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Your customer insights for 2013

January 4, 2013
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Safety products buyers, as represented by ISHN readers who we surveyed in September 2012 about their plans for 2013, need your help. That is, service support from safety product distributors and manufacturers. Not surprisingly, an Internet search of major safety distributors reveals an ever-lengthening list of bullet points for 10-20 or more services. “It’s not just about selling,” said one distributor.

And it hasn’t been for years now. This need for outside service expertise reflects a trend that has been 10-20 years in the making. And as mentioned, many safety distributors and suppliers have recognized it and have developed a myriad of support services. ISHN’s latest data on workplace safety and health managers strongly reinforces the notion that today’s safety and health departments in general will welcome all the qualified outside support they can get.

The do-more-with-less mantra continues

The bottom line: safety and health managers are handling an ever-increasing workload while budgets mostly remain static and hiring additional staff is rare. This narrative is nothing new for 2013, as many safety and health departments have been squeezed for years now, and department managers continue to run their safety and health programs with lean leverage.

What is worth noting in ISHN’s 2013 White Paper reader survey is the expanding nature of safety jobs, as more professionals move into sustainability activities, risk assessment, health promotion, product stewardship, global management responsibilities, and corporate social responsibility initiatives.

In 2013, 46% of safety and health pros surveyed say their work functions will increase. 38% will increase their work in the sustainability area. 35% will increase their involvement in employee health promotion and wellness programs. 28% will be more involved in product risk assessment and product regulation issues. 27% will take on more international responsibilities.

So it’s no surprise that more than one in three professionals (35%) will work more hours in 2013. With more work often comes more stress. 35% of the pros surveyed say their personal level of job stress will increase this year.

Satisfied yet frustrated

You could say many safety and health pros are personally satisfied and at the same time frustrated by economic realities. Only 10% say their level of overall job satisfaction will decline in 2013. 22% say their satisfaction with the work/life balance will increase. Most are secure in their jobs. Only 12% foresee a decline in their job security. And most still find their work rewarding. In fact, 42% say the level of their effectiveness on the job will increase in 2013; only 5% report it decreasing.

Now the rest of the story: Almost one in five (19%) of the pros surveyed say their satisfaction with company resource support will decline in 2013. Budgets will increase for 16% and decrease for 16%, with 68% working with about the same level of funding as in 2012. Headcounts are also a wash: 14% will increase staff size and 14% will make cuts, with 72% working with the same staff size.

With often unpredictable support from the top, due in part to the continuing churn and turnover in top managers, it’s no surprise that the number one priority for 55% of the safety and health managers surveyed in 2013 is to coach/convince management to get more involved in safety and health initiatives. This “need to sell” is an area where distributors and manufacturers can lend their sales and marketing expertise.

With OSHA compliance under control in many workplaces, pros no longer use the fear of OSHA to motivate management. Compliance is a “been there, done that” story for many professionals. So “selling safety” is a challenge for many pros, who are grounded in technical and engineering backgrounds.

Help build the “business case”

Distributors and suppliers can assist their customers, the safety and health managers, in developing the “business case” to motivate top management to invest in safety and health. In fact, this has been a primary focus of the Qualified Safety Sales Professional (QSSP) week-long training and education program sponsored by the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) and taught by experienced safety and health professionals. More than 1,000 distributor and supplier product managers, inside and outside sales reps, marketing personnel, customer service personnel and top managers have taken the QSSP course since its debut in 1996. The QSSP course will be offered April 15-19 and November 4-8 in 2013. Visit www.qssp.org for more information.

There are several other areas where safety distributors and suppliers can assist customers, according to ISHN’s research. In 2013, 51% of safety and health managers will increase efforts to develop performance metrics that are more insightful than traditional OSHA recordkeeping. 49% will devote more time and effort to reducing the most serious injuries (permanently disabling) and fatalities. As with OSHA compliance, many workplaces have everyday minor injuries under control, with incident rates at or near all-time lows. But the number of serious injuries and fatalities remain stubbornly high for many facilities.

Culture supplants compliance

Culture has supplanted compliance as the number one issue for many of your customers. In 2013, 48% of safety and health pros will work to develop/sustain zero-incident safety and health cultures. This is complex, time- and resource-consuming work for professionals. It requires top company leadership to actively engage in safety and health activities (thus the need for selling top management) and calls for employees to collaborate on activities as never before expected. In many workplaces, non-safety and health professionals, line employees and supervisors, are taking over work previously handled by the pros. These functions can range from training and behavior-based observation and feedback to incident investigations and regular facility auditing.

You should also be aware that a growing number of safety and health managers are increasingly interested in the psychology of safety. In 2013, 28% will increase efforts to ease employee stress, build employee trust in safety programs, and find ways to help employees manage increasing workloads. This is especially the case in companies that have outsourced human resource functions.

Your new class of customers

Finally, safety distributors and suppliers should prepare for a sea change in the demographics of their customer base. The baby boomer generation of professionals is graying fast. 70% of the pros surveyed by ISHN are age 45-64. Almost one-third (31%) will leave the field in the next five years. The next generation of safety and health managers will probably include more independent contractors/consultants (outsourcing will increase in 2013 for 21% of those surveyed), more personnel without college degrees in occupational safety and health (due to the decline in the number of college programs), and degreed professionals less threatened by and interested in OSHA, and more involved in coaching management and employees and building sustainable cultures of safety.

This generational turnover presents service support and training and education opportunities for safety distributors and suppliers in addition to what they are already offering. A “skills shortage” very much concerns professional groups such as the American Society of Safety Engineers and the American Industrial Hygiene Association. NIOSH projects a major shortage of safety and health professionals in the next five years. Almost half of the pros ISHN surveyed (49%) say they encounter a shortage of qualified candidates when looking to fill safety and health positions. One-third (33%) say this is a significant problem.

Safety distributors and suppliers can help fill this skills gap in numerous ways. Training, hazard auditing for PPE needs, online educational (culture, leadership and coaching) and more traditional technical content, regular digital newsletter and social media safety information updates, non-commercial webinars and videos and podcasts, easy-to-use safety “apps” and toll-free and/or email and texting access to certified experts are some of the services that will be increasingly appreciated and valued by your customers.

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