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ASSE president discusses global workplace safety issues at UK conference (3/23)

March 23, 2009
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American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) President Warren K. Brown, CSP, ARM, CHMM was one of the featured speakers at the UK-based Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) two-day conference held last week at the BT Convention Centre in Liverpool, according to an ASSE press release. During a presentation on the status of safety and health within emerging markets, Brown said ASSE members have found that many emerging economies have realized the importance and positive benefits of improving workplace safety within their respective countries.

“Workplace safety and health has improved in emerging markets for many reasons — but more must be done. As international companies bring their workplace safety and health expertise to these markets for a variety of projects — those countries are learning how safety is good business,” Brown said. “This is due to the globalization in the past decade and the massive export/import of products among developed and developing countries. Additionally, many reputable companies in these countries have utilized international safety, health and environmental management systems like ISO14001, OHSAS18001, ISO31000 and other standards. This was due, in part, to the United Nations (UN) introducing a global harmonizing system for chemical substances in transportation and management. This system, our members note, has been followed in many countries as they are signatories of the UN system.”

Brown also noted that ASSE members say improvements are being made due to efforts like IOSH, ASSE and other respected voluntary organizations and societies with chapters and members in these countries that focus on improving safety and health. ASSE has members in 75 countries including chapters in the Middle East, Kuwait, Nigeria, Papua and Western Australia, with sections in Egypt and Ecuador.

When it comes to maintaining high levels of occupational safety and health, Brown said ASSE members have found it is a challenge for multi-national companies when they move to emerging markets or developing countries.

“Even though their corporate companies have good management systems, when they begin work in these emerging economies, the focus on safety and health issues is often relaxed due to lack of country legislation and enforcement,” Brown noted. “Many of our members believe that each multi-national company has a moral responsibility to provide equal attention and maintain programs to protect worker safety and health irrespective of the local conditions.

“When it comes to international workplace safety in some countries, the value of a person’s life is often arbitrary, hence workplace safety and health efforts are sometimes nonexistent, but that is changing. Our members have found they can work in these environments, but do so using their corporate standards,” Brown said.

For instance, one large American-based oil company went above and beyond in building a multi-billion dollar plant in the Middle East when it came to safety, he noted. They recognized the culture difference before the project began and addressed this issue head-on. They finished the project three months ahead of time, 20 million dollars under budget and set a company record. Reports show they had 13 million hours of work with three recorded injuries.

“They put safety first, treated all workers equally and provided training in all languages, personal protection equipment, great working conditions and much, much more,” Brown said. “Our members have noted that profitability is credibility when it comes to safety. The safety department is a profit center, not just a cost center. By investing in safety and workers, you lower costs and increase profit while keeping employees and customers happy.”

As for the question as to where responsibility lies — home or abroad — Brown noted that it depends on the type of industry and products. He said ASSE members feel that with strict regulations and well established standards in the US and the UK, the responsibility lies more at home and will be transferred abroad as safety and health professionals and companies fulfill their home responsibilities or requirements.

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