Every year brings with it new challenges and new opportunities for success in EHS. With the 2012 presidential election behind us and 4 more years of the Obama administration ahead of us, some uncertainty we faced last year has been resolved. However, the country's slow economic turnaround, continued uncertainty in Europe and the Middle East and the slow pace of OSHA rulemaking continue to impact EHS in the United States.
Nine EHS leaders offered their opinions about the greatest challenges and opportunities facing the profession, the impact of the election on EHS, the impact of the economy on EHS and where the EHS community should focus its efforts in 2013 to have the greatest positive impact on worker safety and health.
What are the greatest opportunities in EHS in 2013?
In 2012, ASSE and the safety profession saw much growth and change. We see great opportunities for EHS in 2013, including:
- The increasing awareness and inclusiveness of occupational safety and health in corporate sustainable reporting and activities;
- The development of an OSHA injury and illness prevention program (I2P2) standard. If done well, it has the promise of changing the paradigm of how the country regulates workplace safety and health by dramatically increasing risk-based management of workplace hazards;
- The continued advancement of the safety profession and the quality of professionals protecting the work force;
- The momentum of research-to-practice, as professionals increasingly prioritize the use of fact-based solution in their daily practice;
- A greater emphasis on the role of safety professionals in process and work design; and
- The rapid growth of technology, enabling the safety profession to use more advanced methods to protect workers.
I hope the biggest opportunity for the profession is the number of jobs that will be available. If the economy picks up, the outlook is bright. As for the outlook for EHS itself, I think the fact that employers and employees realize that success only will occur if they work together is a positive. In addition, the expansion of the "global economy" has opened up the opportunity to not only export our EHS experience to other countries, but allow us to learn from them.
The greatest opportunity for EHS in 2013 is movement toward a united front of recognizing EHS as a profession, not as an administrative function. There is progress being made in EHS organizations working together to bring the importance of being viewed as a profession to the forefront. It is important to educate people who make hiring decisions about the need for professionals in the role of EHS. [The related] Professions have three key elements in common: education, based on a defined body of knowledge; experience in the given field; and certification by accredited credentialing bodies. Acknowledgement by the federal government of the need to have EHS professionals employed in the private sector and public sector would go a long way in advancing safety and health for employees. The need for certified EHS professionals is recognized in other countries and, in fact, the profession is expanding globally, yet we are not fully recognized as a true profession in the United States.
The best opportunity for EHS professionals is to be business professionals. This added edge gives them the opportunity to integrate EHS into the boardroom. It is critical to integrate into the business rather than become a "bolt-on" at the end of a speech. Do you have a seat at the capital-planning table? If not, you are losing an opportunity.
On top of your compliance efforts, get yourself a role on your company's team that is taking on "value" creation for your business. This could be exploring new supply chain opportunities, CSR investments, process improvements, etc. Use the risk management process and replace "loss" with "value." To do this, be the "go-to" person on the team with process knowledge and skill to identify, analyze and examine new opportunities coming forward. Help your team as they select, implement and monitor progress. Businesses are playing catch up to a technological revolution and are looking to minimize the frequency or severity of losses or to make losses more predictable. Your expertise as a safety professional is unique in providing a contribution to the team.
What is/are the greatest challenge(s) facing the EHS profession, workers and employers in 2013?
Dr. Richard D. Fulwiler; president, Technology Leadership Associates; former director of health and safety worldwide, Procter & Gamble:
For EHS pros, it is establishing in business terms their strategic value to their enterprise. One way this can be done is by expressing EHS results in business terms, which as a profession we have failed to do. EHS results need to be expressed in terms of profit, cost reduction, quality, etc. One simple measure is to start expressing health and safety costs or savings in terms of sales equivalent dollars. Instead of taking about the cost of an incident, express it in terms of sales necessary to recoup that cost or in terms of how many more widgets have to be made and sold. Another way to accomplish this is to identify the specific strategic objectives of the enterprise and link projects, systems or programs clearly with those enterprise strategic objectives. Then communicate to your senior management how this linkage will drive the enterprise's success in achieving strategic objectives.
One of the greatest challenges in 2013 will be developing strategies to comply with the new OSHA Hazard Communication training requirements, which are part of the realignment of the HazCom standard with the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for classifying and labeling chemicals.
Trippler: The profession seems to be "graying." It is becoming more and more difficult to convince young people to enter the profession. That in turn means fewer and fewer "entrance-level" professionals for employers to hire. Employers also are finding that they can hire a "generalist" to address many of their workplace concerns and hire "consultants" to address the more serious issues. This saves the employer dollars in having to pay less and not provide benefits. As for workers, it seems to me one of the greatest challenges continues to be the introduction of more and different workplace hazards. Technology changes almost weekly, which means new ways of working. Take, for example, nanotechnology: No one yet knows what the health impacts will be in 10 years, so workers may or may not be exposed to new hazards now.
The economy will have impact on both employers and government agencies if we cannot resolve our debt. Businesses need to work with OSHA, MSHA, NIOSH and other federal agencies to develop a balanced approach to rulemaking. I also think we will continue to face the retirement of highly experienced EHS professionals and there will be an opportunity for the next generation of EHS professionals to step in and create their own legacy.
A continued opportunity for EHS in 2013 that will reap great benefits is sustainability. Sustainability is a business practice driven by the investment community. When sustainability is properly and thoughtfully implemented, sustainable business practices can lead to a stronger organization brand and increased profitability to the organization. Safety and health initiatives integrated into the overall sustainability effort can further contribute to the financial success for a company. EHS professionals who understand and drive sustainability principles and effectively can communicate with executive management using the "language" of business how sustainability affects their organizations will improve the value proposition and be viewed more favorably to their organizations.
How will the re-election of President Obama impact EHS (if at all)?
Trippler: Some say he will "fling open the doors" of the regulatory agencies like OSHA and allow to move forward on many issues. Others say he will continue down the road of carefully controlling what the agencies do. My best guess is that agencies like OSHA will move forward on some of the top issues like the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) but will limit the number of issues the agency takes on. I would guess the same would hold true over at EPA. It is interesting that this president has not become more involved in EHS, with his background and the support of labor.
Pollock: The re-election will have little effect on safety. True safety requires the risk-based approach advocated by ASSE and practiced by our members. Focusing on compliance and the politics of safety do little in the real world to improve unprotected exposure to risk.
Heinlein: I think there will be a focus at many government agencies to have pending rules, regulations and legislation passed before the mid-term elections in 2014 (for example, OSHA's I2P2 and silica). But the wild card is we still do not known if the current agency leaders will remain in place after the first of the year. If these agency leaders remain in place, will they keep their current leadership teams together?
How has the economy impacted EHS and what willits impact be in 2013?
Feeney: There is much work to be done in EHS in any economy. The question for professionals is: Will you have the skills needed to meet new demands? Current research points to a demand for the profession.
Swartz: The "loud criers" are over the uncertainty created across the globe. This requires a definition of mission directed at the board level.
Turnbeaugh: Unfortunately, in tough economic times, EHS professionals may be among the first to be laid off. This is a big mistake. EHS is far more detailed than the general public and many business and government leaders believe it to be. Often, the role will be given to others as an "additional hat to wear." An analogy would be asking a pharmacist to fulfill the role of the doctor in tough economic times; both are professionals in their respective fields, but that does not make them knowledgeable and competent in the "additional" role for which they were not formally educated or credentialed to perform.
Fulwiler: I expect it will simply keep the pressure on reducing the cost of health and safety staffing and expanding the sphere of responsibility EHS pros have. Said simply, you will be expected to do more with less. What is new about this? Nothing. But the pressure will be even greater.
Pollock: As the economy continues to improve and key industries like manufacturing and construction expand, the need for high quality risk-based safety will be in higher demand more than ever before, as well as qualified safety professionals.
ASSE continues to work with colleges to increase occupational safety, health and environmental programs for students and to provide support through the ASSE Foundation in an effort to help the profession grow. Currently, we are seeing students being hired almost as they walk out the door from graduation. Even though the economy currently is down, smart companies know the value of developing and implementing safety management programs and systems and hire safety professionals as they graduate. We also are finding that safety professionals who pursue professional development have increased career opportunities.
What should the EHS community focus on in 2013 to have the most impact on workplace and worker safety and health?
Hill: One area that often has been overlooked in the past but is gaining increased attention to positively impact workplace safety and health is off-the-job safety initiatives. An off-the-job safety focus creates a holistic approach to EHS by changing core behavior and developing a 24/7 safety mindset. The National Safety Council Injury Facts (2011) reveals approximately 125,000 unintentional off-the-job fatalities and about 5,000 work-related fatalities occur every year in the United States. Someone is nearly 25 times more likely to die away from the workplace.
One of the workplace safety training initiatives that is viewed most favorably at my company is the online driver safety training program. One reason the safety training program receives high worker (employee) evaluations is because an employee's family member also can take the course. Thus, you're promoting safe behavior 24/7 and also engaging the workers' families. A company off-the-job safety initiative, similar to a wellness program, promotes a worker's physical and mental health. Off-the-job safety initiatives can have a significant, positive impact on workplace safety and health.
Feeney: Speaking up on how EHS contributes to business success. Allocating time, money and resources in EHS is a great investment in the business, people and the communities in which they operate. We can and should hold ourselves accountable for making EHS investments a business priority.
Matthews: Developing and implementing effective EHS management systems with metrics to track progress towards achieving measurable results (this includes best management practices that go above and beyond regulatory compliance).
Trippler: I really think there are two things. One is the standard-setting process. This is broken and we need to address it now. It is not doing any good to propose and enact a regulation to address a hazard if it takes 15 years to do so. We need to find a better way. Secondly, we need to convince employers and workers to work together if they are to reduce injuries and illnesses. Employers need to be convinced that good health and safety in the workplace is good for the bottom line. Workers need to know that most employers want to do the right thing and workers should help their employers do so.