Part 1 - Who is today’s EHS professional?

Entering 2017, your typical EHS pro is a 53-year-old male, a baby boomer, with at least 20 years of experience in the field, primarily practicing in a safety function. He works for a privately-held company and makes $75,000 per year.

In smaller firms, he reports to the CEO or owner. In larger organizations, safety reports to operations and human resources most frequently.

He’s satisfied with his work, and isn’t worried about job security.

His workload in 2017 is increasing, like many disciplines, but the impact is not significant. He’s working more hours, and the stress of the job is increasing -- again, like many occupations, but not to a significant extent.

Digging deeper

Let’s get more specific about professional demographics, as revealed in ISHN’s 2017 EHS State of the Nation readership survey.

Gender: First up, gender. Males represent 84 percent of the profession; females 16 percent. Women are a larger part of the profession under age 40, and a larger part of the industrial hygiene profession.

Age: Speaking of age, more than one-third of professionals are between 50 to 59 years old (35 percent). Another 29 percent are age 60 to 69. That equates to almost two-thirds of the profession (64 percent) being in the 50-69 age group.

According to a 2010 NIOSH study, employers in 2011 expected about 10 percent of the safety pros to retire.

NIOSH reported that employers planned to hire at least 25,000 professionals in the next five years, but only about 12,000 new graduates were expected from the academic programs that fill the need. Many were likely to be filled by pros currently in the workforce or by pros without EHS training.

OSHA, NIOSH, and the professional societies – the American Society of Safety Engineers and the American Industrial Hygiene Association – have all expressed concern about the coming wave of retirements and an inadequate supply of students and young professionals in the pipeline.

ASSE, AIHA and the National Safety Council are all taking steps to market the profession to millennials and high school students, and promoting promising “leaders of tomorrow” at conferences and through the media.

Experience: Length of service in EHS work naturally correlates with age. The graying EHS workforce is an experienced one. Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed have 21-30 years of experience. Sixteen percent have more than 30 years of EHS work experience. One-quarter (25 percent) have 11-20 years of experience.

It’s notable that almost one-third (31 percent) have ten years or less working in EHS positions.

Two factors are at play here. One, the EHS field is slowly but surely getting younger. In the past five years or so, you’ve seen younger audiences at the national conferences.

And two, it’s important to distinguish EHS professionals from practitioners. Practitioners handle safety responsibilities on a part-time basis in addition to their “regular” jobs, often as supervisors, plant engineers, human resource personnel, union stewards. In many small workplaces, basic safety and compliance duties are taken up by plant managers, facility managers, and owners or senior executives. Practitioners at lower levels often rotate through safety jobs as their assignments change, so their years of safety-related experience are less than most of the survey averages. In NIOSH’s 2010 study, firms with fewer than 100 employees were not surveyed due to the lack of full-time professionals in place.

With the exception of high-risk industries such as energy extraction, construction and chemical processing, part-time practitioners are most often found in operations with less than 250 employees. Forty-one percent of the sampling base of ISHN’s survey falls into the 1-250 employee organization size. The U.S. economy is, after all, largely driven by millions of small businesses.

And it should be noted that in the EHS field, small, independent consultants and workers’ compensation insurers are common – another reason for the large percentage of survey respondents in firms with 250 or fewer employees.  

A significant segment of ASSE’s 35,000 members are in the risk management/insurance practice specialty and the academic, consulting, training and construction practice specialties. For decades the percentage of AIHA’s 10,000 members who are consultants, insurers, academics and laboratory researchers has been increasing. In both cases, this membership make-up parallels the shift in the U.S. economy to more service-oriented enterprises.

The NIOSH study did survey consulting services and government facilities with fewer than 100 employees because a number of professional are found there.

Professionals with 20 to 30 or more years of experience often carry careerist credentials such as a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) or a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). They are mostly employed in large organizations. Eleven percent of ISHN survey respondents work in firms with 1,000 to 2,500 employees; 11 percent in firms with 2,500 to 10,000; and 13 percent in firms with more than 10,000 employees.

Almost one-quarter (23 percent) are employed in businesses with revenues greater than $1 billion annually. These are chemical, oil and gas, coal, food, machinery, and transportation equipment multinationals, as well as public utilities and government operations, often military installations.

Income: Professional salaries naturally increase with employment size. One-quarter (25 percent) of survey respondents have annual incomes of more than $100,000. Another 24 percent earn $75,000 to $100,000 annually. The number of part-time practitioners in small firms lowers the survey’s median salary to $75,000.

In 2017, few professionals are looking at any kind of sizeable salary jump, which aligns with very modest national incomes gains. More than have of those surveyed (54 percent) expect slightly higher wages in 2017; a scant three percent expect significant salary boosts. More than one-third (38 percent) say their incomes will remain the same. Only five percent expect to experience salary cuts of any sort.

Attitudes about the safety job

ISHN surveys over the decades show a correlation between how readers feel about their jobs and the state of the economy. When we’re in a recession and/or period of downsizing, of course job stress and job security concerns go up. That’s not the case going into 2017. The economy has been stable with incremental growth since the Great Recession of 2008, and that stability is reflected in the work attitudes of safety and health professionals.

Only 23 percent report personal job stress to be a significant issue entering 2017. Expanding work hours are having a major impact on only 20 percent.

Job satisfaction and job security are holding steady. About three in four survey respondents report their job satisfaction will remain the same in 2017 (76 percent), and the same percentage reports their job security will remain the same. Only six percent expect their job satisfaction to diminish, and only ten percent say their job security will worsen. In years past, during hard economic times, upwards of 20-30 percent of professionals have had job security concerns. That was then, this is now.

In fact, about one in five pros (19 percent) say job satisfaction will improve in 2017, and 14 percent say job security will improve.

Reporting lines

Who do safety and health pros report to? Since there is no standardization for EHS programs, with every U.S. business essentially designing DIY programs ranging from non-existent or minimal compliance to sophisticated environmental and safety and health management systems, oversight of EHS programs is quite diverse. According to ISHN survey findings:

• 40 percent report to the CEO or owner (mostly in smaller companies and privately-held companies)

• 36 percent report to operations

• 25 percent report to human resources

• 9 percent report to quality

• 8 percent to environmental

• 8 percent to engineering

• 5 percent to legal

• 10 percent to other functions (sales, purchasing, etc.)

Part 2 – EHS forecast for 2017

The bottom line question entering 2017 – and every year – is what do resource allocations look like for EHS departments?

Pretty much what you’d expect, given the “challenging economic headwinds” reported in many corporate earnings statements, particularly in the manufacturing sectors.  Almost half (43 percent) of the ISHN reader respondents to the 2017 forecast survey say their safety and health budgets will remain flat in the coming year. About an equal percentage (42 percent) anticipates a slight bump up in budget funds. More than one in ten (12 percent) are looking at a slight decrease in spending.

Nothing drastic is in store. The status quo rules. Significant budget increases are reported by only two percent of survey respondents, and only one percent reports a significant decrease.

The same holds true for safety and health department headcounts. The overwhelming majority, almost seven in ten respondents (69 percent) report staff size will stay the same in 2017. About one-quarter (23 percent) expect a slight increase in headcount, mostly in the construction industry. There will be no bloodletting in departments: only five percent of respondents report a slight decrease in staffing, and only one percent reports significant cuts.

Top hazards

The survey asked professionals about the most serious hazards they confront on their worksites. The top hazards (ranked in order, and respondents could name multiple hazards):

Ergonomics (cited by 44 percent of respondents)

• Falls (38 percent)

• Hand and arm injuries (38 percent)

• Lifestyle health issues (36 percent)

Lockout-tagout (32 percent)

• Motor vehicle safety (32 percent)

• Eye and face injuries (27 percent)

• Electrical safety (27 percent)

• Stress and mental health (26 percent)

• Chemical exposures (23 percent)

• Respiratory protection (21 percent)

• Noise (20 percent)

One note of interest: Combustible dust is considered a widespread facility housekeeping hazard. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board conducted an in-depth study that identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers, injured 718, and extensively damaged industrial facilities.Yet only 11 percent of pros surveyed say combustible dust is serious hazard at their worksite.

Challenges of the job

Considering the array of near-miss and injury (or worse) hazards that professionals confront on an almost daily basis, the challenges of the job are equally broad and diverse.

According to the survey, here are the top five “high impact” challenges facing professionals in 2017:

• Employee behavioral reliability / consistent safe behaviors (cited by 52 percent of respondents)

• Putting safety on equal footing with production (52 percent of respondents)

• Safety training of employees (50 percent)

• Getting senior leadership “buy in” for safety and health (47 percent)

• OSHA compliance (42 percent)

Some things never change. Employee behaviors have been the bane of professionals’ jobs ever since the first safety pro set foot on a factory floor. Despite workshops, lectures, webinars, videos, podcasts, blogs and published articles in recent years by thought leaders to shift the focus from “blame the employee” to a greater emphasis on organizational culture, leadership decision-making, system and process design, and reducing ergonomic (working interface) exposures, professionals still perceive worker behaviors as the root of many problems.

Likewise, years have been spent by EHS experts “making the business case” for putting safety on equal footing with production, but in 2017 a level playing field has yet to have been achieved, according to the majority of professionals. And though executive safety coaching has become a bigger business in recent years, obtaining senior leadership active involvement in safety and health remains a widespread struggle.

One area where progress has been made is compliance with OSHA standards. After more than 40 years of OSHA regulation, many businesses, especially large operations with full-time professional staffs, have mastered compliance. Here are two reasons why about 40 percent of survey respondents still report OSHA compliance to be a top challenge: 1) new standards such as the silica rule, electronic recordkeeping, and walking and work surface fall protection must be interpreted and implemented; and 2) small businesses with part-time safety functions and few resources still wrestle with compliance complexities.

Another group of EHS challenges have a medium to high impact on organizations, according to the survey:

• Integrating safety into sustainability activities (39 percent report it has a high impact; 36 percent say it has a moderate impact)

• The aging workforce (33 percent high impact; 36 percent moderate impact)

• Contractor safety oversight (25 percent high impact; 37 percent moderate impact)

• Temporary worker safety (24 percent high impact; 30 percent moderate impact)

Here are the job challenges with the least impact:

• Employee legal use of controlled substances/medications (62 percent define it as low impact)

• Supply chain management (59 percent low impact)

• Employee illegal substance abuse (66 percent low impact)

• Off the job injuries (62 percent low impact)

Abuse of prescription medications and illegal substances has received widespread media coverage, but most professionals have not personally encountered what some describe as an “epidemic.” Supply chain management issues bedevil multinationals, but that’s a small percentage of overall survey respondents. And off-the-job safety, while a perennial safety meeting topic, is not perceived as having much of an impact, according to most pros.

Goals for 2017

What professionals hope to accomplish in 2017 – their goals – is as diverse as the list of top hazards and the most challenging issues. ISHN’s survey reports professionals have these priorities (ranked in order):

1 Build / maintain a safety culture (cited as a high priority by 56 percent)

2 Reduce serious injuries and fatalities (a high priority for 56 percent)

3 Lower OSHA recordable incident rate (high priority for 53 percent)

4 Lower workers’ compensation cost (high priority for 43 percent

5 Get senior leadership support (high priority for 39 percent)

6 Develop and track key performance indicators (high priority for 34 percent)

Goals for 2017 considered to be of medium importance include:

• Developing personal leadership skills (33 percent define as a medium priority)

• Implementing/maintaining a behavior-based safety program (35 percent medium)

• Using effective personal protective equipment (46 percent medium)

• Building/maintaining a forma safety management system (33 percent medium)

• Developing/maintaining an employee wellness program (34 percent medium)

What’s lowest on the list of professional priorities for 2017? Fifty-five percent say reducing employee absenteeism is a low priority. It’s a business expense, but more of a human resources issue.

Workplace violence gets a lot of press, but 55 percent of pros consider preventing on the job violence to be a low priority. One reason could be that many violent incidents occur in retail establishments and healthcare facilities, not in factories and warehouses for the most part. Another factor could be denial – “it can’t happen here” thinking.

The safety consequences of employee fatigue and the need for fatigue management programs is an emerging issue getting press in 2017, but 46 percent of those surveyed say employee fatigue is a low priority agenda item.

The same is true for temporary worker/independent contractor safety. OSHA has made temp worker safety a major issue in recent years, and accidents and fatalities involving temps have drawn media attention. But 46 percent of professionals consider it a low priority.

What makes for industrial safety-related news is often not on the radar of many professionals.