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Dear Subscriber,


This is the third of ISHN's three-part (6/6, 6/13, 6/20) look at applying the economic concept of "creative destruction" to safety and health programs, and the careers of safety and health professionals.

6/6 - Creative Destruction: The Price of Progress

6/13 - Don't Build Safety Programs to Last

6/20 - Cashing In On Chaos

If you want to read all three parts of our "Creative Destruction" series in one file (approximately 4,000 words), email



It's going to be tricky for any safety and health professional - and his or her program - to simply "hang in there" against the arrayed forces of creative destruction:

  • Technology has turned basic industrial hygiene sampling into a push-button exercise. "Yes, even you can do industrial hygiene," reads the headline of a recent trade magazine cover story.

  • Training, recordkeeping, permitting, and MSDS management have been transferred to Web servers for easy downloading. There are consultants who will come out and meet OSHA inspectors at your gate, and answer emergency calls at around-the-clock call centers.

  • OSHA standards-setting has stalled out. The agency's latest regulatory agenda is heavy on reevaluations and small business review panels, light on any final actions. A sign of the times: At the AIHC in Dallas, OSHA chief John Henshaw drew perhaps 60 attendees to a question-and-answer session. Melinda Ballard, an advocate for homeowners affected by mold, drew 700-800 to her Q&A.

  • Dirty, dangerous jobs continue to be exported overseas, or automated. In their place, Wal-Mart greeters, retirement community security guards, and many more less hazardous service jobs multiply.

  • Management systems, like the forthcoming ANSI Z10 voluntary standard for occupational health and safety systems, make the role of the safety and health pro "less critical", in the words of one professional, by requiring managers to provide strong leadership, supervisors to monitor day-to-day activities, and employees to be heavily involved in coaching, communication and problem-solving.

    But creative destruction creates new opportunities as it demolishes old roles and operating methods. At the AIHC, NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard outlined emerging issues that safety and health pros, and their programs, will be forced to address:

    Work Organization

  • How work gets done in businesses - the so-called "organization of work" - now emphasizes speed, decentralized decision-making, greater use of temps and contractors, longer hours, extended shifts, multiple tasking, and greater workloads. U.S. workers' average weekly work hours are now the longest in the developed world.

    "Work organization needs to be promoted as a cohesive field of study," said Howard. "It will force us to reprioritize our current workplace injury and illness goals" because an employee's physical and psychological stability in the midst of radical organization pressures "is critical to his or her survival as a human being."

    Immigrant safety and health

  • "Latino workforce safety is a national issue," said Howard. The challenge will be to develop culturally integrated approaches to workplace safety, he says. Immigrants in total living in the U.S. are projected to increase from 31 million in 2000 to almost 50 million in 2025.

    "How can I be sure that my training is being understood by foreign-born workers to whom English is a second language?" asks one safety pro. "I'm subcontracted to a company that has 90 percent Indian (Asian) employees, five percent West-Indian and five percent Americans. The Indians don't fully understand, read or speak English and the West-Indies speak French/English."

    Health promotion

  • "Without health promotion, occupational safety and health programs will only address part of the 21st century workforce health challenge," said Howard. We need to ensure the "work ability" of the American workforce, he said. Promoting worker behaviors that reduce risks of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, and tobacco-related respiratory diseases will be a focus on the 21st century workplace, said Howard.

    Skyrocketing health care costs are one of the toughest challenges facing Ford Motor Co., Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr. said in a recent speech. Rising prices of health benefits is the "biggest issue on our plate that we can't solve," Ford said.

    Genetic research

  • "Occupational genomics should become of field of interest for every occupational safety and health professional," said Howard. Rising employer health care costs will push the use of genetic profiling to 1) assess a worker's genetic predisposition to occupational illnesses; 2) monitor for adverse genetic changes resulting from workplace exposures; and, 3) perhaps exclude or remove a worker from employment or a particular job requirement.


  • "It has become inescapable that business workplaces are indeed at risk of terrorist workplace violence," said Howard. Business workplaces - in supposedly low-hazard industries such as finance, real estate, and insurance - are targeted for terrorist violence much more often than military, government or diplomatic facilities, he said. Prevention, preparedness, and planning are crucial to ensuring both employee safety and business continuity, he said.

    In early June, the Washington Times reported that an internal CIA report concludes that a likely goal of al Qaeda and related groups is to launch attacks using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. According to the newspaper, the unclassified report identified several deadly toxins and chemicals that al Qaeda could use in attacks, including nerve gases, germ weapons and radiological dispersal devices, also known as "dirty bombs."

    Bioterrorism seminars packed meeting rooms at the AIHC in Dallas. Weapons of mass destruction identification and risk assessment is a new, emerging specialized field, said one speaker.

    Communicable diseases

  • Emerging viruses do not stop at the door of the workplace, said Howard. In fact, sealed indoor offices could be hospitable breeding grounds for communicable diseases. Occupational safety and health professionals need to better understand how communicable diseases such as AIDS, SARS, tuberculosis, and common influenza and cold viruses can be transmitted in the workplace, he said.

    "For too long, we've paid scant attention to the threat that communicable diseases pose to workers and workplace productivity," said Howard.



    OK, what's it take to cash in on creative destruction? To "deconstruct, transform, and rebuild", as one management expert says, careers and programs?

    The goal: Develop safety and health careers, and programs within organizations, that evolve with changes in the marketplace and meet the market's demand for value.

    This requires safety and health pros to be more than record keepers and inspectors, vapor or noise samplers, or OSHA police, says consultant Tom Lawrence.

    Here are some suggestions from students of creative destruction:

  • Like NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard, think ahead. Research and anticipate emerging issues and future shocks. Know which way the gale winds of creative destruction are blowing.

  • Be organized for constant change. Know how to manage information to make sense of large volumes of numbers and words that describe issues and trends.

  • Be organized to innovate. Have a business plan. And a Plan B.

  • Be ready and able to abandon established, customary, familiar, and comfortable products, partners, services, relationships, skills, and organizations.

  • Have the will to conquer. The impulse to fight. The desire to prove yourself superior to competitors.

  • Hone your ability to gather information quickly. To analyze (separate what's important from what's not important), and then communicate what you learn (through writing, speaking, and editing).

  • To expand your knowledge of issues and trends and coming changes, sharpen your listening and questioning skills.

  • Be an information sponge. Soak up news from as many sources as you can find.

  • Be open to change, ready for new circumstances.

  • Use your imagination, creativity, and information-gathering to develop ideas that will position you professionally - and position your safety and health program - to meet the demands of customers (managers, employees, clients, regulators, etc.)

  • Have courage to break with conventional wisdom, to plot your own course.

  • Have courage to make mistakes. Creative destruction guarantees misfortune.

  • Don't fret over being confused. No one has the clear crystal ball these days.

  • Have persistence. Says OSHA chief John Henshaw: "Staying on course requires persistence. As a sailor I know you can't set the direction of the wind. We can deal with sudden storms and hidden hazards provided we remain focused."

  • Doubt the wisdom of the status quo. (Such as climbing that linear career ladder.)

  • Don't get locked into practices that have proven successful in the past. (Common with safety programs that emphasize benchmarking, follow-the-herd thinking, and 30-year-old OSHA standards.)

  • Follow Emerson's insight: Learn self-reliance by relying upon yourself. Rely on your own judgment and abilities. Don't depend on other people (or organizations) to run your life - or career.

  • Your goal is not merely to "hang in there". Creative destruction is too remorseless for that. It forces us to be smart, energetic, and resourceful.


    Dave Johnson is the ISHN E-News editor. He can be reached at, (610) 666-0261; fax (610) 666-1906.


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    Are you a safety and health pro or a manufacturer or provider of occupational safety and health products or services who enjoys writing?

    Shakespeare need not apply, but ISHN is looking for authors to publish short articles (1,000 words) in our monthly issues.

    Topics include: safety success stories, close calls and personal experiences, training tips, use of software, engineering controls (machine guards, lockout-tagout), gas detection and air monitoring, confined space safety, personal protective equipment, and OSHA compliance issues.

    If any of these topics interest you - or if you have other ideas - e-mail editor Dave Johnson at

    We will also consider articles you've already written but not submitted to any safety magazine.