ISHN 50th anniversary: Challenges and Opportunities - thought leader essays
“Exciting risk control strategies are on the horizon”
Fifty years ago when Industrial Safety & Hygiene News printed its first issue, worker fatalities, injuries and illnesses were more frequent than now. Statistics about worker fatalities, injuries and illnesses were sparse until the passage of the Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. In the early 1970s, around 14,000 workers were killed on the job. The number of fatalities fell to 4,821 in 2014, while the rate of reported serious workplace injuries and illnesses has declined from 11 per 100 workers in 1972 to 3.2 per 100 workers in 2014. Although the combined efforts of unions, worker advocates, management, academia, occupational safety and health practitioners, safety equipment manufacturers and others can take credit for these reductions, there is still work to be done.
Exposure to chemical carcinogens, respirable crystalline silica, construction falls, electrocutions, lacerations and workplace violence still persist. Newer hazards like exposure to nanomaterials are emerging and require our attention. Newer ways of working using nonstandard work arrangements like agency work, contract work and gig work may pose health hazards to workers. The close collaboration between human and robotic workers will also pose new hazards.
While these persistent and emerging hazards need our attention, exciting risk control strategies are on the horizon which will present new opportunities to better protect workers. The combination of wearable monitors and biosensors, global positioning systems, advanced biomarker detection methods and analysis of 24/7 exposure assessment data will provide capabilities never before available to practitioners. Real-time exposure information permits the rapid abatement of hazards versus current technologies that require sampling, shipment, and later, laboratory analysis. These and other new growth opportunities will exist for technology-savvy safety and health professionals who can make use of these new data streams.
On behalf of everyone at NIOSH, Happy 50th Anniversary to Industrial Safety & Hygiene News!
Dr. John Howard
Director The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Centers for Disease Control and Prevention U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Growing the next generation of professionals
The occupational safety and health community is small in relation to the size of the field of public health overall and, like many professional disciplines, it has an aging workforce that is experiencing an increasing number of retirements. Consequently, there is growing concern about how these gaps will be filled and whether the necessary steps are being taken to grow the next generation of occupational safety and health professionals. OSHA recognizes the shortage of younger occupational health physicians and nurses, safety professionals, industrial hygienists and ergonomists. The agency is working with stakeholders to determine what steps to take to enhance and encourage the growth of professionals in the field of occupational safety and health.
Dr. David Michaels
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety & Health U.S. Department of Labor
Can we change the regulatory system to reward results?
Innovate! EHS professionals – and I include people who design, manufacture, test and distribute PPE as well as those who run safety programs – labor under pages and pages (or pixels and pixels) of regulations, standards and protocols that prescribe how to do everything. Not just what the result should be, but how to get there.
I understand they’re based on science, proven practices and long experience (we’re a standards developing organization, after all). But are there other ways to achieve the results we’re seeking that aren’t in the book? Can we find new work practices that minimize risk of injury? Can we get away with doing things differently under the current regulatory system, or change the system to reward results?
I’d like to think there are opportunities for people willing to take that chance.
President, ISEA – the International Safety Equipment Association
“Using our technical skills to identify risk…”
In the future of the practice of occupational safety and health the role of safety and health professionals must continue to move beyond compliance with regulatory standards.
Leading organizations understand that the key to injury and illness reduction and greater operational efficiency lies with the need to identify, assess, manage and communicate workplace risk. Senior management understands the concept of managing risk. They do it all the time, whether operational risk, financial risk, reputational risk or market risk.
Global leaders in safety also understand that safety and health professionals can contribute significant organizational value by using our technical skills to identify risk and our business skills to develop and communicate solutions that both protect workers and contribute directly to the success of our organizations.
Our biggest challenge the safety and health profession has is to reach those employers that fail to see safety as being able to contribute to their competitive advantage or to be critical to mission success. And reaching those employers is our biggest opportunity.
Congratulations to ISHN on its 50th Anniversary. ASSE looks forward to ISHN helping spread the message about the importance of managing safety risks to all organizations.
Tom Cecich, CSP
President 2016-2017, American Society of Safety Engineers
Turning massive amounts of data into actionable information…
AIHA has established key priorities to ensure occupational hygienists are prepared to do their jobs today, and in five and ten years from now. Occupational exposure banding will re-shape the larger OEL process. Sensor technology will enable us to rethink how we characterize exposure and risk, but turning massive amounts of data into actionable information must be navigated. Finally, both the workplace and workforce has changed and is changing – unprecedented global migration will continue to transform the composition of worker demographics. Another forward-looking opportunity is to; talk to young people about work-related health hazards before they join the workforce – the AIHA/NIOSH Safety Matters initiative is a great model.
Steve Lacey, Ph.D., CIH, CSP
President 2016-2017, American Industrial Hygiene Association
“OSHA should stick to what it does best, and outsource the rest”
How will OS&H be perceived in 5 to 10 years? Will there be changes to how OH&S is regulated?
I would find it a complete reversal if OSHA was allotted a substantial increase in appropriations in the next 5-10 years. Because of this the agency needs to determine “what does it do best” and stick to that. The rest should be outsourced.
- Do we really need two distinct Assistant Secretaries of Labor for OSHA and MSHA? Have one, reduce the number of managers, consolidate duplicative functions and use the savings to really address the needs of OH&S. Yes, there are a few regulations and rules specific to OSHA or MSHA but we could save by consolidating many functions.
- Compliance assistance should be the first thing to be outsourced. OSHA should consider turning over to the private sector compliance assistance and the consultation program. CIHs, CSPs, etc.are more than qualified to assist and educate employers on workplace hazards.
- My most radical shift in what OSHA should not do; it may be time for OSHA to get out of the business of standard setting. Turn it over to the non-profit sector. Before you throw this idea out consider – the agency is barely conducting standard setting now. Look at silica; the agency started working on this some 40 years ago. Allow the non-profit private sector (ANSI, NFPA, etc.) to set standards. Come up with a way for OSHA to oversee the process and provide for some type of enforcement oversight.
These ideas may or may not work but perhaps it’s time to take a serious look at “another way of doing business.” The OSHA Act has never had any major change since enactment in 1970. I doubt if any other agency has gone so long without major change. Would these changes work? I have no idea. But remember, it really doesn’t make any difference what OSHA or Congress does or doesn’t do because workers will still be protected because of the thousands of OH&S professionals who go to work every day and do their jobs to make sure workers go home at night safe and healthy.
Director of Government Affairs American Industrial Hygiene Association
“Just when we think we know what a safety and health professional does…”
ASSE members report the opportunity to demonstrate even greater value to organizations than they already do. Future growth opportunities for the occupational safety and health profession will mirror growing organizational demands that practitioners have expertise in areas beyond safety, including health, human resources, environmental management, disaster management, security, and risk management.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) reports that 1.9 million workers die each year from occupational diseases, yet most safety and health professionals work only on the fringes of occupa- tional health. An expanding focus on total worker health, workers’ wellbeing, workplace stress and other psychosocial issues, workplace violence and fatigue present new opportunities for the safety and health professional.
As occupational safety and health continues to gain recognition in the financial community as a material sustainability-related issue for many industries, safety and health professionals will be able to grow their influence in the management of human capital and the supply chain. This includes areas such as human factors, operational performance, and policies to humanize the workplace.
Occupational safety and health professionals should also expect to see a trend towards an integrated approach to the management of modifiable risk in the workplace, which will present opportunities to expand into disciplines such as security and grow their influence in risk management.
Just when we begin to think we know what a safety and health professional does, the future requires change, and that presents great opportunity.
Dennis Hudson, JD
Executive Director, American Society of Safety Engineers