Twenty percent of safety and health professionals say they will be nearing retirement in 2005, according to ISHN’s latest White Paper survey. We need to get serious about this idea of calling it quits and plan for our future — because “retirement” ain’t what it used to be.

Retirement shouldn’t mean turning off all your years of experience as a safety and health pro and giving up your credentials just because you’ve stopped commuting in the morning. Retirement is best done gradually.

In fact, most Baby Boomers say they plan to retire in their late 60s, according to recent polls. And ten percent of current workers say they will retire at 71 or older — or will never retire.

About two-thirds of current workers plan to keep on working after they’ve retired. Most (67 percent) say they just want to keep busy (mental stimulation and challenge), while the rest say they’ll need more money. The ideal working arrangement involves sequencing between work and leisure.

Physically and mentally, people are better prepared to work longer into their life. Life expectancy is now at an all-time high: the average of 77.6 years is a four-month increase over last year.

Retirement generally means working less hours or having more control over the hours you work. If your current full-time job requires 60 hours of work a week, retirement could be seen as scaling required work down to 40 hours a week. Gradually, however, you should plan to work less and less hours until some point where you work no more.

It’s never too early to start planning. Even if you’re young and just starting out, it helps to have a roadmap to guide future career transitions.

What are your options?

With good planning there are many options to work less hours or to gain more control over the hours you must work. Here are ten options to consider for your retirement plans:

  • Start your own consulting business. Limited Liability Corporations (LLC) are just one example for a formal business. They work well for sole proprietorships and businesses with a few employees. My consulting business is just me, for example, and I formed it as an LLC. There are other business structures — partnerships, etc. — that may work, too. There are many sources of help if you plan on starting your own business. For example, see The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) “Counselors to America’s Small Business” at www.score.org. If you form a business, do not neglect obtaining professional and general liability insurance.

  • Seek another job. If your current employer is not senior-friendly seek a job with an employer who values older workers. The list of these employers is growing as Boomers age. An example of such a list is AARP’s new Web page at www.aarp.org/featuredemployers. About 14 percent of ISHN White Paper respondents will actively look for another job in 2005.

  • Look for part-time work. Could you help out your past employer? If you haven’t torched any bridges, you may be a perfect fit to fill in for vacations or other periods when more safety help is needed.

    Another option is hooking up with an employer such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA has an “on-call” safety cadre that responds to presidential-declared disasters. You’ll have to be available about 70 percent of the year and be ready to work away from home for a few weeks at a time, maybe two or three times a year. FEMA is a top-class organization.

    And don’t forget that most of America’s six million workplaces are small, usually too small to afford a full-time safety and health pro. But they may be able to afford someone coming in about once a week to help keep everyone safe.

  • Volunteer. Local safety councils are one example of community groups that need experienced safety and health pros to help them meet their business and service objectives. If you have spare time, make your community safer.

  • Teach. Studies say there may be a lack of qualified teachers in the future. Teaching may be up your alley. And there’s a good chance that there’s a community college or university near where you live.

  • Go back to school. Couldn’t get that degree you wanted when you worked full-time and were busy raising a family? Maybe you just want to keep learning or learn new things. A person is never too old to go back to school. And more academic credentials may help you meet other objectives in your retirement plan.

    About nine percent of White Paper respondents will pursue a graduate degree this year. More than one-third (35.9 percent) will pursue or maintain certification.

  • Serve as an expert witness. By retirement time you’ve likely built up impressive experience and knowledge. The legal community may need your help in determining the validity of workplace-related injury and illness claims. It’s probably not a full-time job but if you’re good, demand for your services could rise.

  • Present professional development courses. If you have a safety and health topic that you can teach to other pros, it might make for a good PDC at regional or national professional conferences sponsored by the American Society of Safety Engineers or the American Industrial Hygiene Association. AIHA, for example, pays about $100 per instructional hour for a PDC. An 8-hour PDC could help pay your way to a vacation spot, too. AIHA’s annual conference is in Anaheim, Calif., this year (hello, Mickey). Don’t overlook giving a PDC outside the U.S.

  • Write. Do you have something you’d like to say or a topic you’d like to explain? You may have the time and desire to write a book. Self-publishing is easier with today’s technology. There are many magazines such as ISHN that recruit writers. You probably won’t get rich writing, but writing is a way of taking concepts and strategies that are in your head and organizing them on paper, perhaps leading to a professional presentation on the topic or a novel consulting niche.

  • Invent. Some of the best-known inventors did their best work in their later years. If your mind has idle time, put it to good use and try to think about how to improve or invent new things. The idea doesn’t have to change the world. Even a small improvement for a common issue would be valuable. Anything is possible.

    All of these options should highlight your interest in safety and health. Focus on what motivates you. Your plan also should pinpoint what needs to be achieved, where, when, and how. Just because you’re more able to “do your own thing” doesn’t mean you should do it ad hoc and without structure. Many retirees say that structure in their lives helps them stay productive.

    Certifications

    Many retiring safety and health pros possess certifications, such as the CSP and CIH. Most of these certifications have a requirement to earn a minimum amount of points in various categories, such as continuing education, over a period of time (usually five years). As you wind down full-time safety and health work, be careful to maintain these points or you risk losing your certification.

    How to maintain your safety and health certifications should be clearly identified in your retirement plans. Talk with your certification body about what you need to do.

    Be safe

    As we age, our bodies are more prone to injuries such as trips and falls. Your retirement plans should include an increased focus on keeping yourself safe and healthy. Maintaining muscle tone and coordination through physical exercise and stretching will become more important.