The 1990s have been something of a let down for the environmental health and safety field. After the heady regulatory days of the 1980s-remember hazard communication, asbestos removal, and community right-to-know?-the profession's growth seemed to grind to a halt. Stagnation has been blamed on downsizing, outsourcing, and less aggressive regulators.

But as the decade nears its end, the EHS profession looks to be in pretty good shape. At least that's how you could read the results of our 14th annual White Paper survey on issues and trends in the EHS field. Here's a summary of the findings. More details will follow in our December and January issues.

Positive signs

  • Only 7 percent of respondents report that their budget was cut in 1997. That's down from the 12 percent that reported cuts in 1996.
  • In manufacturing industries, only 5 percent of EHS pros report budget cutbacks this year.
  • Across all industries surveyed (manufacturing, process, construction, government, and consulting services), 30 percent of respondents report that their budgets increased this year. That's the same percentage as in 1996.
  • In manufacturing, one in every three respondents is working with more funds this year.
  • 55 percent of all respondents say they have enough resources to accomplish their EHS goals. 65 percent of those in the construction industry and 59 percent in manufacturing feel this way.

Time crunch

But responses are different when the question is: "Do you have enough time to accomplish your EHS goals?" Only 27 percent say they have the time they need. In manufacturing industries, only 22 percent say time is not a problem. The time crunch might be one reason why 63 percent of respondents say the safety and industrial hygiene professional organizations should merge. One benefit: fewer meetings to attend.


Staffing is a different story, too. 16 percent of all respondents say their EHS staff levels have increased in 1997. 12 percent report cutbacks. That's up from the 8 percent that reported staff cuts in 1996.

In manufacturing, 12 percent of respondents added to staff, and 10 percent reduced headcount. The greatest increase in staffing occurred in construction, where 17 percent of respondents hired personnel.


Not surprisingly, there appears to be a connection between staffing and outsourcing activity. Compensating for lean staffs is the outsourcing trend, which is very much alive and well. 20 percent of all respondents increased EHS outsourcing in 1997, while only 5 percent cut back. In manufacturing, 22 percent sent more work to contractors; 4 percent reduced the amount of work going outside. In process industries, 25 percent increased outsourcing, and 7 percent did less of it.

Environmental management continues to be a prime outsourcing candidate. 26 percent of environmental professionals report more work going to contractors in 1997; only 6 percent scaled back on outside work.

Performance levels

Outsourcing doesn't seem to be hurting companies' safety and health performance. 53 percent of all respondents say their injury and illness rates in 1997 are better than a year ago. Only 7 percent say their rates are worse.

Last year, 53 percent reported better rates compared to 1995, and 10 percent said their rates were worse.

Some industries are doing better than this average. 60 percent of respondents in manufacturing and construction, and 62 percent in process industries, report improved injury and illness rates in 1997.

This performance improvement is impressive, given that many plants are running full bore. The trend toward 24/7-24-hour continuous operations, seven days a week-bears this out. So do safety supply distributors around the country who report that their customers are having very profitable years.

The health of the economy is likely the single-biggest reason why most EHS departments have the resources they need. For the first time in U.S. history, the economy has rolled along for 15 years with only one minor recession. The Gross Domestic Product is humming at a 3.3 percent growth rate, unemployment is just 4.9 percent, and consumer prices are rising at only 2.2 percent.

Sense of confidence

This contributes to a sense of confidence among EHS pros not seen in White Paper research in years. For example, almost one in every two pros (49 percent) expects to experience a rewarding sense of job satisfaction in 1998. Last year, that percentage was 41 percent. Two years ago, only 33 percent talked about rewarding job satisfaction.

For another sign of confidence, look at how respondents answer this question: "If OSHA went away, if unions went away, and frivolous lawsuits went away, do you think your company would keep your EHS staff at the same level?" 58 percent say, "Yes, it would remain the same." In manufacturing, almost two in every three (65 percent) respondents believe their departments would remain intact without the leverage of OSHA, unions, or threat of lawsuits. (Still, the notion that one-third of all EHS staffs would be cut without the benefit of outside pressure is not comforting.)

Respondents who say their primary job function is industrial hygiene are not as bullish. 60 percent of the IHs say their staffs would be reduced if OSHA, unions, and lawsuits went away. This could be because most of the IHs surveyed work in the government sector or as consultants-the two groups that show the most concern about EHS life without traditional leverage, according to the survey.

Industrial hygiene

Still, the survey points to an improving career outlook for IHs. 30 percent of the IHs surveyed say they will worry about job security in 1998; that's down from 37 percent this year. 25 percent will consider a career change next year, down from 29 percent; and 30 percent plan to hunt for a new job in 1998, compared to 34 percent this year.

Job security & stability

Across the board, 23 percent of all EHS pros surveyed have job security concerns heading into 1998; that's down from 26 percent a year ago. Another sign of stability: Last year 22 percent of those surveyed said they'd be looking for a new job; heading in 1998, 19 percent will be job shopping.

To be sure, the percentage differences year-to-year are minor. But when a number of indicators point in the same direction-as they do in this year's research with bigger budgets, performance improvements, and job satisfaction, combined with fewer job concerns and less job hopping-the overall trend is encouraging for a profession that has taken its lumps in recent years.

Optimistic outlook

Most forecasters see no reason why the economy won't continue to roll along in 1998, and most survey respondents are equally optimistic about their EHS departments. For example:
  • Only 8 percent expect budget cuts next year-the lowest percentage reported in White Paper surveys in years. Only 4 percent of those surveyed in manufacturing are anticipating cutbacks.
  • 33 percent of all those surveyed will work with more dollars next year; the remainder foresee no change in their budgets. The greatest number of budget increases is reported by respondents in the process industries, where 42 percent say they'll have more funding next year.
  • Only 7 percent of all respondents are expecting staff layoffs in 1998-again, the lowest percentage reported in years. In 1996, for instance, 16 percent expected layoffs.

A tight lid will continue to be kept on headcounts. 78 percent of respondents say staff size will remain the same in their departments.

Who's hiring?

So who is hiring? Consultants lead the pack, with more than one in four (22 percent) expecting to add to staff in 1998. 15 percent of respondents in construction and 13 percent in manufacturing say they'll be hiring. Large facilities (with more than 1,000 employees) will be recruiting more than any other size operation-18 percent of respondents in large outfits plan to add staff. But 12 percent will be laying off EHS people, also the highest of any facility size.

Consultants will be picking up personnel because outsourcing shows no sign of abating. Next year, 21 percent of all respondents expect to increase outsourcing, and only 4 percent will cut back. In manufacturing, the trend is even more pronounced: 26 percent will send more work outside, and a scant 1 percent will reduce outsourcing. With tight staffing practices and greater use of outsourcing it's clear that one tactic businesses are using to sustain growth is unrelenting cost control.