For safety managers and directors, 2013 will hold a mix of continuing challenges and new opportunities. As these professionals are tasked to do more with less, find and use reliable safety information sources, address safety on a holistic level and maintain a consistent approach to safety across borders, they must be diligent in keeping current with their profession's trends and changes.
The following five trends foreshadow how safety managers must be prepared to respond with the most safety-conscious solutions in the coming year:
Trend #1: Coping with Greater Workloads
Much is demanded of safety managers. They must raise multitasking to an art form: simultaneously responding to upper management, inspiring employees and ensuring compliance with regulators while also juggling recordkeeping responsibilities, procuring safety products and handling other administrative duties, all across a wide array of safety categories and concerns.
A few of these areas safety managers must address include:
In the fall protection category, where workers risk being injured or dying from falls on the job, incident rates continue to increase worldwide. Many managers are stepping up their fall protection efforts. They're conducting internal audits of basics, improving training methods and generally raising awareness and prevention efforts among workers.
When it comes to hearing protection, the numbers tell a more complicated story. In many western countries, worker compensation claims for job-related hearing losses actually are declining – owing to the economic downturn and the fewer overall number of workers on the job.
In categories such as respiratory and vision protection, accident rates generally are holding steady or slightly declining in mature industrial cultures, where attention from safety professionals and improvements in personal protective equipment (PPE) technologies have paid off.
Trend #2: Creating a Culture of Safety
Perhaps the most significant workplace safety trend of the year, if not the decade, is the increasing acceptance by safety managers in multiple industries of the concept of a culture of safety. These managers are leading their people to safety by inspiring workers to change behaviors and make safer choices on their own.
One major effort in this area surrounds involving more employees in safety activities. Ideally, all workers systematically are trained to understand the ramifications of wearing and using appropriate safety equipment, ensuring their own protection and looking out for the safety of their coworkers.
This is reflected in an ever-growing emphasis on behavior-based initiatives. For instance, managers in the construction industry favor the buddy system approach: assigned pairs of employees are responsible for each other's PPE fit checks, proper use and, in a simple sense, look out for each other's safety.
Another popular initiative utilizes peer meetings or toolbox talks. Here, to foster employee safety consciousness, the safety manager attends meetings routinely held in many organizations at the start of a shift. The manager takes the opportunity to brief the team on topics such as newly available safety equipment, upcoming regulations or adjustments to safety processes necessitated by a change in the physical plant.
Creating a culture of safety is a cooperative venture. A safety manager requires executive leadership and employee ownership of program goals.
Trend #3: Managing Safety Across Borders
As companies around the world consolidate, managers might assume responsibility for facilities in a range of disparate countries besides their own. These safety managers report that their biggest challenges in the coming year will be keeping up with regional occupational safety regulations, language barriers, cultural differences and consistent, standardized implementation of safety management systems.
While safety regulations may differ from country to country, trends do emerge. For respiratory safety, mandatory fit testing (already implemented in the United States and Canada) is increasingly being adopted by European regulators. The U.K. has regulations in place, Germany has initiated its regulatory process and neighboring countries soon should follow suit. Safety managers need to source respirators that offer fit-adjustable face piece technology and other fit/comfort advantages.
In emerging markets, as countries such as Brazil, China and India outpace the rest of the world in growing their manufacturing economies, they're adopting new safety standards, increasing enforcement of standards already in place and elevating workplace safety consciousness.
Broadly speaking, managers in these countries are devoting more effort and budget to strengthening their safety systems and upgrading workers' PPE.
Trend #4: Selecting the Right Safety Sources
Safety managers collect and reference information from professional groups, government sources and the Internet. But when seeking useful information, whether online or via another method, managers must consider the source.
Government agencies can provide regulatory compliance information on workplace safety issues since they formulate regulations and track statistical trends across many industries. But such sites may tend to overuse complicated, legalistic language.
Association sites may require expensive memberships for access to some or all of their information. Some of their information may be too general or too technical to provide clear answers to a specific question.
PPE suppliers with targeted Web sites offering objective information (read: more than just a sales pitch) can provide relevant responses and technical information.
Social media venues can deliver timely, up-to-the minute safety information. For instance, active discussion groups on LinkedIn serve as popular places for professionals to exchange views on specific safety hazards, procedures and solutions. Safety information delivery via social media will gather increasing momentum in the foreseeable future.
Trend #5: Gaining C-Level Attention
Finally, the coming year is likely to see upper management pay increasing attention to safety and its benefits. CEOs and other leaders of some larger companies publicly are emphasizing their organizations' good safety records and ongoing safety programs. They also are identifying measurable increases in safety as important goals for all employees. At least a few companies have appointed safety officers at the corporate level (C-level), where their visibility and authority can have major impact in establishing a culture of safety across the organization. While these are not yet universal trends, any support from the executive suite is a hopeful sign for safety managers.
Developing an awareness and understanding of these trends through 2013 and beyond will help safety managers do what they do best – protect the health, safety and well-being of their workers.
John Montigny is chief marketing officer at Honeywell Safety Products. Montigny previously served in senior marketing, communications and product development marketing roles at Sperian Protection, where he led the Construction Safety Group and the Eye, Head and Face and Hearing divisions prior to Sperian's acquisition by Honeywell in September 2010. Montigny joined Honeywell after an earlier career in marketing and brand management for a number of leading brands within the consumer packaged goods industry.