Glassdoor ranked the position “Safety Manager” among the “50 Best Jobs in America for 2019.”1 The #1 Best Job in America for the past four years, according to Glassdoor, is “Data Scientist.” Data scientists’ base salary is one-third higher, at $108,000, with three-times the job openings (over 6,500) compared to “Safety Manager.”

Data scientist

The term “data scientist” was coined in 2008. In 2009, Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist and UC Berkeley professor of information sciences, business, and economics, predicted that “The ability to take data – to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract from it, to visualize it, to communicate it – that’s going to be hugely important skill in the next decades.” 

Wikipedia defines data science as a “multi-disciplinary field that uses scientific methods, processes, algorithms and systems to extract knowledge and insights from structured and unstructured data.” What data science truly is, or what a data scientist truly does, however, is hard to pin down.

OHS data science

Safety managers have been part-time data scientists for decades as required by law -- OSHA 300 Log and breakdown of OSHA 301 statistics. Establishing lagging and leading key performance indicators for injury and illness reporting and trend analysis is an ongoing and longtime best practice objective at most workplaces.

Applying Bayesian analysis statistics for industrial hygiene is not limited to the skills of a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). ISO 31000:2018 (2009 update) risk management guidelines and techniques such as fault tree analysis, root cause analysis, FEMA, HAZOP and many other risk assessment techniques are critical OHS data science predictive tools routinely applied by safety and health managers as best practices and to comply with legal requirements, such as OSHA 1910.119 Process Safety Management.

Today’s needs

Amazon, a leader in data science, is recruiting for an EHS Data Scientist to join their Worldwide Environmental, Health and Safety (WW-EHS) organization. Per the job announcement, Amazon WW-EHS is: “Changing the way we think about our workplace, so that we can keep our associates healthy and safe, while also protecting the environment. We have just started scratching the surface in terms of possibilities and are exploring everything from using devices to monitor and improve health, to linking together data from our buildings and devices to predict safety-related events.” 

Like Amazon, many companies may have to change the way they think about workplace health, safety and the environment. For example, Apple Watch OS coming September 2019 will include a standard feature to detect and alert users of noise above 90 dB for 30 seconds.  How will this data be used, misused or managed? 

Context data

OHS data science being sought today should include “Context of the organization” audit criteria data described in ISO 45001:2018 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems – Requirements with guidance for use. OHSMS context must consider external issues such as:

  1. Cultural, social, political, legal, financial, technological, economic and natural surroundings and market competition, whether international, national, regional or local;
  2. Introduction of new competitors, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, partners and providers, new technologies, new laws and emergence of new occupations;
  3. New knowledge on products and their effect on health and safety;
  4. Key drivers and trends relevant to the industry or sector having impact on the organization;
  5. Relationships with, as well as perceptions and values of, its external interested parties; and,
  6. Changes in relation to any of the above.

Is Data Scientist “emergence of new occupations” or the latest Apple Watch OS “new technologies” that must be considered for an ISO 45001 OHSMS?  See issue 2. Consider issues 1-6 as an aggregate of infinite and disconnected data to consider. The data-related skills predicted to be crucial by Google’s Varian in “the next decades” are being sought now.

Accurate vs precise data

Fake news (or data) is the rage today. Legitimacy is subjective based upon the definition of accuracy and precision. Accuracy means that a target, that may be huge, was hit. Precision means hitting a narrow bullseye. OHS pros must always determine if data is precise.

Consider the opening sentence in this article. Is “Safety Manager” one of the “50 Best Jobs in America” for 2019? Using Glassdoor’s target and website analytics that include job satisfaction, openings and median base salary, the answer is yes.

But is the statement precise? The 2018 BLS Standard Occupational Classification includes about 850 defined occupations in the U.S. Is safety management, using your knowledge and experience, truly among the top five percent of best jobs in America today? If you’re doubtful, you’re probably correct. Precise means we must consider data comprehensively. Acting only on a fraction of data is problematic. Failing to achieve desired objectives becomes probable. This is an issue today with endless data and limited time.

Communication skills

One of the basic qualifications for Amazon’s EHS Data Scientist position is, “Top notch communication skills, to convey key insights from complex analysis.” There’s concern that communication skills among younger OHS pros is waning, according to members of my alma mater graduate school advisory council. How should someone act on this limited data? Be alert but cautious about suggestions for expanded studies.

Best practice

The “data” in this article illustrates that OHS programs, broader OHS management systems, and particularly OHS professional job expectations are evolving. Change is constant and rapid. How does the addition of 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created just today impact OHS? How does OHS achieve desired objectives using vast data and implementation of new best practices? We have just started scratching the surface in terms of possibilities, according to Amazon.