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What’s the Biggest Challenge in Your Job?

Regulations, long hours and lack of management support are among the biggest challenges, but safety leaders remain deeply committed to their jobs.

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar: “The regulatory climate is concerning. Excessive governmental regulation and inconsistent enforcement have created an over-taxing burden on safety budgets, staff time allocations and workload burnout. Regulations interfere with proactive safety leadership and increase risk of unsafe behaviors as employees perceive the regulatory and legal requirements of training as compliance being more important than the relational aspects of safety coaching.”

That’s just one of the hundreds of comments we received from our 2018 National Safety Survey, but it pretty well encapsulates similar sentiments from the 870 EHS professionals who participated in the survey. Even in the best of situations, EHS professionals tend to view the various regulatory agencies with a bit of trepidation, so it’s not surprising that compliance with the steady stream of regulations is one of the main things keeping safety leaders up at night.

A year ago, shortly after President Trump took office, we asked if you thought his administration would have a positive impact on OSHA, and most of you (60%) said no. This year, we asked if you thought the Trump administration had brought a more balanced approach of cooperation and enforcement to OSHA than the Obama administration, and a very small majority (51%) said yes. It’s hard to make any clear conclusion from those results, other than to say EHS professionals seem to believe OSHA under Trump is no better nor worse than OSHA under Obama.

Taking a look at the demographic information gleaned from the survey, we’re able to develop a profile of what a typical EHS professional looks like (not that there’s anything typical about an EHS professional). This archetypal EHS manager is a white male in his 50s, with more than 20 years of experience in the EHS profession, living in the Midwest, and working in the manufacturing industry. He earns more than $100,000 and anticipates getting a raise this year between 1%-2%. His primary responsibility is safety, with a second responsibility for occupational health. He works in a plant or facility and reports to the executive suite.

That’s what the number-crunching reveals, anyway, but we’ve found that we get an even better sense of who you are and what matters most to you from the open-ended (and anonymous) responses to our questions, such as the one we led off this column with about the regulatory climate. Here are a few other comments from survey respondents:

• “Senior management talks big about safety but does not reinforce it on the shop floor, nor lead by example. I have become the Safety Cop, but I am not considered part of management and do not get the benefit of the doubt or support from the other supervisors and managers with regard to safety.”

• “I have been promised that extra staff will be hired to help with EHS responsibilities. After over a year and ongoing budget cuts, I’ve been told I won’t get help. I have been working 12- and 15-hour days for over two years and am just worn out. I can never catch up.”

• “With the introduction of pleasure drugs and legalized marijuana the state of U.S. industry will crumble. We are already seeing spikes in workers compensation claims in MA, RI, CO, WA, OR, CA. Why? Because the workforce is high. It will be a challenge going forward.”

• “My job would be much more satisfying and meaningful if management would offer support. If regulations were actually enforced it could help push safety to the forefront of importance.”

• “I don't know where to learn about the ‘E’ in EHS. It was not in my educational program and I feel like I am behind my peers in environmental knowledge.”

• “I love my job, but women have to work three times harder than men still.”

• “Safety regulations are driven by public perceptions and politics. This is as crazy as a rabid weasel.”

So plenty of things are keeping safety leaders up at night. But to put it all into context, we also sought to identify your level of satisfaction with your job and profession. And the good news is that 79% said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs. And when we asked about their satisfaction with EHS as a career path, the response was even higher: 85% said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the EHS profession. So while the job may be tough and the hours long, the role of the safety leader is one that offers a very high level of personal satisfaction. And when you consider that you’re the ones focused on making sure all of us get home safely at night, that’s very good news indeed.

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