NSC: Assessing the Competency of EHS Professionals

Nov. 14, 2006
At the National Safety Council's 2006 Congress and Expo in San Diego, the director of Johnson & Johnson's Worldwide Health and Safety Group discussed "an empirical model for defining the competency of safety and health professionals and matching it to the needs of a given site."

James Stiles, CSP, explained that the development of Johnson & Johnson's "global health and safety competency model" has been driven by a longstanding upper-management mandate that the company's most important responsibility is to develop the leaders of the future.

Johnson & Johnson's global health and safety competency model, Stiles explained, supports that mandate by providing a mechanism for J&J to:

  1. Develop technical and leadership standards based on a needs assessment.
  2. Assess EHS professionals' current technical and leadership competencies against those standards.
  3. Determine the technical and leadership gaps.
  4. Design technical curriculum to address needed technical competencies and develop leadership curriculum to address needed leadership competencies.
  5. Create development plans to close the gaps.

The J&J model divides competencies into two categories: technical knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs); and leadership skills.

The technical competencies, or KSAs, are:

  • Hazard identification;
  • Risk assessment (qualitative and quantitative);
  • Exposure control;
  • Training and development;
  • Safety through design;
  • J&J standards;
  • Regulatory compliance; and
  • Emergency prep and response.

The leadership competencies range from EHS professionals' communication and relationship-building skills to their ability to be change catalysts. Stiles, however, noted that leadership competencies "are not the principle focus of the model."

"But they are part of it," he added.

The Competency-Hazard Matrix

Where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, is in the competency-hazard matrix, which compares EHS professionals' KSA levels with the hazard rankings for each facility.

EHS professionals' KSAs are measured in each technical discipline.

For example, an EHS professional might be a KSA level 1 in industrial hygiene, level 3 in general safety, 2 in machine safety, 1 in ergonomics, 2 in process safety management, etc.

  • KSA level 1 indicates fundamentals/basic knowledge.
  • KSA level 2 indicates the use of tools; data analysis; and an ability to develop and implement simple solutions.
  • KSA level 3 indicates advanced/specific knowledge and an ability to identify and implement complex solutions.

KSA levels are assigned by two sources: the EHS professional's immediate supervisor and "subject-matter experts" at the corporate level, such as Stiles. Stiles emphasized that the KSA levels are not determined by officials in human resources, "I can promise you that."

"It was all done by folks within the health and safety disciplines," Stiles said.

J&J ranked the hazard levels for its sites around the world, using the same categories (industrial hygiene, general safety, machine safety, etc.) of technical disciplines. The hazard rankings range from 1 (lowest) to 3 (highest) for each discipline. The process took about 2 years, Stiles noted.

Determine the Gaps

The next step was to match the hazard rankings for each site with the competency rankings of the EHS professionals assigned to those sites.

In the industrial hygiene category, for example, Site A might have a hazard ranking of 2 and an EHS professional with a KSA of 3. Such a match indicates more-than-adequate coverage in the industrial hygiene discipline for that site.

Conversely, Site B might have a hazard ranking of 3 in industrial hygiene and an EHS professional with a KSA of 2 in industrial hygiene. Such a match indicates a one-level gap, "which is a concern that we believe can be addressed with development plans," Stiles explained.

Site C might have a hazard ranking of 3 in ergonomics and an EHS professional with a KSA of 1 in that discipline. Such a match indicates a two-level gap, which "may require a different person" at that site because "a two-level gap is a pretty big gap," Stiles said.

Closing the Gaps

When an EHS professional's KSA reveals a one-level gap in a specific discipline – industrial hygiene, for example – there are a number of strategies J&J has been employing to help close the gap in that particular site.

For example, the EHS professional's supervisor might bring in a consultant to work with the EHS professional in the area of industrial hygiene. Or, an industrial hygienist from a nearby site might come in to work with the EHS professional. If it's a machine safety issue, a staff member from maintenance or operations might help the EHS professional with his or her KSA for machine safety.

EHS professionals also can turn to J&J's online Health & Safety Learning Institute, which provides specific training assistance for improving their KSA sets in various disciplines.

Model is Optional

The use of J&J's global health and safety competency model is not mandatory, Stiles explained to Occupationalhazards.com.

"Our approach has been to let [supervisors and managers] know it's out there, that this is a good tool that can give you really good insight, but it's up to you as the supervisor or manager to use it or not," Stiles said.

Stiles noted that the results of J&J's initial assessment of a portion of its global EHS staff were positive. The global health and safety competency model revealed that 87 percent of J&J's sites, as of last year, were staffed by EHS professionals who met or exceeded the hazard rankings of those sites.

"We were pleased to find that in never having formally done this before, a fairly methodical but also, to some degree, ad hoc method for staffing the sites has produced 87 percent conformance when it was officially analyzed," Stiles told Occupationalhazards.com. "That's pretty good."

Stiles added that J&J officials also were fairly pleased "that the number of folks who are two levels below what's required only represented a handful."

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