These developments have moved the field forward in 50 years…
The first internet bubble of the late ‘90s – early 2000s brought online safety training to the fore. There was a period of adaptation as safety pros were, and still are, reluctant to leave the classroom behind. Now blended learning – online and hands-on – is widely accepted.
Journey to Zero
In the ‘70s and ‘80s safety and health work was all about compliance – OSHA’s gravitational pull on programs everywhere. But compliance is the floor, not the ceiling, for program performance. The widely accepted quest for zero incidents has raised the bar – and expectations – for safety performance.
Forget about the canary in the birdcage. That’s prehistoric. Today that canary has intelligent sensors and wireless transmitters to detect all sorts of the exposures. The canary no longer has to drop dead to alert workers.
Process Safety Management standard
After the horrors of Bhopal, and dangerous chemical leaks in West Virginia shortly thereafter, the chemical industry raised its game, creating Responsible CARE. And OSHA came through with one of its most important standards – how to manage process safety – issued February 24, 1992.
Leading indicator metrics
Safety has gone from reactive to proactive. It’s widely accepted today lagging indicators – injury and illness rates of past years – are superficial when it comes to understanding why accidents happen. Leading indicators – audits findings, observations, perception surveys, near miss reports, safety suggestions, training activities, etc.– are used now to identify hazards, stop accidents before they happen and assess performance.
OK, so there will likely never be an OSHA ergonomics standard. But much workstation design and redesign, and process designs,
have been implemented voluntarily by many companies to reduce ergo-related injuries, and improve productivity. Compared to decades ago, so many more businesses today “get” ergonomics.
Industrial hygiene and safety come out of their silos
Once upon a time industrial hygienists and safety professionals had little to do with each other. Corporate downsizing and the rise of the generalist – the professional with both a CIH and CSP – brought the disciplines into much closer alignment.
Emergency text messaging
A prime example: the bombing suspect in the New York City area who set off a series of blasts in September triggered an unprecedented cellphone alert to millions of people in the area telling them to be on the lookout for the armed and dangerous Ahmad Khan Rahami. A remarkably swift arrest followed.
Significant advances in PPE technology
Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s the legendary Buddy Holly-style thick, black-framed safety glasses were everywhere. Fall protection body belts could seriously injure workers left dangling. Much PPE was bulky and cumbersome, breeding employee resistance. Today PPE is consumer-like stylish in many applications, adapting designs from athletic wear for instance, more lightweight, flexible, while remaining durable.
The Johnson Controls decision
In the Johnson Controls case, the issue was whether a company’s policy of excluding all fertile women from jobs where there is a risk of exposure to lead at a certain level was unlawful gender discrimination. On March 20, 1991 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that “Johnson Controls’ fetal-protection policy is sex discrimination. The decision has broad implications; it’s estimated as many as 20 million women are employed in jobs that involve exposure to toxins and they could have run the risk of losing their jobs if the Supreme Court had ruled differently.
Confined spaces entry protocols
For decades unsuspecting workers walked, climbed or communication, observing attendants, training, or proper PPE and air sampling equipment. OSHA’s confined space standard changed all that when issued on January 14, 1993.
Lockout tagout procedures
Compliance with the lockout/tagout standard prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year, according to OSHA. Workers injured on the job from exposure to hazardous energy lose an average of 24 workdays for recuperation. The agency’s LOTO standard, issued September 1, 1989, greatly reduced risks.
Women become a force
The “safety man” ruled in the ’60s and ’70s. Go to ASSE and AIHA’s annual conferences, the VPPPA annual conference, and the National Safety Congress, and you can’t help but notice the abundance of female professionals. Check out the boards of directors of ASSE and AIHA today and note the number of women.
One of the first computer applications to hit safety and health work was software to ease the paperwork burden of injury and illness recordkeeping. This has evolved to give professionals analytics to slice and dice data to discover patterns of accidents, locations of accidents, time of accidents, etc.
Respiratory protection programs
Published January 8, 1998, OSHA’s respiratory protection program standard covers five million workers. The standard replaced very outdated requirements set in 1971. Companies will under-report records to look good.
Hearing conservation programs
Noise, like dangerous machinery and toxic exposures, has been an enemy of safety and health managers forever.
OSHA came through with a comprehensive plan to protect against hearing loss when it issued the hearing conservation standard on January 15, 1981.
Identifying accident precursors
William Corcoran asked:
“Has there ever been a serious, consequential adverse event that did not have precursors? An old cowhand might ask, ‘Why not head them off at the pass?’ That is to say, why not identify and analyze the precursors and take corrective action to prevent the downstream consequential adverse event?” Exactly. Studying and identifying precursors is a vital part of safety moving from a reactive to proactive practice.
Mobile device auditing
Ease of auditing has never been this prevalent. Mobile devices handle job hazard analyses, site hazard assessments, exposure sampling, lone worker monitoring, etc. – with data instantly sent from tablets and smartphones to command centers for real-time analysis.
Improvements in emergency response
On March 6, 1989, OSHA issued a final rule to protect 1.75 million public and private sector workers exposed to toxic substances from spills or at hazardous waste sites – the hazardous waste operations and emergency response standard.
Hazard communication programs
Perhaps OSHA’s most historic standard. No longer would employees be clueless about the toxicity of chemicals they handled. On November 25, 1983, workers were given the right to know about chemicals they were exposed to, and their hazards.
How cognitive biases affect safety
In the ‘60s and ‘70s it never dawned on most professionals how a variety of commonly-held biases, or mental blind spots and prejudices, caused senior leaders, supervisors, employees and pros themselves to make poor decisions regarding safety. Now books and many articles have been written on cognitive biases.
Grasping the importance of organizational culture
Said the sage of safety Dan Petersen: “Safety is about one-to-one interactions, supervisors to managers, supervisors to workers, managers to workers. Safety is about these interactions happening every day. It’s people every day looking out for each other. That’s how safety is achieved. Not by writing down audit protocol. Pieces of paper don’t save lives.”
OSHA’s general duty clause
It’s there in black and white: Employers are required to provide employees with a place of employment that “is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.” The general duty clause is a safety net for dangerous and neglected conditions not otherwise covered by specific standards.
Introducing neuroscience to safety
This is fertile ground that is just beginning to be plowed. One example: the fast brain-slow brain concept. Most of the time we use fast brain thinking, which is a form of running on autopilot. Just get ‘er done. Safety calls for more slow brain thinking, which is time-consuming, detail-oriented, and requires mindfulness – scanning the environment for risks.
Engaging workers, not merely observing them
Going way back to DuPont’s STOP program, and evolving through the various iterations of behavior-based safety, the emphasis was on standing and watching workers do their work. Back then there was also the idea of “safety contacts” – where safety pros would walk up and talk to employees about any safety issues. Safety contacts evolved into safety conversations and face-to-face engagement and relationships, something more in-depth than checklist observations, especially if no feedback is immediately given.
The development of employee assistance programs
Since 1917, employee assistance programs (EAPs) have helped employees who have work performance problems that result from some type of personal problem. R.M. Macy and Co. and the Northern State Power Company first established EAPs in New York State. Most EAPs began in the 1940s with employer concerns about alcoholism among white-collar workers. Programs evolved and began treating mental, emotional, and financial problems, and those problems caused by alcohol and drug use. The tremendous growth in EAPs began in the early 1970s.