Research workshop ignites effort to improve workplace safety
Additional scientific research and a broad sharing of existing data are needed by safety and health practitioners across the country to better protect workers in every industry, according to the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). That’s why ASSE brought together dozens of industry leaders and safety experts recently for a research workshop aimed at creating a new wave of progress.
“Workplace safety has plateaued over the past decade when you look at the numbers, so we are pursuing a collaborative and sustainable research agenda that can fill gaps in our body of knowledge and help us move the needle,” said ASSE President Jim Smith, M.S., CSP. “Putting more evidence-based data into the hands of safety professionals will enable them to better design and execute safety and health management programs, which keep people alive and healthy on the job.”
The interactive workshop involved more than 40 leaders from business, professional organizations, academia and government. The industries represented included insurance, construction, oil and gas, manufacturing, transportation, healthcare and technology. Through presentations and breakout sessions, attendees discussed the needs of safety and health researchers, identified gaps in existing research, and explored how new research could help provide solutions in real-world business settings. The networking event also encouraged the formation of alliances to sponsor and advance evidence-based practices in a field with limited resources.
“The safety and health community is not highly involved in research, causing gaps in data and increasing the need for more focused studies,” said ASSE member and workshop presenter Joel Haight, industrial engineering professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. “But the bigger problem is the dissemination of existing data. We need a mechanism that places peer-reviewed scientific research at the fingertips of safety and health professionals who can positively impact workplace safety.”
More research in the safety and health arena would also drive standards development and provide proof for the most effective workplace safety interventions. ASSE expects to distribute a report this fall that summarizes this first research workshop and announces next steps. A second research workshop is possible in the spring.
The research workshop was building on the working research agenda that was created in 2016 by ASSE and the ASSE Foundation. The three areas of focus in that document are to (1) validate the effectiveness of occupational safety and health management systems, (2) demonstrate that increasing the quality of safety interventions improves workplace safety and health outcomes as well as company performance, and (3) provide employers with a better understanding of the value of integrating overall worker wellness with occupational safety and health.
“Safety and health research not only provides new information where good data is lacking, it also creates opportunities for debate and challenge that lead to new understandings of how to best reduce workplace injuries and illnesses,” Smith said. “Let's give safety practitioners the tools they need to be successful.”