Where global issues rank among EHS priorities

May 17, 2000
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On a long list of EHS professionals' priorities, where tasks like "understanding OSHA regulations," and "integrating safety health and environment programs at all management levels" get top billing, the one that ranks last is "understanding international standards and managing international SH&E."

That's according to the results of Industrial Safety & Hygiene News' 14th Annual White Paper EHS Planning Survey, sent to 5,000 of this magazine's readers in 1997.

But it's not that professionals don't care. Overall, 60 percent of respondents indicated that they consider international standards or international EH&S program management somewhat or very important. Thirty-nine percent call the issues "not at all important."

A comparison of those to some other stats--97 percent say coping with rapidly changing technology is important; 80 percent consider managing an increasingly diverse workforce important--shows where globalization ranks among modern day issues: important, but not a priority.

To be sure, at employers of 1,000 or more people, EH&S professionals are more likely to consider international issues "very important." With offshore operations of their own, they're the more likely to be impacted by overseas standards now.

Considering that 72 percent of respondents told us they don't have time to achieve all their EH&S goals, it's not surprising that global issues get short shrift my most. U.S. EH&S professionals are just too busy. Professionals putting out fires can hardly afford to stop and think about the "what ifs" of international standardization.

Some professionals acknowledge the impact a shrinking world will have on their field, but five or ten years away is too far in the future to worry about now. A third of respondents name "international regulatory standards" as a probable driver of the growth of the safety and health profession in the next 5-10 years. Forty percent name "global industrial expansion" as another. (74 percent name U.S. OSHA and EPA standards, 58 percent name health issues relating to work organization, job pressures, and stress). By industry, values differ slightly. In the construction industry just about half of respondents say understanding international standards and managing international EH&S programs is "not at all important" to them personally. Respondents in the process industries are the most interested in international topics: 29 percent call them "very important" (as opposed to "somewhat" or "not at all important").

By job function, interest levels in global issues varies, too. Respondents with a focus on environmental management and industrial hygiene place more importance on international issues than their counterparts in safety or occupational health management. Perhaps reflecting the influence of ISO 14000 environmental quality standards, 66 percent of environmental professionals say international issues are somewhat or very important.

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