As National Safety Month draws to a close, we are highlighting some of the pressing issues in occupational safety and health in the U.S.
CSU Environmental Safety and Health Program Director Dan Corcoran and professor Ralph Blessing were asked to comment on what they believe are some of the top issues in the OSH industry that safety professionals are facing today. Both stated the importance of safety guidelines and rules in the workplace.
“First, people don’t like to see other people get hurt who are just trying to make a living. Fatalities, injuries and illnesses can be devastating to a family. They can negatively impact companies as well in direct medical and insurance costs and indirect costs as well due to lost productivity and damage to a given company’s image,” said Corcoran.
Blessing added, “Without OSH in the workplace, there would be no workplace. Many employees would not feel secure on a daily basis, thus impeding their ability to work.”
Feeling secure is vital to employment and something companies must recognize at all levels.
“First and foremost, I still believe too many upper management are not convinced safety is a profit center. It most definitely is and there are so many methods out there to prove it. Insurance premiums would be one of the better ones to focus on,” said Blessing.
Corcoran concurred, “One of the biggest issues is top management leadership and commitment to the safety and health effort of the organization. Organizations that do not have top management commitment in this area can only aspire to mediocre results when it comes to worker safety and health.”
Corcoran went on to point out the need for advocacy and leadership skills on the part of today’s safety professionals. “Safety professionals are typically taught the technical skills a safety professional might need, but leadership and communication skills are deemed not as important. However, convincing organizational leaders to do things right is very important.”
He said safety leaders need to be vocal advocates of safety and health and they need to understand how organizational politics work. “They need to be able to convince top management to do the right thing,” he said.
Furthermore, Blessing said many organizations believe that once you have achieved your safety goals, you can let your safety team go. “Safety is a daily changing event. It is not a ‘fix it and forget it’ endeavor. You need to find new ways to challenge and appreciate your employees. Training has to be conducted routinely if you want your employees’ behavior to remain on course with the program, and/or improve.”
Another issue facing OSH today is the growing need for trained safety professionals, according to Corcoran. “Finding trained people to fill openings in the OSH field is getting increasingly difficult. There just aren’t enough experienced and trained professionals out there to fill the need.”
Blessing cautions, however, that there is a “misconception that safety is a job where you can make a lot of money. It is a passion. The money is important, but it is the life and limb of every employee on the job that really matters. You have to want to help someone understand what it is all about.”
As for the future, both educators say the next four years will feature some changes for safety professionals.
Blessing predicts safety programs will be focused more on environmental and energy management issues. “Silica deaths will be more prevalent and safety managers will have to start monitoring this a lot more and reporting to OSHA. In addition, ergonomics will have a standard and safety professionals will have to know how to conduct ergonomic studies, if not hiring an ergonomist.”
Corcoran said while the current trend is to cut back on compliance assistance and to get heavy on regulation and enforcement, history shows that a regulatory approach to safety leads to mediocre results.
“We will continue to see a dearth of trained safety professionals to fill openings, particularly when one considers the retirement of the aging workforce and the fact that manufacturing is making a comeback in the U.S.,” he added.
What do you see as key issue facing safety professionals? What about the future of the industry? Let us know in the comments below.
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