the publicA Tuesday afternoon session at this week’s National Safety Congresss, very lightly attended, addressed a provocative topic:  “Society’s Expectations for a Company EHS Program.” Societal issues are one of the three legs of the sustainability stool, along with economics and environment protection. It by far gets the least attention, which might explain the empty seats.

Presenters talked proudly about sustainability best practices. They included a machine guarding code of conduct, a close calls program, a behavior-based safety program for office workers, and projects that reduced water consumption, lead battery disposal, and improved wood and metals recycling.

We admit we were confused. And we asked the presenters at the end of the session, are these all social issue sustainability projects?

Does a BBS program meet a social need? Does a close call program? Or machine guarding? Does the U.S. public expect companies to have BBS, close call, machine guarding programs?

One presenter answered: “the public expects family members to come home from work at night in the same safe and healthy shape they left home with in the morning.”

You can argue that under that broad mandate any OSH initiative meets a social demand or expectation.

You can also argue that sustainability requires a collective, community-oriented mindset, and in the U.S. our culture is more oriented to the individual taking action.

You can also argue that the U.S. public expects very little for EHS because, like most CEOs, they have no education in the value of EHS. The public has certainly been “undernourished” in terms of OSH education. Very little research is done. Very little press coverage is provided,

The NIOSH study says the entire OSH profession totals about 48,000 OSH pros. That’s miniscule. And it makes it very easy for most of the public to know no one among friends and family in an OSH job. It makes it easy for survey respondents to say OSHA is a town in Wisconsin, as the once did

And it makes you wonder where all the OSH pros will come from in the next five years to close that gap in supply and demand.