June 8, 2009
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Chris Patton, CSP

From June 28 to July 1, the American Society of Safety Engineers’ annual meeting will be held in San Antonio, Texas. ISHN interviewed Chris Patton, CSP, ASSE’s new president, on the state of the profession. Chris is principal HSE engineer for Covidien, a global healthcare company with 41,000 employees and sales of nearly $10 billion.

You talk of the need for pros to think globally. Do all ASSE members, all pros, need to think globally?

In my platform statement for Senior Vice-President, I noted that our profession and our society are expanding globally. ASSE has members that live and/or practice in many countries outside the United States and we must be prepared to meet those members’ needs.

ASSE is focused on achieving its vision of being a global champion of the safety, health and environmental professional, a global leader of the profession and a premier resource for those engaged in protecting people, property, and the environment. Being global is more than knowing the laws and regulations of other countries. It is finding better ways to reach out and help our members around the globe do their jobs.

You mentioned in your platform statement that the business world is just beginning to understand the safety pro’s purpose. Why has it taken so long for this to occur? Why the delay?

I don’t think of it as a delay, but rather a slow evolution. We are more integrated into our businesses than ever before.

In 2007, ASSE embarked on a project to look at the current perception of the value of the safety professional in the workplace and how safety professionals could better meet the needs and expectations of the management team.

The first phase of the project consisted of an ASSE member survey and one-on-one interviews with corporate managers, who hire, manage or work with safety professionals, but were not themselves safety professionals. (A literature review was also conducted.) Our plan has three areas of focus: repositioning safety, repositioning the safety professional, and preparing the safety professional to be the value-add employee. The plan identifies 10 goals and more than 30 specific actions to be completed by multiple teams of members and ASSE staff.

Are you concerned that the economic downturn is “dumbing down” the profession, with employers seeking less experienced, lower-salaried pros?

Are employers looking to save money? Absolutely. Are they seeking lower skilled SH&E professionals? I don’t believe that is the case. I recently went to ASSE’s NexStep job page and looked to see what qualifications employers were stipulating. Of the first ten jobs I looked at, all required a college degree and some experience. The vast majority sought someone with a professional certification. That tells me that employers are looking for skilled professionals.

In fact, what I have heard anecdotally is that because of job layoffs, the market is more competitive. This means more highly qualified candidates are applying for jobs. This makes it harder for entry-level candidates to be placed.

Layoffs and cutbacks have affected many of our members. ASSE has been trying to deliver the message to employers that SH&E professionals are not expendable. In fact, a company can have significant competitive advantage by continuing to invest in SH&E during the hard times.

For the full text of our interview with Chris Patton, visit Web Exclusives at

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