Federal OSHA is stagnant and ill-prepared to regulate future risks. OSHA has only 1,850 inspectors to cover 8 million U.S. workplaces. OSHA has no regulations for rising concerns such as infectious disease, EMFs, psychosocial hazards, or ergonomics. OSHA regulates only about 600 of the more than 80,000 chemicals that may be used at workplaces – and exposure limits for regulated chemicals are mostly based on decades old toxicological data.  Hazards that OSHA does regulate, such as noise, often provide significantly weaker protections than the U.S.’s peer nations. 

Global gap in OHS best practices 

Voluntary implementation of OHS best practices can solve future risks. U.S. employers, however, have fallen far behind global peers toward voluntary efforts. Conformance to ISO 45001:2018 OHS management systems – requirements with guidance for use is the foundation and gateway for OHS best practices.  

At the end of 2019, the top-10 countries with ISO 45001 certificates included: China (10,213); Italy (3,518); UK (2,954); India (2,812); Spain (1,184); Germany (883); United Arab Emirates (712); Taiwan (676); Republic of Korea (614); and the U.S. (599). Nipping at the heels to overtake the U.S. for the 10th spot are Bulgaria (587); France (524); Japan (540); Singapore (523); and Australia (520).  

The U.S. is the world’s richest country. Why, collectively, even discounting UK with Brexit, does the EU has 20 times more ISO 45001 certificates than the U.S. and China and India, respectively, have 17 and 4 times the number of certificates? The U.S. has more worksites than the entire population of Bulgaria, but Bulgaria is only a dozen 45001 certificates behind the U.S.!  Something is wrong. 

Decline in credential relevance?  

The top U.S. OHS certifications i.e., CIH® and CSP® are struggling for relevance. The CIH® was established by the ABIH in 1960. Academic qualification for the CIH® includes a minimum of a B.S. degree heavy in STEM coursework, plus experience and passing exams. There are just under 7,000 active CIHs with about 500 certifications being held outside the U.S. Fewer than 300 new CIHs are awarded annually. This low number may not replace the number of CIHs retiring in coming years.  

The Certified Safety Professional CSP® was established by the BCSP in 1969. The CSP® requires a B.S. degree in any field, plus experience and passing exams. In 2018, there were 18,803 active CSPs. In 2019, BCSP issued 9,387 new safety credentials but only 1,601 at the CSP top level. The CSP is no longer the credential of choice among U.S. OHS pros that seek BCSP credentials. Why is this so?  

Success with credentials outside OHS 

The number one fundamental canon (ethics) for engineers, per the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) is, “Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.” An ethic very similar to what a CSP® must abide. There are more than 800,000 licensed Professional Engineers (PEs) in the United States. In 2018, 94,729 B.S., M.S. and PhD engineering degrees were awarded and join thousands of Engineers-in-Training biding their time until they can sit for the PE exam. The educational pipeline keeps feeding the profession. In 2018, there were 794,876 full-time students enrolled in undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral engineering degree programs in the U.S.  

The CIH® may be considered the top workplace “health” credential. Nursing is the nation’s largest healthcare profession, with more than 3.8 million registered nurses (RNs) nationwide, per the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). RNs require a minimum of a B.S. degree heavy in STEM coursework. Employment of RNs is projected to grow annually by 15% to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations, per AANP. Among the primary ethics for RNs include the safety and health of the patient that may be accomplished by health promotion and disease prevention.   

Association success outside of OHS 

PE and RN credentials feed membership into associations. For example, in 1985, a small group of nurse practitioners (NPs) (Note: NPs must be RNs who have specialized graduate education) believed it was time that NPs have a unified voice. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) was established that now represents the interests of more than 290,000 NPs nationwide.  Unified voice is just one tool associations have at their disposal. Membership brings in money. The Michigan chapter of the NSPE, for example, has a scholarship fund at nearly one quarter-million dollars. 

OHS association struggles 

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) was established in 1911. During a 2018 rebranding initiative, the “E” was dropped from the society’s name and “P” for professional was added. Few of ASSP’s members have an engineering degree. ASSP’s membership today is just under 40,000 – the largest OHS member organization. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) was established in 1939. In 2020, AIHA rebranded. Today, “AIHA” is a logo for public recognition and the letters are not associated with words. AIHA members today are encouraged to title themselves “Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety Professionals.” AIHA has about 10,000 members.  ASSP and AIHA have rebranded, no small task, to be more inclusive – hoping to keep alive the vitality and relevance of each association.  

How does all this impact you? 

When OHS excellence declines in the U.S., everyone is worse off. Families suffer. Our nation’s goodwill suffers. Eventually, the decline will diminish prestige, power, and pay for OHS pros. Volunteer associations such as ASSP and AIHA are doing their best to restore OHS excellence but their efforts face enormous challenge.  

Causes for OHS malaise in the U.S. are complex, multifaceted, and not fully understood – but as briefly demonstrated in this article, they do exist. Every OHS practitioner and interested party should be an involved stakeholder that seeks excellence.  

Next month’s article will offer suggestions for a brighter OHS future. Suggestions may be controversial. Many OHS practitioners, for example, have gone through a business acquisition or divestiture. What if ASSE and AIHA merge beyond alliance? Redundancy and who steps aside can be resolved. Contact me if you have suggestions to restore and further OHS excellence.