ASSE President: Efforts to Protect U.S. Workers Is Stalled

American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) President Terrie S. Norris, CSP, ARM, says that even though recent U.S. fatal occupational injuries reports show a slight decline in work fatalities – 4,547 workers died from on-the-job injuries in 2010 compared with 4,551 in 2009 – it still is a call for action. As ASSE and the occupational safety, health and environmental profession welcomes the New Year, Norris reviewed the immediate challenges ahead for ASSE and the safety profession along with its continued growth worldwide.

“As we move into the next 100 years of protecting people, property and the environment, we face many challenges. But our history shows we meet those challenges head on by finding solutions.” Norris says.

Despite the best efforts of ASSE’s members, employers, workers, OSHA and NIOSH, the fact that fatalities have not significantly decreased should be a call for action, not complacency, adds Norris, especially at an economically challenging time when some of the most dangerous industries are not at full employment.

“A statistical plateau of worker fatalities is not an achievement,” she saysd. “But evidence that this nation’s effort to protect workers is stalled. These statistics call for nothing less than a new paradigm in the way this nation protects workers.”

Norris said all stakeholders in occupational safety and health need to come down off the plateau of acceptance and work together to find conciliatory ways that help make sure the economy, jobs and corporate bottom lines can benefit from a safe and healthy work force.

Businesses must not cut back on occupational safety and health systems, according to Norris, who warns such actions will “come back to severely haunt them in the future in the guise of increased health care and workers comp costs, production delays, reputation damage and much, much more.”

According to Norris, other challenges facing the EHS profession and businesses include:

· Risks expected from an aging work population. Many aging workers are delaying retirement due to the economy. Employers should prepare their work environment to meet the needs of aging workers. That would include simple changes such as improving illumination, eliminating heavy lifting, installing skid resistant materials for flooring and much more.
A dearth of EHS resources for small and mid-size businesses. Currently, those businesses employing 50-249 employees have the highest rate of job-related injuries and illnesses in the U.S. today, and the least access to safety and health consultation.

· The demand for EHS professionals continues to go up with employers expected to hire 25,000 new EHS professionals in the next 5 years with NIOSH estimating that there may only be 13,000 new EHS professionals to fill those spots.

“We look forward to the future ahead as we build upon the last century of safety,” Norris says. “We will continue to work to raise awareness about the importance of being safe at work and the value of the safety profession. As I’ve told several ASSE members this past year, I see many unsung heroes when I talk to ASSE members and safety professionals around the world. I tell our members that you many never know the people whose lives you touch, but many remember you.”

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