Thought Leadership

Safety does have a PR problem

January 4, 2012
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megaphoneOn ISHN’s Sharing Safety Solutions chat room we posed this question:

Does the EHS profession have a public relations problem? Does the public understand what safety professionals do? Would a better understanding make safety professionals more effective at their jobs? Would a higher profile motivate more young people to choose EHS as a career?

To which Phil La Duke replied:

Yes, indeed it does. Several months ago, my article, “Protect Your Dignity,” appeared in the pages of ISHN. The underpinning of that article (and numerous blog posts) is that safety professionals are in the midst of an identity crisis.

In broad strokes my intent in writing the article was to emphasize the need for safety professionals to do things differently. It was not well-received. I received numerous venomous emails from safety professionals who were fiercely defensive of what I still believe are embarrassingly stupid practices.

My position hasn't changed.

Gone are the days when organizations will continue to spend money on safety without expecting a tangible ROI.

This expectation should be addressed on two fronts:

• Educating the organization on the linkage between safety improvements and improvements in efficiency and profitability (we know that injuries are a waste that drains productivity and costs money, and,

• Safety professionals need to bring their limited resources to bear on the most critical issues, and stop the cutesy crap that is so much fun but that is seen as simple-minded fluff by the rest of the organization. Spend only what you can defend.

Phil La Duke Rockford Greene International

We also received this anonymous comment:

I can understand when folks become frustrated in what they feel are meaningless safety practices. Every practice may not be neatly quantified to job loss or accident injury reduction data, especially in certain industries.

I think the thing to remember is the fact that some of the safety practices that we are asked to implement are driven by regulation and/or guidance. Health and safety is just one component of the EHS world, compliance is another. Sure, there are some regulations that seem unnecessary and outdated, but compliance with the law should be just as important as any other law.

I think the EHS professionals have a tough job of selling and enforcing practices that are mandatory but unpopular with some employees or even companies. Wholesale changes to regulations come from the top down via the legislative process, which is not a swift one. If we look at the entire process, we may better understand why the EHS professional implements some of the practices that we fell are meaningless.


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