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Did Safety get left in Green's dust? (6/14)

June 14, 2011
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Although environmental responsibility and occupational safety have a lot in common -- such as the fact that both are both related to behavior changes – “green” has “bolted into the limelight” while occupational safety has remained a niche topic of interest mainly to industrial hygienists, regulators and technical experts.

That’s the premise of a provocative new blog post written by Thomas Cunningham, Ph.D, and Garrett Burnett, MS, MBA for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) Science blog. Cunningham is a behavioral scientist and Burnett a health communications fellow – both with NIOSH.

Cunningham and Burnett bemoan the fact that despite some significant overlap, the environmental movement has gained real momentum by focusing on several key strategies, while safety has “obscurely toiled toward improved outcomes” – which hasn’t gotten it the cachet that green has achieved.

“The drivers behind the green movement noted that informational campaigns designed to raise awareness don't change behavior,” write Cunningham and Burnett. “So they began pairing environmental awareness with promotions focused on goal-setting and commitment. Green has gained momentum by tackling the easiest issues first, even if those issues don't significantly impact the most pressing problems. Recycling doesn't stop climate change, but it is something that people can actually do, that gets them on board, that helps the movement gain traction. It enables people to say, "I'm a part of this. I'm in control."

Green advocates have been effective at getting people to make choices that have a sustained impact, even if they don’t require a sustained effort. “In the safety realm, the same idea applies. A worker wouldn't need a respirator or hearing protection if the threats had been designed out of the process in the first place. The trick is to convince decision makers that paying more today will be worth it tomorrow.” Cunningham and Burnett also recommend that safety professionals take a lesson from their green counterparts and focus on the positive, instead of on avoiding fines and injuries, as they do now.

They also point out that forward-looking companies have embraced the concepts that green policies make are financially rewarding – especially over the long run – and that they are more appealing to consumers.

“These two insights hold true for safety as well. In the business world, workplace safety and environmental responsibility are becoming barriers to entry, necessary components of lasting success. Investments in safe equipment and sustainable practices will provide future returns. Some of the world's most successful companies have recognized the correlation and have merged their environmental control and safety compliance efforts under the single umbrella of sustainability.”

To read the complete blog post, go to: www. www.cdc.gov/niosh/blog.

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