Creative Destruction - Part 2
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CREATIVE DESTRUCTION - Part 2
This is the second 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
FROZEN IN TIME
Capitalism can never be stationary, economist Joseph Schumpeter argued. Closer to home, neither can safety and health professional careers, nor safety and health programs. But progress can be stifled by a sort of cultural brain freeze. Instead of evolving, programs, rules, attitudes and decision-making processes are frozen in place.
This is what happened to many (not all) safety and health programs, and professional careers, when OSHA came along in 1971. Be careful what you ask for. Many pros greeted OSHA with the rallying cry, "Our Savior Has Arrived." But the savior turned into an employment safety net for many pros, inhibiting innovation and promoting a lackadaisical compliance-only mindset.
For the better part of 30 years, OSHA insulated and protected many safety and health pros from having to compete for resources and influence within their organizations. Pros were shielded from change, from creative destruction. It was nice ride. Many new safety and health jobs were created. Careers were predictable and secure. And OSHA's standards and penalties definitely had a positive effect, helping to clean up many workplaces and lower injury, illness, and fatality rates.
But numerous pros came to rely on the protective comfort, the safety net, of the government, rather than on their own wits. OSHA ran the show. And pros learned only to depend on rules and regs, interpretations and directives, and the fear of getting caught to sell their managers and promote their programs.
Programs were locked into OSHA compliance. There was no pressure to innovate. But the government's shield left pros, and their programs, vulnerable. When political pressures forced regulators to retrench in the 1990s, professionals and their programs were exposed to the brute realities of creative destruction - intense internal company cost-cutting campaigns, competition for resources, and an ongoing need to prove your worth.
Shock waves are still being felt throughout the safety and health world.
SURVIVAL OF THE SAVVIEST
Creative destruction's harsh regenerative process produces casualties - always. In the profession's ranks, call it safety and health Darwinism. Just listen to these pros discuss the profession's downsizing:
"A significant number of people that had safety jobs should never have been there in the first place," says consultant Carl Metzgar, CSP. "Since they weren't doing anything in the first place, eliminating their job didn't hurt anything."
"Perhaps those that got laid off were not really passionate about the profession," says Mark Hansen, CSP, president of the American Society of Safety Engineers. "The ones remaining sometimes work at a faster rate and a higher standard of quality. I've seen achievers perform at three to four times the pace of those just putting in time."
Progress comes at a price. "Companies are finally starting to view safety as a functional area that can be managed just like productivity, quality and cost," says safety engineer A.J. DeRose, CSP. "Companies have pushed safety responsibilities traditionally handled by the safety department out into operations. We've always said safety must be a line responsibility, I just don't think we realized that this would thin out the herd of safety professionals in the process."
Consultant Chip Dawson says he has a number of manufacturing clients where there is no full-time safety pro. Instead, a strong organizational culture values and supports safety.
He draws a comparison to the quality movement. As organizations learned more and more about how to manage quality in the 1980s and early 90s, responsibility for quality shifted to supervisors and line operators, away from quality departments. Quality generally improved, just as injury and illness rates have improved nationally. But the number of people with the word "quality" in their title declined, according to Dawson.
Behavior-based safety, OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program, and ISO-like safety and health management systems have had a similar effect on safety titles. All have dramatically grown in popularity in the past decade. And all engage employee teams for traditional safety jobs like auditing, investigations, policy-setting, and finding and fixing hazards.
One example: Promotion for the 2003 Behavioral Science Technology Annual User Conference asked "Who to send?" At many sites, said BST, "observers, supervisors, union leaders, and managers attend, along with the steering team." What about safety pros? Sure, they were represented, but not in the number of non-technical rank and file workers and supervisors.
PLAN FOR DISRUPTION
It's inevitable. No industry, organization, professional society, group of professionals, heck, even a regulatory agency like OSHA, can hide from creative destruction.
U.S. automakers endured creative destruction when Toyota and the other Japanese imports hit the market with better manufacturing processes and better and cheaper cars in the 1980s. IBM's loss was Microsoft's gain. Word processors sent typewriters to the Smithsonian, just ask Smith Corona. One-time stock darlings Lucent, Nortel, Motorola and other telecoms have shed thousands of jobs to stay viable. Airlines are now asking for federal protection from the gale winds of creative destruction.
In 1987, Forbes magazine published its original "Forbes 100" list from 1917. Of those, 61 no longer existed. Only 18 corporations were still in Forbes' top 100 list 60 years later, including Kodak, DuPont, General Electric, Ford, General Motors, and Procter & Gamble.
These companies survived, as Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan point out in their book, "Creative Destruction", but they did not perform. The authors conclude, based on years of research, that even the most admired and best-run companies are unable to earn a return for their investors that outperforms the overall market for more than ten to fifteen years.
The same can be said for probably most safety and health programs. How many will outperform national or industry injury and illness averages for longer than ten to fifteen years? Even DuPont's venerable safety program saw a spike in rates in the early 1990s that company officials attributed to a loss of focus. Many safety programs reach plateaus, lose energy, and coast.
And the same can be said for careers. How many careers today will follow an unimpeded, upward projectory for 30 or 40 years? "Maybe we safety professionals have done our job so well that we've worked ourselves out of a job," says Margaret Carroll, CSP, a consultant in New Mexico.
The lesson? Safety and health programs, and careers, should not be constructed simply to survive. That's how programs and careers become overly cautious, risk wary, and outmoded. Accept creative destruction, and design your program and your career to be adaptable. Don't get locked into convention. Too many safety programs and careers have cruised along on old attitudes and rules until reality bites and a newly-hired, hassled and harried manager asks: What's your value to the bottom line?
"We must show that safety is an important business function that positively affects profits and losses," says A.J. DeRose. "Now it's all about demonstrating our value to the business."
Excerpt from Part 3 next week -
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.
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.
If you want to read all three parts of our "Creative Destruction" series in one file (approximately 4,000 words), email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Johnson is the ISHN E-News editor. He can be reached at email@example.com, (610) 666-0261; fax (610) 666-1906.
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