Downsizing, outsourcing, regulatory reform -no one has to tell you these are fast-changing, uncertain times. What's it going to take to make it as a health and safety professional in the future? Here are thought-provoking views from three respected authorities in the field.

Surviving into the next millennium

By Dr. Richard D. Fulwiler, CIH

Will the occupational health and safety profession survive into the next millennium? Dumb question, you say. Of course it will survive, you answer. Allow me to indulge in an analysis of the forces shaping the fortunes of occupational health and safety professionals as we head into the next millennium.

Obviously, we will survive in some form or another. But this is the issue: Will occupational health and safety professionals be major players in the next several years or will we lose stature, importance and relevance? We cannot be complacent -there is simply too much "churn in the system."

Said another way, we will decide our own fate.

Here are five factors that drive our profession's growth and survival: ·

  • Values and Principles: Value- and principle-driven businesses recognize their responsibility to provide a healthy and safe workplace for their employees. Having said this, these same enterprises do not always deliver results that reflect their values and principles. They need capable, competent and committed occupational health and safety professionals to achieve their value- and principle-driven objectives. ·
  • Technology Empowerment: In the environmental arena, "prevention" tends to mean "eliminate from commerce." That same word in occupational health and safety means to harness hazardous chemicals, physical agents, and the like in a way that enables business and society to benefit from their use. Do we see ourselves as technology facilitators? Do our employers value us in this role? ·
  • High Performance Work Systems: Very much in vogue, these systems are a spin-off of Japanese quality circles. They leverage the innate capability and commitment of people to achieve improved quality and productivity. To succeed, though, you must have trust and commitment -building blocks that are best nurtured in an environment where safety and the well-being of employees are part of the culture. Occupational health and safety professionals are key players in supporting the new work systems so vital to the success of American business in a global economy. ·
  • Regulatory Compliance: OSHA has been a significant factor in improving the quality of work life in America. Even in enlightened enterprises driven by values and principles, regulatory compliance is a factor in creating better safety and health conditions. ·
  • The Bottom Line: Do your managers see occupational health and safety as a staff-cost liability or a business-building asset? As professionals, our profile, importance, recognition and rewards ebb and flow depending on this perception. Occupational health and safety clearly impacts the bottom line. Our contributions optimize employee output, enable hazardous technology to build the business, and remove non-value added costs from the system (such as workers' compensation, business interruption, and re-training).

Now here are four factors that diminish occupational health and safety -perhaps even hastening its demise: ·

  • Integration into Risk Management: Many companies are integrating occupational health and safety into a general risk management function. This diminishes our focus, identity, and stature. Integrated risk management is not a bad concept. But it behooves us to make the hard sell to prevent the demise or erosion of the occupational health and safety program. Do you have the necessary management and leadership skills to survive an integration initiative? ·
  • Restructuring American Business: Restructuring is essential for global competitiveness, but it can mean eliminating in-house health and safety professionals and outsourcing services. Unfortunately, this drives the health and safety program more into a problem-solving mode and away from an integrated management systems approach. Said another way, outsourcing health and safety is less likely to build an infrastructure that will drive sustained results. It's more apt to be reactive, using consultants to fix problems. ·
  • Organized Labor: Until recently, unions played a key role driving occupational health and safety. But now they represent a diminishing percentage of the work force (16 percent today versus 25 percent 40 years ago), reducing their impact. Today, and I expect tomorrow, organized labor must deal with its own survival. It will have a difficult time keeping its eye on health and safety while fighting to survive. To be sure, organized labor is not giving up on worker health and safety, but I do not expect unions to play as strong a role heading into the next millennium as they did in the 1980s. ·
  • Regulatory Compliance: In the evolving political environment, budget cuts are already eliminating funding for training and education so vitally needed to keep the pipeline of competent and well-trained professionals full. A smaller, more consultative OSHA will not drive health and safety. It will take us back to what was in place prior to OSHA -a disoriented, inequitable, and ineffective morass of state regulation. This is not a happy picture for this country's work force or occupational health and safety professionals. It's not a given that occupational health and safety will "prosper" and the quality of work life in America will improve as we move toward the next millennium. It is up to us to make the difference. Ironically, we won't succeed by being better scientists or technologists.

    We must: o

  • Increase our effectiveness to lead, influence, or if necessary, intervene for essential change. o
  • Enable the safe use of hazardous technologies by becoming an integral part of product development and manufacturing. o
  • Build trust and commitment into work teams. o
  • Support an effective federal regulatory process. o
  • Ensure that occupational health and safety is seen as a business-building asset, not a staff-cost liability, by integrating health and safety into the "business of the business."

Dr. Richard D. Fulwiler is president of Technology Leadership Associates, Cincinnati, Ohio. Prior to forming this training and consulting firm, he capped a 28-year career in health and safety at Procter & Gamble as director of health and safety worldwide.

Accepting the challenge

By Richard F. Boggs, Ph.D.

As professionals in the field of industrial hygiene, we will continue to experience major changes that will impact each and every one of us. Are we willing to accept these challenges? Only time will tell!

I'd like to begin a thought process by mentioning three words that few forget from Industrial Hygiene 101: recognition, evaluation, and control. In fact, I took these words from the introductory chapter of "The Industrial Environment -its Evaluation and Control," prepared by George Clayton. We need to apply these "basics" of industrial hygiene to the future of the profession. ·

  • Recognition: The boards of directors, officers and leaders of the American Academy of Industrial Hygiene, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists have identified a number of important areas that must be addressed by each of us as we prepare for our future growth and mission. ·
  • Evaluation: We must carefully consider the many issues on the table today, keeping in mind the implications for each of us as individuals, for our profession, and for American business and American employees. ·
  • Control: We can control our own destiny! With proper input by each of us through our respective committees and organizations we can make a difference.

Public sector changes

Now let's consider changes in the public and private sectors, and in the industrial hygiene field, that demand our attention. First, before discussing the future of government programs and direction, let's look briefly at the past. Until the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, most industrial hygiene and occupational health efforts were voluntary in nature. They were primarily directed by individual states or the U.S. Public Health Services Bureau of Occupational Health and its predecessor, the Division of Occupational Health.

In 1970, the U.S. Congress and President Nixon recognized the need for a central focus at the federal level. This was done " assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources." OSHA and NIOSH were established to carry out the congressional mandate.

Few would argue that this mandate has not been fulfilled. Yet, each of the assistant secretaries at OSHA and directors at NIOSH has tried different approaches. For reasons that most of us know, these efforts have often been unsuccessful, and hindsight is almost always better than foresight. We have seen too much friction, bitterness and extreme animosity.

But a new day has dawned. As industrial hygienists, it is no longer "business as usual." We've seen labor introduce its OSHA reform legislation and after years of debate, it failed. Business-supported OSHA reform bills are now being discussed on Capitol Hill and they too may never make it through the legislative process.

Concurrently, the assistant secretary is working to reinvent and restructure OSHA. Efforts include developing so-called "building block" standards, eliminating out-of-date rules, involving stakeholders in the OSHA processes, and establishing more common sense approaches to enforcement. Will reinvention succeed? Who knows!

It's clear that OSHA and NIOSH are in trouble. It's also clear that "Washington doesn't always know what's best." The federal agencies can't do it all. They must respond to both employee and employer concerns. And they must promote voluntary cooperation if their mandate is to be met.

Private sector changes

As professionals, our future direction must also reflect drastic changes in the business world. While the government has only recently addressed "surviving in a competitive environment," the private sector has been facing draconian changes for the past five to ten years -and it isn't over yet. We must confront the pervasive effects of downsizing. We must also adapt to the significant shift from our nation's long-standing industrial base to a service economy. As industrial hygienists, we need to expand our horizons from our earlier traditional industrial knowledge to the broad concerns of an expanded business environment.

And we can no longer try to convince senior management that a good health and safety program is the socially responsible thing to do. We must show that our efforts add value and that, in fact, safety pays. We must show "bottom line" improvement. We can if we put our mind to it!

We can also show that our efforts may save jobs. We often forget a major part of that frequently mentioned quote from the OSH Act: " assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources." This includes saving jobs for our employees, including management!

Finally, many if not most companies have combined their health, safety and environmental programs in the past ten years. I predict that we may very well see these same programs combined within the government as well. As professionals, we need to expand our horizons to include the working environments outside plant walls. Perhaps it is more than irony that the 1973 book identifying the recognition, evaluation, and control concepts I began this discussion with was titled, "The Industrial Environment, - its Evaluation and Control."

Industrial hygiene changes

For the past few years, the officers, boards of directors and other leaders of our professional organizations have been studying ways to advance our profession. The issues include: ·
  • Do we want to combine our separate organizations into one? ·
  • Do we want to include the environment outside the plant fence? ·
  • Are we prepared to include some of the unique industrial hygiene concepts found in the expanding service sector? ·
  • How are we preparing ourselves to deal with the difficult issues regarding certification and licensing? ·
  • Are we properly training our younger industrial hygienists to assume the broader skills needed to manage programs in both private industry and the government? ·
  • Can we improve our communications skills to relate our concerns to senior corporate managers, our boss, legislative and regulatory government officials, budget directors, and the general public? ·
  • Are we rethinking our research priorities? Dr. Morton Corn raised this important issue at last year's American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exhibition. His data indicates that we continue to pursue older, more comfortable research, rather than needed studies in ergonomics, risk assessment, and behavioral safety and health, to name a few areas. ·
  • Are we justifying our existence, our work responsibilities? We can if we try.

To conclude, you must decide if you are going to be a leader or a follower. Clearly the "winds of change" have arrived. There will be changes! Are you going to be satisfied with the status quo? The OSHA assistant secretary, the NIOSH director, and our own association officers and directors say, "No!" What is your vision for the future?

Can you recognize the need for change? Will you contribute to the difficult tasks of evaluating the options that are before us? Will you help control your own destiny and that of your professional associations?

Dr. Richard F. Boggs is vice president of Organization Resources Counselors. Since his retirement in 1994, Dr. Boggs has done safety and health consulting work for ORC on a part-time basis. This commentary is adapted from Dr. Boggs' speech upon receiving the Henry F. Smyth Jr. Award at the American Academy of Industrial Hygiene Professional Development Conference, held in San Diego last October.

A cauldron of change

By downsizing by O. Gordon Banks

The occupational health field has become a cauldron of change. Though technology has made life interesting, it is not the driver in our field today. It is forces outside the field- business and social trends- that apply pressure and create rapid change; forces such as these: ·

  • , right sizing -layoffs with another moniker. Industrial hygienists are still much in demand, but for the first time in many years there are some out-of-work IHs, almost all caused by mergers and downsizing. The American Industrial Hygiene Association's Employment Service is quite active. This downsizing process is not over. I believe 1996 may be harder than last year. ·
  • OSHA and NIOSH -the two government touchstones of industrial hygiene- are under merciless economic fire from Congress. Say what you will about OSHA's lack of speed and productivity, it has been behind much of the increased health and safety records in industry. NIOSH, also too sluggish, has been a needed research and training arm. Both OSHA and NIOSH have enemies who are more effective than normal these days. ·
  • The proliferation of certifications has become a real problem. We continue to see more specialties coalescing and offering "certifications" or designations of some sort. Some of these are real, and they are rigorous. Many are a sham, confusing the marketplace and infuriating established professions. However, they all seem to thrive. ·
  • Crossover is occurring among almost all professions in occupational health. I don't think we'll soon see a nurse supervising the safety aspects of a trenching operation or an IH doing an emergency appendectomy, but it is clear the lines are getting hazy. The buyer of occupational health services -the employer- wants to know, "What else can you help me with, since you're already here?" Employers will continue to ask this question. ·
  • The change to a service-based economy is roaring ahead. Manufacturing continues to decline rapidly in this country. Service businesses and knowledge businesses are being created by the hundreds daily. The very nature of consultation practices for the safety professional, the industrial hygienist, the occupational health nurse, and the occupational doctor is changing. Another five years and each of our professions will have changed demonstrably in the nature of the problems faced. Will we all be more concerned with stress or indoor air quality in an office building than with accidents? Think about it. ·
  • The makeup of the work force is changing rapidly. It's not a man's world anymore. It's not a Caucasian workplace either, many times. The multicultural work force, English as a distant second language -these and other such matters require very different approaches for our professions, where trust, communication and interpersonal relationships are very important.

Into the future

OK. Where does this current turmoil lead?

It will not be occupational health that changes first, of course. Occupational health will change because society and business as we know them will undergo drastic and continuous change, forcing the world of occupational health to keep pace.

Think of the immense change we have all seen in the last 25 years. You have read that this change was a multiple of change which took place in the 25 years preceding that. Guess what? The change that is cascading over us in the next 25 years will be another big multiple. We are in for massive change that will permeate every aspect of our lives.

Let's look at life 25 years from now: ·

  • The U.S. population will reach 326 million; the world's population will be at 7.6 billion. Only ten percent of the U.S. work force will be in manufacturing jobs. The focus in this country will be to design and engineer the world's products. Most workers will be consultants, operating at home or in small teams. Many will telecommute through cyberspace. ·
  • Demographics will change. One-fifth to one-quarter of our population will be older than age 65. Most disease may be well on the way to elimination. Non-whites will be a far larger percentage of the population and the work force, reaching majority status by the year 2050. Education will be a major problem for the middle class and underclass. ·
  • International environmental ills such as polluted water and topsoil will be major problems. Industrial hygienists will work in agriculture more than they ever have in their history.

Now how does all this change translate to our field? Here are some thoughts I have: ·

  • Every profession will do more, be broader, and overlap more. The lines will be blurred. The blending of industrial hygiene and safety may be complete. Safety, health and environmental will be an exceptionally critical part of operations. Ignoring them will not be an option, and profit will not be achieved without attention to them. ·
  • Continuing education will be mandated and rigorous. ·
  • Advice from an associate, or direction from an immediate boss, is just as likely to come via computer to your home as from personal encounters. ·
  • Your "industry" may be genetic research, agriculture, biological engineering, or energy. ·
  • Most professionals at higher management levels will also be required to speak Spanish or an Asian language. ·
  • No exceptions: everyone will be a cyberspace jockey. ·
  • Communication and interpersonal skills will be highly prized in our multicultural society, which will be further splintered by educational and economic divisions. ·
  • International standards will dominate. Is this a scary scenario? No, but I do think it's eye-opening, and obviously challenging. What I've done is simply put down what I know, what I've observed and heard, and what I feel.

Industrial hygiene will thrive in the future, in its own revised way. Hang on and enjoy the ride.

O. Gordon Banks is executive director of the American Industrial Hygiene Association in Fairfax, Va. The bulk of the material found in the "Into the future" section comes from Lawrence R. Birkner, vice president and director of technology for McIntyre, Birkner & Associates, Inc., and senior consultant for safety and health, ARCO. Birkner will publish an article envisioning occupational safety and health in the year 2020 in an upcoming issue of the American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal.