According to a press release from the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), Futurist Mary O’Hara-Devereaux, Ph.D., told the crowd attending the ASSE “Delivering Safety Results in Changing Times” symposium Thursday that although these are tumultuous times when toxic leaders can gain control, social systems are failing, and there is an ethic wasteland, less engagement by employees and a major change in demographics, safety professionals have an opportunity to take a leadership role, especially from a global perspective, as agents of change.

“We are in the badlands,” Devereaux said. “What I urge you all to do is to keep your eye out for the ‘weak signal’— something that will rise up and be the next big idea or breakthrough. These seeds are innovations which will be a big deal in the future, also in the area of safety.”

She went on to say that the world, to her, seems similar to where we were in the 5th century B.C., the Bronze Age. The next big innovation at that time was writing.

“Now is the time for you, safety professionals to move leadership from success to significant, take safety to the next level,” Devereaux said.

“I believe we are heading for a renaissance even though we are now in a cycle of disruptive innovation,” Devereaux said. “Currently we are seeing our social systems fail, not just because of the economy, but for many reasons such as the loss of ethics, short term gains taking precedent and more. You can all see it where some companies are taking short cuts in safety. We all know that will cost more in the long run.”

Devereaux also said the future depends on our leaders and the choices we make.

“Not the toxic leaders because they lead by illusion and leave us worse off,” she said. “Fearful people go with toxic leaders. That is a problem for safety professionals as is the problem toxic leadership can cause -- disengaged employees and nonpermanent employees. We are becoming more of a transient workforce due to all the changes today and you, as safety professionals, are and must continue to address this. Now is a chance to increase your leadership role.”

She noted that when there is less employee engagement, there is a problem with safety and urged the attendees at the ASSE symposium not to be a stability junkie. “Don’t be a risk avoider,” Devereaux said. “You must take risks today and you’re in great shape to move forward.”

Some of the trends she notes are the increase in the number of healthier older people, the coming of age of the millenials and the growth of women in the workplace — more than 50 percent. She also noted that today having an advanced degree does not help like it used to.

She urged safety professionals to expand their reach at work. “Expand your network; reach out to all departments and employees. Don’t limit your communications. Develop power networks,” she noted.

Devereaux also said now is the time to take risks, to turn sacred cows out to pasture, noting that “they really don’t matter anymore.”

Devereaux is one of the world's leading futurists and business forecasters, and the author of such books as “Navigating the Badlands: Thriving in the Decade of Radical Transformation.” Founder and CEO of San Francisco-based think tank and strategy consulting firm Global Foresight and former director of the Institute for the Future in Silicon Valley, Devereaux is renowned for her myth-busting insights.

The two-day ASSE “Delivering Safety Results in Changing Times” symposium featured several speakers and workshops addressing today’s economic landscape and how safety, health and environmental professionals are the key agents of change.