dedicated to workplace safety, I’ve watched how the very definition of a “safe workplace” has evolved over the years. Consider these topics that may not have made a list of “occupational hazards” in years past, but are now very much safety concerns for EHS professionals: anxiety, depression, legalized marijuana, sexual harassment, workplace bullying, active shooters, racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, gender identity, obesity, and in this COVID-19 era, even the fear of working with or near people.
Every one of those issues has a direct impact on your workforce, and on your ability to attract, train and retain your workers. And yet, based on some reader comments we’ve received, some people believe those topics “have nothing to do with EHS” and therefore shouldn’t be covered by us—not in our magazine, not on our website, not in our webinars, not no how, not no way. We’ve also been told to “stay out of politics” when we cover topics that veer away from more traditional safety concerns. The presumption seems to be, if the article isn’t about industrial hygiene, fall protection, PPE, or other “core” safety topics, it’s not suitable for the EHS community. But these days, even the choice of whether to wear or not wear a face mask, and what type of face mask, is as much a political statement as a safety decision. In fact, I was interviewed on “Good Morning America” earlier this year to clarify exactly what an N95 respirator is designed to do, so sometimes even PPE can be controversial.
The point is, EHS Today does not adhere to any particular ideology. We are neither pro-labor nor pro-management. We don’t side with any political party or champion any candidates for political office. If you want to know our stance, it’s simply this: EHS Today is pro-safety. We’re not about politics, or maybe I should say, we’re above politics because what we’re about is people. Our coverage focuses on how to protect people on the worksite from anything that can harm them.
As proud as we are of our coverage, we’ll admit that we’re hardly alone in our expansive recognition of what exactly “workforce safety” encompasses. Although nobody held a live safety event this year, check out some of the topics included in these virtual events:
• EHS Today’s Safer Safety Leadership Conference program (held virtually November 10-12) opened with a keynote presentation from motivational speaker Antoinette Tuff on “Conversation in the Crosshairs: How to Create a Psychologically Safe Workplace.” (Click on that link for details on how to access all the content from the conference for up to three months.)
• The American Industrial Hygiene Association’s (AIHA) Virtual AIHCe EXP 2020 featured sessions covering such topics as “Why Male Mental Health Matters in the Workplace,” “Suicide Prevention in the Construction Industry,” and “Emotional Intelligence/Self Awareness Concepts for EHS Professionals.”
• The American Society of Safety Professionals’ (ASSP) virtual Safety 2020 program included sessions on “Diversity and Inclusion,” “Millennials in the Workplace” and “The New Hire Is Missing a Leg: Do They Still Need Safety Shoes?”
• The National Safety Council (NSC) did not have their show this year, but their president and CEO Lorraine Martin made a clear “call to action” statement to safety leaders about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion: “We must strive not only to ensure physical safety but create an environment where everyone feels secure and welcome. Each of us has a role to play in enabling those around us to live their fullest lives with dignity and respect. We must open hearts and minds to acknowledge the pain as well as the work it will take to address it.”
That’s really what it all comes down to. As the world gets more chaotic and contentious, and as the whole notion of “workplace safety” continues to widen, safety professionals more than ever will be called upon to provide the kind of all-encompassing leadership that ensures everybody remains out of harm’s way. And we’ll continue to cover the strategies and best practices you and your peers develop to make sure the workplace does indeed stay safe.