No one is keeping track of how many people in safety and health positions are being laid off due to mergers and acquisitions in the business world. But you might identify some disturbing trends if you simply evaluate recent deals in your local area. In the Toledo, Ohio, area where I live, three M&A deals in the past 12 months cost eight safety and health professionals their jobs. Someone determined these professionals (more specifically, their positions) were redundant in the new, larger organizations.

The impact, however, is greater than just the net loss of eight safety and health positions. One of the deals offered jobs to six safety professionals - provided they leave Maryland and join the new headquarters in Toledo. They all turned down the offer. So these three M&A deals displaced 14 safety and health professionals. See the trend?

This is the first of two articles discussing the impact of mergers and acquisitions on people working in the safety and health field. This article summarizes M&A activities, trends, and the potential risks we all face. Next month's article will provide recommendations on how you can prepare to meet these risks.

Merger mania

The buying and selling of businesses has reached unprecedented levels and continues to climb higher. More than 11,000 M&A transactions occurred in the U.S. in 1997. In 1998, the dollar value of M& A activity roughly equaled the combined value of all the deals that took place between 1990 and 1996.

A robust stock market and favorable accounting practices have fueled this boom. In a strong bull market, as we've seen throughout most of the '90s, companies are able to use their richly valued stock to help buy other companies. Also, an accounting method called "pooling of interests" is used to make M&A deals appear good to investors. In 1998, nine of the ten largest deals were classified as pooling of interests.

M&A activity should remain strong even if the stock market weakens. One reason is that the Financial Accounting Standards Board will stop the use of the pooling of interests accounting practice in January, 2001. Deregulation and global market strategies are other factors that may help keep M&A activity humming in coming years.

There's nothing new about buying and selling businesses, of course. But there is something different today about how these deals come off. In the past, mergers and acquisitions were likely to resemble the old television series, The Brady Bunch. Companies consolidated to become one big family. Today, as we know, there are few "big families." Primarily as a result of M&A activities, layoffs announced in 1998 were the highest so far this decade - nearly 678,000 employees.

Generally, jobs in the service industry absorbed these layoffs. Employment in manufacturing continues to shrink. Survivors of M&A deals may count their blessings, but for how long? First, their workload will probably increase. Second, and more importantly, people in the acquired company will likely lose power and programs.

Forget any honeymoon. Acquiring companies must quickly demonstrate to investors that positive changes are being made. That beloved program that you toiled to build and that's working so well - if you're in the purchased company it's liable to be gone.

Perhaps you can accept the reality of mergers and acquisitions by saying, "It's just business and nothing personal." Deep inside, though, it's the most personal thing a business can do to an employee. People displaced by an M&A deal have their lives turned upside down. Families are wounded, friends are hurt, communities may suffer.

Further down the road, several years perhaps, we might even see more disruption and displacement. Why? Towers Perrin, an international management consultant firm, reports that nearly half of announced mergers fail and 30 to 50 percent of all acquisitions are eventually divested.

Are you next?

In today's business climate, everything is for sale or can be bought. It doesn't matter if your company is tiny or huge, weak or strong. Although "for sale" signs are not usually stabbed in the front yard of a business, there are web sites that generically list businesses, by product line and state, that they are for sale. For example, if you visit and, you will find more than 10,000 businesses that are up for sale. Is one of them your employer?

Next month we'll talk about how to prepare for the risk of an M&A. There can be an upside to these deals. Opportunities may present themselves when you're in the midst of an M&A transaction.

By Dan Markiewicz, MS, CIH, CSP, CHMM. Dan provides environmental, health & safety consulting services through his home-based business. He can be reached at (419) 382-6696;