Five Questions for - 05

October 29, 2004
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Dear Subscriber,

In this issue of ISHN's e-newsletter we answer five questions swirling about the occupational safety and health profession.

Q. 1 - HOW WILL THE ELECTIONS AFFECT EHS IN THE U.S.?

The short answer here is — not very much.

IF President Bush wins another term, the GOP will continue to push the "customer friendly" OSHA. That means:

  • More voluntary guidelines. More free training programs from OSHA’s web site. More alliances and partnerships.
  • Consistent enforcement, with heavy fines when needed.
  • Very few new standards. Any standards that do make it out the long and winding pipeline will cover narrow areas — such as beryllium and chromium exposures, or hearing protection on construction sites.

Forget any sweeping standards covering millions of workplaces. You won’t see the 100s of permissible exposure limits standards updated. If an excellent, committed industrial hygienist like OSHA chief John Henshaw couldn’t move that ball forward, it’s not going to happen.

Mr. Henshaw will likely leave OSHA by the end of the year, according to sources. He’s already set the all-time record for longest stay in the OSHA hot seat — about 3.5 years. And he's still logging 12-hour days.

His replacement? Maybe a former OSHA higher-up like Jim Stanley or Alan McMillan, if the Republicans stay in the White House. Perhaps an labor law attorney, a state OSHA director, or someone from a business group like the National Federation of Independent Business. A long shot: a safety director of a Voluntary Protection Program company. The VPP is the GOP's poster child for all OSHA should be.

If John Kerry comes to town, you'll hear a lot of noise about standards and enforcement. Kerry’s on record as saying, "I’d start by stepping up inspections, ordering the Justice Department to vigorously prosecute the worst violators, and reinstating the standards for ergonomics.

He might appoint someone like Mike Wright of the United Steelworkers or Frank Mirer of the United Autoworkers to head OSHA. Unions have years of pent-up demands when it comes to OSHA. Sure, the Bush years have been frustrating to labor. But the Clinton years with first Joe Dear and then Charles Jeffress did nothing to jump-start standards-setting the way labor wanted to see.

But Democrats will have a hard time walking their talk about stiffer penalties and more regs. If the GOP still owns majorities in the House and the Senate, there’s only so far the OSHA chief can go. For example, Congress could add an amendment to OSHA’s budget bill preventing OSHA from enforcing an ergonomics standard, if one did make it out.

What to do: So what can you do with OSHA gridlocked? Use the tools available at www.osha.gov. The site gets 50 million visitors a year for very good reason. There’s a treasure trove of free training programs, case studies, and expert advice on how to make the business case for safety.

Second, don’t wait on OSHA standards to justify your job. After the last 12 years of meager standards-setting, you’ve already realized this. Move on to selling safety on the basis of business advantages, better employee relations, better image with the press and investors, and building a more sustainable corporate culture.

Q. 2 - WHERE WILL EHS JOBS BE IN THE NEXT 3-5 YEARS?

If the crystal ball was working on this question editors would be headhunters. Of course some people think reporters are headhunters of another sort.

The real headhunters predict the number of EHS jobs to decline 2-10 percent in the next eight years. Most of the losses will come from corporate offices as a result of mergers and acquisitions — continuous consolidation.

EHS jobs are most likely to be protected, if not growing, in industries where there is:

  • A need to protect brand image with consumers, financial rating services, and stockholders (Procter & Gamble, pharmaceutical and healthcare companies)
  • A need to build trust with communities and NGOs (chemical and power and energy companies)
  • A strong union presence, such as auto and steel companies
  • Money to be saved or penalties to be avoided (construction industry)

What to do: So how do you protect your career in a shrinking market? Here’s what one survey says business execs are looking for in EHS professionals:

  • Core business skills (management, communication, comfort with the numbers)
  • The ability to implement and audit EHS management systems
  • The ability to develop a dashboard of leading, trailing and financial metrics
  • Assess projects using the triple bottom line of economic, EHS and social measures
  • The ability to multi-task, be a generalist, versus a specialist
  • Possess an MBA or business degree
  • Willingness to accept international assignments or a plant level job (flexibility)

Q. 3 - IS INDUSTRY COMPLACENT WITH INJURIES AT AN ALL-TIME LOW?

Hmmm… EHS jobs won’t be growing in the next 10 years.

There will be fewer jobs and smaller budgets.

Are these red flags? Do many segments of industry really believe safety and health issues are under control and need little more than maintenance budgets and staffs?

You can't throw a blanket over the entire business community. Some organizations will always be hungry for safety gains, no matter how good they are.

But let's face it: many businessmen look at safety strictly by the numbers, the OSHA recordable injury rates. And these OSHA rates can easily mislead. Perception surveys and employee interviews show safety communication and supervision is poor today in many workplaces. Morale and trust are low, fatigue and stress are high.

These cultural problems don't show up on OSHA record keeping logs. These cracks in cultures take years before something goes very wrong — such as at NASA, some close calls at nuclear plants, and safety and security lapses at the Los Alamos National Lab.

One group of businesses certainly not easing up is the 1,000 or more Voluntary Protection Program companies, and other world-class safety programs, most of them multinationals. They have a much broader view of safety than injury statistics.

What to do: What might you do if you're trying to punch your way out of a complacent safety culture? Here's one idea: Benchmark yourself against VPP companies. Attend the annual VPP meeting to get energized over the potential for safety to contribute to quality, employee relations, investor relations, and community relations.

Q. 4. - WILL ISO SET A SAFETY AND HEALTH STANDARD?

Not in 2005. But by 2010, the odds are 50-50.

Here’s why it could happen:

  • The U.S. is finally on board with a safety and health management system standard, the ANSI Z10 standard proposed September 1. You can download the Z10 proposal at www.aiha.org. For years the U.S. opposed the idea of an ISO safety and health standard, but in the last five years big business has witnessed the growing popularity of the 18001 safety standard and senses that some kind of global safety standard is coming.
  • Big time global consultants like BSI and DNV are lobbying ISO to adopt 18001 as the follow-up to ISO 9000 and 14000. There are bucks to be made certifying compliance.
  • Another possibility: Parts of the ANSI Z10 or 18001 standards are folded into the new corporate responsibility (CR) that ISO will publish by 2007. A number of CR experts will tell you that CR is very light on the subject of responsibilities for employee protections.

Here’s why it very well might never happen:

  • There’s no guarantee that the ANSI Z10 standard will make it past the proposal stage. It could be killed off by groups like NAM and the Chamber of Commerce. That’s what happened to the ANSI ergo standard. But management systems don't keep lobbyists awake at night like ergo rules do.
  • ISO right now sees no market for a safety and health standard. ISO 9000 and 14000 have been marketed by countries and companies as ways to screen trading partners. "You can’t do business with us unless you’re certified." There’s nothing to be gained – in terms of trade – by adding safety and health requirements.

What to do: Don’t wait to see what happens to the ANSI Z10 standard. Download it now and benchmark your own safety and health program against its requirements and recommendations. It’s an excellent checklist compiled by a who’s who list of world-class safety experts.

Q. 5 - WILL EXECS EVER "GET" THE BUSINESS CASE FOR SAFETY?

Some will, most won’t.

Enlightened execs notice their best performing plants — in terms of profits and quality and production — are also their safest and cleanest plants. Their least safest plants tend to be the least profitable.

Execs who don’t see the connection often don’t get these kinds of cross-tabulated reports and can’t make these comparisons.

Some high hurdles must be jumped to make the business case for safety. The pay-off is hard to prove. Workers’ comp savings are often pocket change in large companies. You need to collect and analyze huge amounts of data. It takes years to deliver results, and most execs don’t last that long.

What to do: So what can you do if you're trying to be a hurdler? Educate yourself. Do research. There is more information on the Internet, on OSHA’s web site, on the VPP web site, about the business case for safety than ever before. It’s a sales job, and you can find many angles and ideas out there for making your pitch.

Dave Johnson is the ISHN E-News editor. He can be reached at djsafe@bellatlantic.net, (610) 666-0261; fax (610) 666-1906.

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Books from ASSE

You can order these titles and more from the American Society of Safety Engineers Bookstore on ISHN's Web site. Visit — http://www.ishn.com/FILES/HTML/ISHN_ASSE_index/

Among the books you'll find:

  • "Refresher Guide for the Safety Fundamentals Exam"
  • "The Participation Factor," by Dr. E. Scott Geller
  • "Safety Training That Delivers"
  • "Building a Better Safety and Health Committee"
  • "Safety Management - A Human Approach," and "Techniques of Safety Management - A Systems Approach," both by Dan Petersen.


MARKET RESEARCH

ISHN offers exclusive market research survey reports including White Papers, Online Training Editorial Study, Web-based Training Study, Salary Study, Hygiene Instrument Study, PPE Study, and more... CLICK HERE http://www.ishn.com/FILES/HTML/ISHN_market_research_index/0,5680,,00.html to learn more about these studies.

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Look to ISHN's 73,000+ subscribers for your next direct mail campaign. For customized lists, call toll free: 1-800 323-4958; Fax: 1-630-288-8390; E-Mail: directmarketing@dm2lists.com; Web: www.dm2lists.com

WE NEED YOU!

Are you a safety and health pro or a manufacturer or provider of occupational safety and health products or services who enjoys writing?

Shakespeare need not apply, but ISHN is looking for authors to publish short articles (1,000 words) in our monthly issues.

Topics include: safety success stories, close calls and personal experiences, training tips, use of software, engineering controls (machine guards, lockout-tagout), gas detection and air monitoring, confined space safety, personal protective equipment, and OSHA compliance issues.

If any of these topics interest you — or if you have other ideas — e-mail editor Dave Johnson at djsafe@bellatlantic.net

We will also consider articles you’ve already written but not submitted to any safety magazine.

Thanks.

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