One thing we can always count on in life is change. And with change comes transformation. Consider how the safety profession started in earnest with the Triangle Shirtwaist factory disaster back in 1911. At that point there were no laws or standards or safety professionals. Then in the ‘70s all the regulations and bureaucracies of OSHA caused another huge change in what safety was and how it is practiced. In the mean time we have seen the rise and fall of behavior based safety (BBS) and then the initiation of safety accountabilities and safety culture. Through it all we’ve transformed the way we work to protect others.

And now our future seems to include changes with many tech innovations – robotics; drones; automation; smart factories with multiple sensors; machine sensors and machine learning; employees using smart phones to capture hazards and send in near miss reports, incidents; wearable devices that monitor a worker’s health conditions and even posture and physical exertion, etc. This brings to mind Moore’s Law; named after a ‘60s – ‘70s tech wonder person who projected that technology doubles every 2 – 2 ½ years. As technology advances, our needs are significantly changing in all kinds of fields. Although we are no longer making near as many (of what some would consider) obsolete technology products, there is always the need for the fundamentals in safety such as regulations, PPE and the like. However, there may not be as much of a focus on the fundamentals moving forward.

Generational change

Newer technologies bring new challenges to cultures, hiring, training, industrial safety and much more. The generational changes that come with a Moore’s Law society also affect how we live and what we do as the older generations are replaced by younger generations.

There are and will be foundational safety challenges that must still be addressed, but there are all kinds of new challenging safety issues with electronic and chemical processing, nanotechnology, healthcare, robotic utilization, drone usage, security enforcement, etc. The continuing tech upheaval does and will change what goes on in the field. As I look to the future, safety professionals will need to adjust to the changes impacting our frontline and society if they want to continue to protect employees. I do foresee safety accountability and safety culture excellence as something challenging for younger generations to grasp; those who have had far less practical experience than the older generations who grew up in a more “mechanical” culture, which taught them the importance of personal safety.

Just has our profession has transformed from 1911 to now, it will continue to transform with technological advancements -- different skill sets, technical knowledge and cultural approaches.  A new kind of safety professional will meet the demands of an ever safer future with technology implementation. Fortunately for this next generation of safety professionals, we all stand on the shoulders of those who went before us; we do not have to reinvent what they did. We will not go away, but we will have to significantly adjust and transform to this tsunami of technological change.