ISHN

Comments on replacing an aging EHS profession

November 9, 2011

futureI would echo that in the next 5-10 years we will lose a very large portion of our experienced professionals.

The numbers in my company reflect the same. We could lose 70% of our SHE pros in 7 years.

Universities are not able to attract quality students to SHE programs.

One big problem we all seem to suffer from is a lack of understanding and recognition about what we do for the employees in the workforce.

If you ask anyone what a safety pro does, they may have some distant idea of what its about. They may reflect back that safety folks run their safety meetings and collect safety stats and put up safety posters.

If you ask anyone what an industrial hygienist is and does, they will give you a blank stare or worse yet ask if you could look at their teeth to see if they are flossing correctly.

Most guidance counselors in high school have no understanding about possibly directing some students to a career in Safety or Occupational
Health.

From my discussions over the last several years, with university program directors, I have discovered that safety and IH program enrollments are
down significantly. Some programs have even ended.

Our professional organizations do try to reach the people with outreach programs but our professions are not glamorous and for the most part we
don't achieve wealth and fame.

The CSI shows on television have caused an uptick in enrollment into the forensic sciences. Maybe we need to have a similar show on TV???? But
I will say that shows like CSI have corrupted the publics view as to what can be accomplished.

As a certified industrial hygienist, I have had managers and employees come to me about ghost odors and allegations of ghost symptoms from odors: "Can you just do some sampling and find and fix the odors and problems?" Yeah, right.

Aaron Chen, MPH, CIH
 

Good points, but wasn’t that what the AIHA and ASSE are supposed to be doing? There have been numerous PR pieces put out over the years by the ASSE that were supposed to go to guidance counselors, etc. to let the outside world know what we do and that was one of the original pieces of the NIOSH National Safety Week programs. 
 
Perhaps you can talk to the current Presidents and PR departments of the ASSE, AIHA, American Insurance Institute, Factory Mutual and National Safety Council to see what they are doing to publicize the profession since each will be losing  membership as those of us start retiring with no one to fill the EH&S profession void. 
 
 Jeffrey Meddin


Unfortunately we can't wait for AIHA, ACGIH and ASSE to push this. It is too big.    They have tried but it needs more push with significant traction. I have done some outreach at a number of high schools and to be perfectly honest, most staff have no idea what we do, even after sending the nice push bulletins and PR.    

Also, I forgot to add that in the past ten years, the best industrial hygiene interns I have managed have either been really good but went onto other careers or were foreign students.   

Now there is nothing wrong with many of the foreign students I have mentored in our internship program, but wouldn't it be nice if our universities could attract home grown students.

Many aggressive and intelligent students don't necessarily want to go into safety or IH because they feel they cannot make the big bucks.   

Unfortunately, they also find out that there is now an oversupply of MBAs in the U.S. and they don't start out making six figures.    

We as parents and leaders have to change this perception that being in the SHE profession is a good place to be. Lots of jobs to be had in the next 10 years and we never ever get bored.

Aaron Chen

 

Go to www.asse.org/newsoom, www.asse.org/newsroom/naosh for information.

We also have the ‘safety suitcase’ members take to schools which is very popular (on the newsroom site), the 10th annual ASSE kids ‘safety-on-the-job’ poster contest which doubled in size last year, ASSE and CSSE’s North American Occupational Safety and Health Week  (NAOSH) Week, OSHP Day, news releases on all topics found on the newsroom page and more.

We have tools folks can use and our members have been extremely successful in doing so reaching out to schools, universities, the media, businesses and more. That’s why our poster contest which teaches young children about the profession continues to grow each year reaching millions of people and thousands of businesses.

We also communicate what members and departments are doing, including COPA – Council on Professional Affairs.

The ASSE Foundation has also had much success in getting word out about the profession along with the BCSP, our practice specialty groups including our academics practice specialty group and more.

Diane Hurns, ASSE Public Affairs

 

Thanks for asking what role AIHA plays in advocating and advancing the IH and related EHS profession(s). We routinely actively seek out media coverage beyond the profession-related press, and work with ASSE as appropriate during NACOSH Week, etc.

I can’t speak for ASSE but I can say that AIHA has found it very challenging to move the needle in the popular press when it comes to coverage, etc. We have tended to concentrate more of our efforts as a result with trade associations and other organizations who have magazines and other avenues that we might be able to utilize.
 
AIHA continues to look at a number of ways to not only reach across its classic membership borders, but to also reach across education and training borders, not only to related EHS professionals, but also possibly to the “technician” level.
 
We certainly don’t lack for challenges, that’s for sure.

Peter O’Neil, Executive Director AIHA

 

Somehow, I thought that our paying dues to our professional associations were supposed to result in their being advocates for us.

Wonder what would the late Steve Jobs have said about it's too big for our leaders to deal with?  I am not criticizing your statement Aaron. I think you nailed the issue.

My sense is that our image in the public and in the employers who would hire us is that we are just an extension of OSHA. That is not a value add, attractive professional image.  That message then flows to children of the adult public and employers which will, in turn, discourage their children from considering a career in our profession.

I was fortunate to be able to choose this profession just prior to the advent of OSHA.  I chose to move into it from engineering when I was given the opportunity because I could see that safety was a corporate value issue--not a regulatory compliance one. 
 
Why is our professional image so hard linked to OSHA?

 The public statements from our professional societies - about anything the public or our employers would be interested in- is all about cheer leading for OSHA and advocating for more and more OSHA regulations; as though our members don't already have 40 years of OSHA regulations to manage. That has to be done with excellence before they can have the time to work on their professional image of influence for safety/health excellence and their individual professional value add.

That does not mean that we should advocate no OSHA. And our members will still be involved in managing OSHA compliance. It is about our public communication--what the public and our employers (current and to be) hear us talking about.  It the major factor in how they form their image of who we are. We need to separate our public existentialism from that of OSHA.

Unfortunately, that will likely require painful structural changes in our professional associations to "force" deliverance of more favorable professional image outcomes. 

Tom Lawrence, CSP, P.E.

 

ASSE has provided an Executive Safety Summit at our Professional Development Conferences the past several years. A panel of management team leaders sit with a moderator and discuss their views of safety and how they approach it in a hour session. 

The question of real value comes near the end the moderator asks--What advice would you give safety professional?

Lots of useful responses--but one sticks in my mind  I don't even recall now who said it.  His answer to the question was: "We know that you know safety. What we need is for you to know us."

Assuming that statement is more general than just that one executive, what should be implication to our professional associations?

Both do great work in improving our knowledge of safety and industrial hygiene. Indeed, the primary focus of our associations is on that issue.  But in that executive's view, we have already succeeded in the knowledge issue with him. 

Is "we need for you to know us" a matter of increasing our knowledge or is it changing our style? Can "know us" be taught?  Does it need lots of resources?  What do our professional associations need to do--as the leaders of our profession--to demonstrate publicly that "we know our executive leadership customers" setting the tone for our members.

Tom Lawrence