W hat’s the state of mind of safety and health pros heading into 2004? How are safety and health programs faring in this sluggish economy and era of de-emphasized OSHA standards-setting?

To find out, we surveyed nearly 2,000 ISHN subscribers in August. We received responses from 494, for a 25 percent response rate. Here are some of the highlights from our 20th annual White Paper survey of safety and health issues and trends.

Mature demographics — The field is graying. Two-thirds of safety and health professionals surveyed are between ages 40 and 60. Thirty percent report they are nearing retirement.

Money’s tight — In 2003, most safety and health budgets (57 percent) were flat, with no reported increases or cuts in spending. Additional monies found their way into about one in five budgets, and money was cut out of one in five budgets, too.

Few new hires — In 2003, only 12 percent of the pros surveyed expanded their staff size. Many were consultants. Almost 70 percent kept their staffs intact, with no cuts. Eighteen percent of those surveyed did report headcount trimming.

Focus on the dollars — Heading into 2004, 67 percent of respondents report their companies will give extra attention to trying to corral stampeding healthcare costs. In fact, half of all pros surveyed report controlling healthcare costs will be the number one EHS-related priority next year.

Securing workplaces — The other top priority in 2004 will be tightening workplace security — three in five pros say their company will put more effort into securing the workplace and upgrading emergency response capabilities.

Promoting health — With healthcare costs skyrocketing, it’s no surprise that almost half (47 percent) of safety and health pros believe health promotion and wellness programs are among the most important implements in their EHS toolkit.

Whither OSHA? — Workers’ compensation costs have supplanted OSHA compliance as the number one driver of employer commitment to job safety and health. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed point to comp costs as a main driver (up from 41 percent in 1993), while OSHA compliance is cited by 47 percent.

Beyond injury rates — The focus on costs probably is a reason more pros are looking for ways to measure safety and health performance beyond injury rates. More than half (52 percent) will increase their emphasis on non-traditional performance metrics in 2004.

Jumping online — The biggest change coming in 2004, in terms of tools selected for safety and health programs, is greater use of online training. Fifty-four percent of pros surveyed will boost their use of online safety training.

BBS interest — With most budgets flat, there are indications money is shifting from behavior-based safety efforts into health promotion. One-third of those surveyed will increase BBS efforts in 2004, compared to 46 percent investing more time and money in health and wellness programs. Interest in BBS as a top priority remains steady, while health and wellness moves to the top of many priority lists.

Dollars over values — Only one-third of the pros polled say the leadership of their CEO is a primary force behind safety and health commitment. (Maybe it’s that revolving door in the corner office.) Forty-one percent point to company values and principles. Stronger influences are the need to control comp costs (56 percent) and safety and health benefits to quality, productivity and morale, cited by 43 percent.

Money conscious — We asked pros to name the biggest changes in the safety and health field in the past decade: 1) More focus on health and wellness; 2) More management interest in safety and health; 3) More safety and health work handled by line employees and/or consultants. All three trends can be traced to the need to control expenses everywhere in an organization in order to compete.

Secure but unsatisfied — Despite round after round of workforce downsizing, only 22 percent of pros report they are worried about job security. Only about one in ten are actively looking for another job. One in five say they have hit a career plateau. Only 31 percent feel a rewarding sense of job satisfaction, down from 38 percent in 2001.

Look for more results from ISHN’s 20th annual White Paper survey in the December and January issues.