Many years ago, it seems another lifetime almost, I worked in safety for a paper company in the South, and then in New England. Now I am with an insurance carrier in the Atlanta area and, believe me, I’ll never venture north for work again!

For the record, I have been in risk control since 1975. At first I asked ISHNnot to print my comments, for there are many in our profession who might take a very dim view of what I have to say. I’d hate to be a source of discouragement for those climbing their ladders to safety stardom (if that still exists). But the editor convinced me the point of this column is to give everyone their turn at expressing their views and experiences.

You should know upfront I’m a born cynic — as many New Yorkers are. Yes, I was born and raised there. In fact, I was president-elect of ASSE’s New York Metro Chapter in 1987.

I first worked the general risk control field with an insurance carrier and a broker. Then I made the move over to the corporate world in 1988. Corporate life lasted for about 15 years until the merger mania caught up with me and tossed me to the wolves in my mid-50s. No, I’m not bitter. As Abe Vigoda said in “The Godfather,” it’s just business.

Different worlds

I’ve landed on my feet, so why do I think we as safety and health professionals are a dying breed? Good question. I believe the answer lies in the level of respect for and support of the risk control positions. Major (Fortune 500) companies will always have safety and health departments. Many pay a decent wage and many are dependent on the safety pros to keep them out of the headlines.

The other (non-Fortune 500) companies all too often view safety and the support for such departments as an add-on expense rather than an integral part of the operation. Pardon the cynicism here, but the Safety = Production = Quality triad is all too often a myth. Wall Street and CEOs often have no clue what it means to support such efforts. All they see are dollars from spin-offs or tight market niches with little room for luxury (like a safety staff). Never BS an old BS-er! Been there, have the T-shirt.

Age of uncertainty

In our day, the standard for company loyalty was a lot longer than a two-year hitch. For a while now, job-jumping has been as commonplace as layoffs, and for good reason. When we read the horror stories of, say, a Texas refinery management that knew full well they were tinkering with a disaster, and we read about the golden parachutes of people like Nardelli at Home Depot, we have to ask ourselves does management really care or is it simply a matter of stock price?

Couple that concern with a huge influx of non-English speaking workers, many with less than an acceptable education — and how the heck can a safety professional hope to add an acceptable measure of training and protection?

Successful safety plans take time to develop and nurture. Time is now a luxury. And, oh yes, in case you have not noticed, companies with large foreign/immigrant populations often have far fewer workers’ comp claims compared to what used to be filed by the American workforce. The reason is cultural — the fear of job loss and the need for the money to send home. This also translates into low OSHA case rates, and often leads to very false assumptions. If accidents are not happening, we have no problem. Yeah, right!

Sorry to admit it, but in my latter days as a division safety coordinator, I was a “poster boy” for a job with more headaches than it was worth. I lost sleep, weight and hair — mostly in fear of being laid off. When it did come, the layoff was a blessing in disguise.

On the rebound

I’ve now been working as a risk control rep back in the insurance arena. Guess what? The money is nearly the same when I figure a car and good benefits. The kicker is that I meet new clients daily, am appreciated for the service I provide, and no longer have to be a constantly moving target in a no-win situation with corporate powers. I never gave up... I just changed gears and could not be happier.

Thanks for listening. Comments are welcome.

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