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EDITORIAL COMMENTS: Polishing the crystal ball

December 1, 2004
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Q.1 — What does “four more years” mean to EHS?

OSHA chief John Henshaw summed it up the day after President Bush’s re-election in a speech in his hometown of St. Louis: You can expect more “strong, fair and effective enforcement,” more “outreach, education and compliance assistance,” and more “partnerships and cooperative programs.”

On the enforcement front, Henshaw takes pride that OSHA has jacked inspections by nearly ten percent from 2000 to 2004 — to about 39,000.

OSHA will continue to annoy for-profit safety training companies by enlarging its inventory of popular (and free) “tools” for safety and health pros. The agency offers more than 45 eTools. “QuickTakes,” OSHA’s email newsletter, has more than 50,000 subscribers. Fifty-million visitors check out OSHA’s Web site annually. The agency’s toll-free helpline (1-800-321-OSHA) will handle more than 160,000 calls this year — up 17 percent in the past two years.

As for partnering, Henshaw boasts that Voluntary Protection Program sites now number 1,180, up 66 percent since 2000. VPP won’t reach Henshaw’s goal of 8,000 in the next four years, but don’t be surprised if the annual national meeting of VPP companies rivals the size of annual gatherings of industrial hygienists or safety engineers by 2008.

And OSHA will keep rolling out new alliances with trade groups. Announcing all the agreements has made public affairs one of OSHA’s busiest departments — alliances have grown from 11 in 2002 to more than 240.

Perhaps public affairs can borrow some standards writers if needed. In his St. Louis speech, Henshaw said not a word about any specific new OSHA standards. Standards-setting gets no mention in OSHA’s “balanced approach” of enforcement, outreach and cooperation.

Q.2 — Where will the EHS jobs be?

EHS employment is most likely to be secure, if not growing, in industries where there is:

  • A need to protect brand image with consumers, financial rating services, and stockholders from risks of any sort (think: DuPont, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, General Electric, UPS or FedEx);

  • A need to build trust with communities and activist non-government organizations (NGOs) (think: BP, Dow, International Paper, Georgia Pacific);

  • A strong union presence (think: GM or Ford);

  • Money to be saved or penalties to be avoided (construction industry).

    How can you protect your career in a shrinking market? Here’s what a survey of business execs by Richard Fiore of Search Consultants International found to be the EHS skills in demand:

  • Core business skills (management, communication, comfort in working with financial 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, to be a generalist, versus a specialist;

  • Possess an MBA or undergraduate business degree;

  • Willingness to accept international assignments or a domestic plant-level job (flexibility).

    Q.3 — After behavior-based safety, what’s the next new thing?

    The fathers of behavior-based safety are talking a new game. At the National Safety Congress last September, before it was shut down by Hurricane Ivan, Tom Krause of BST was heard giving a talk with references to cognitive biases and the root causes of cultural failures. BST’s Jim Spigener’s presentation discussed the importance of personalities. Scott Geller lectured on states of mind — do you seek success in safety or try to avoid failure?

    Back when BBS was the rage in the late 1990s, the behaviorists didn’t spend much time on cognitive biases, personalities, and states of mind. B.F. Skinner must be rolling in his grave.

    What these safety thought leaders are saying is that it’s time to study the whole person, or the whole organization, not just behaviors.

    Trying to get employees involved in safety? Trying to break the chain of accident repeaters? Raise awareness and hold conversations about the influence of self-talk, of personal beliefs, of positive and negative outlooks, of personality traits and states of mind.

    Scott Geller calls this “People-Based Safety.”

    In organizations this holistic approach is called systems management. Those VPP companies, for example, are committed to connecting all the pieces of their safety and health programs. It’s not hazcom one month and confined spaces the next. It’s using an auditing system and scorecard to grade all the elements that make up a program – from management leadership to emergency preparedness.

    — Dave Johnson, Editor

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