Author Archives: Dave Blanchard

EBook: Risk Management: A Survival Guide for Today’s Safety Leaders

When you think about it, safety leaders have two main responsibilities in their jobs: They identify risk and they manage risk. Of course, accidents and unplanned events can happen at any time, for almost any reason, and the cost of these events can often be enormous, so it's little wonder that risk management has become a key role for EHS professionals. One of the keys to mitigating risk is ensure that worker safety is your top priority. That requires having the appropriate programs in place to cover all possible contingencies, whether the interruption to normal work operations be the result of a temporary glitch or a widespread disaster. This ebook will offer timely guidance in how to best prepare for risk. We'll offer tips on how to tweak your safety management system to better promote safe operations. We'll look at how best to establish continuity plans. And we'll walk you step-by-step through the process of developing an effective job safety analysis. Remember: The best time to plan for an emergency is now… before it happens. Fill out the form below to get started. Let's block ads! (Why?)

Washing Your Hands of a Situation Can Be a Good Thing

Ok, apologies in advance if this topic grosses you out, but there’s a study out that says more than half of the people who use their companies’ restrooms don’t wash their hands before leaving. That’s just wrong in so many ways, but what really gets me to wondering is: Why? It’s not like it costs the employee anything to use the water or the soap or the towels (whether paper, cloth or air-blowers). Plus, while we’re all understandably squeamish about those nasty germs being spread on doorknobs, desks and other things the employee might end up touching, the majority of those germs are staying right there with him or her. So again I wonder: Why? I’m currently fighting a cold—living in Ohio, it’s a mere matter of time before the elements caught up to me—despite all my best efforts to wash my hands early and often and to avoid touching anything that looks in the least bit nasty. So I’m especially annoyed when people leave a restroom without even pretending to clean up after themselves. I mean, c’mon! That’s just nasty! Anyways, the study, which was conducted by Bradley Corp. (a company that manufactures commercial washroom, emergency safety and industrial solutions), speculates that maybe the employees are in a rush to get on with something else, but that sees like a pretty lousy reason. They’re putting themselves and their fellow workers at danger for the sake of saving, what, an extra 30 seconds to wash and dry their hands? Nobody is that busy. Part of it seems to be a gender thing, according to the survey, which says 63% of men frequently or occasionally don’t wash their hands after using the restroom, compared to 49% of women. I dunno… I’m not comforted much by the thought that only half of women don’t wash their hands. Is it a pride thing, one of those “I’m too cool to bother with washing my hands” attitudes? Is it a matter of upbringing, a lapse in common sense that can be laid at the feet of absent parents who never explained to their kids how and why to wash their hands? Is it just plain rudeness, or even worse, a deliberate act meant to spread nasty substances throughout the world? The survey doesn’t really say. But for those of you who want to know what constitutes a good, thorough hand-washing experience, Bradley Corp. recommends using soap, running water and vigorous scrubbing for at least 20 seconds. Bradley Corp. Let's block ads! (Why?)

Are You Sick and Tired of Working Too Hard?

Although some boastful types might suggest they give 110% on the job all day every day, we all know that’s just not possible. Nobody is capable of performing at peak efficiency at all hours of the day, and yet too often the expectations of senior management are that every employee—and especially those whose performance is measured in terms of productivity goals—start the day at the top of their game and then sustain that level until their shift ends. But that mentality of constant go-go-go is actually reducing a company’s productivity, not enhancing it. During the federal government shutdown (which is currently on hold, but could be reinstated depending on the whims of our politicians), some of the essential federal employees who continued to work despite not getting paid had to seek out part-time jobs just to keep the money coming in until they received their backpay. That includes TSA screeners and agents at the airports whose job it is to ensure the safety of our air transportation—definitely not the kind of high-stress situation where you’d want overworked and unpaid employees. “Fatigue from overwork, with limited opportunities for rest and recovery, can lead to dangerous workplace injuries, illnesses and even fatalities,” cautions Jessica Martinez, co-director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). While the government shutdown has exacerbated the situation, in fact the problem of workplace fatigue is nothing new. Fatigue costs U.S. companies more than $130 billion per year in health-related lost productivity, according to a study by the National Safety Council. The NSC study also reveals that an average company with 1,000 employees loses more than $1 million each year due to missed workdays, lower productivity and increased healthcare due to employee fatigue. The basic problem, says Deborah Hersman, NSC’s president and CEO, is that “too many employees are running on empty.” Fortunately, we now have the tools and the technology that can help reduce workplace injuries resulting from fatigue. A recent study led by the University of Buffalo and Miami University (with participation from Auburn University and the University of Dayton), and funded by the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), points to the benefits of using wearable devices in the workplace to monitor fatigue levels of employees. The study looked at how such devices could assess ergonomic risk levels during various activities (particularly during assembly or material handling tasks), and the use of a dashboard-type display that could track workplace exposures to physical risk factors. “By setting parameters, we identified behavioral changes in how people conduct work over time,” explains Lora Cavuoto of the University of Buffalo, principal investigator of the study. “For example, we saw how workers performed the same task in the first hour as compared to the third hour when fatigue became a factor. Wearable technology can uncover precursors to larger problems and help establish safety interventions that may call for scheduled breaks, posture adjustments or vitamin supplements that help the body. Information is power, so knowing when, where and how fatigue impacts worker safety is critical.” Over half of the study participants said they’d be in favor of using wearables to track safety risk on the job. EHS Today’s own recent research into safety technology, conducted last fall, indicates a similar interest for adopting wearables, sensors and predictive analytics (among other technologies) to improve safety in the workplace. In fact, 91% say they use data analytics to improve their safety operation by predicting the likelihood of worker accidents or equipment breakdown. We should point out, though, that just about half of those respondents (46%) are in the very earliest stages of using data to monitor and predict workplace safety, but it’s an encouraging start. You can expect to see EHS Today cover safety technology and analytics in new and exciting ways in 2019. As Lora Cavuoto says, information is power, and we intend to provide you with timely and relevant information that will help you empower your employees to work as safely as possible. Let's block ads! (Why?)

Safety Leaders Aren’t Like Everybody Else

What is it that makes safety professionals different from their fellow managers and supervisors at a company? We all know how highly regarded (and compensated) financial wizards are; product designers are routinely praised for their innovative spirit; engineers are celebrated for their ability to solve any kind of structural problem; and chief executives are lauded for their long-term strategic vision. But what are safety leaders best known for? “Safety leaders have a lot more on their plates and a lot more responsibility that their peers don’t have,” says Ed Foulke, partner with the law firm Fisher Phillips and former head of OSHA. “They are directly responsible for the lives of their employees.” Every employee makes mistakes, Foulke points out, but “our job as safety professionals is to keep our employees from getting hurt or killed when they make mistakes.” Foulke, along with Barry Spurlock, an attorney and assistant professor at Eastern Kentucky University, was one of the speakers at EHS Today’s recent Safety Leadership Conference 2018 in Louisville, Ky. Together they addressed the many and significant ways that safety impacts on a company’s financial performance, and how safety leaders can earn a seat at the table if they learn to speak the language of the C-suite. And that includes the use of the word “safety” itself. As Foulke and Spurlock see it, safety leaders should get comfortable with using the word “risk,” which is very much an example of corporate-speak. After all, as Spurlock says, “We do two things as safety leaders: We identify risk and we manage risk.” Safety actually protects a company’s bottom line, Foulke says. “Safety should be managed as a profit center, not a line item. We should start treating risk and safety management as a business function.” The emerging ISO 45001 standard requires that safety and operations people need to work together, “and historically that hasn’t really happened much,” he observes. But operations people will discover the importance of recognizing and avoiding safety risks because losing workers to injuries has a direct and negative impact on productivity and profitability. During his SLC 2018 presentation, Spurlock listed “Ten Things Executives Should Know about Traditional Safety Metrics”: 1. The metrics are often influenced by luck. 2. They can be manipulated. 3. They don’t prescribe what went wrong. 4. They have limited diagnostic value. 5. They have limited impact on stakeholders. 6. They’re often inconclusive for safety failures. 7. They could be impacted by OSHA discrimination risk. 8. They don’t align with modern EHS management systems. 9. Their original purpose may not be indicative of current trends. 10. They don’t drive high performance. It’s vitally important, Spurlock says, that a company’s policies and procedures do not conflict with its safety mission, vision and values. To that end, he recommends that safety be integrated into all aspects of a company’s general management programs and processes. “Great safety leaders,” he emphasizes, “artfully determine why risks remain hidden, and then do whatever is necessary to remedy that problem.” Let's block ads! (Why?)

SLC 2018: How Safety Attitude Surveys Can Improve Safety Culture

We hear a lot of corporate culture, especially when it comes to the establishment of a culture of safety, but what exactly does that mean? As Mike McCarroll, president and CEO of PROSAFE Solutions, pointed out, “There’s a disconnect between how senior management, middle management and shopfloor-level workers perceive a company’s culture.” Too often, the C-suite has an unrealistic perspective of how their employees view safety, and what’s worse is that workers tend to think their company’s commitment to a safe workplace is a lot less than the corporate mission statement might suggest. “Although the best operational intelligence of a company’s performance is production-level employees,” McCarroll noted, “more often than not they’re not even asked for their input.” McCarroll was one of the speakers at EHS Today’s Safety Leadership Conference 2018, held earlier this month in Louisville, Ky., along with Chris May, EHS director of CRH Americas Materials, and Howard Mavity, partner with law firm Fisher Phillips. To illustrate the difference between management’s hopes and employees’ actual attitudes, the speakers suggested that companies conduct a safety culture assessment that looks at all components of a company’s safety culture. The goal, McCarroll said, is to plug the disparity gap—the difference between how senior management sees thing and the way workers see things. May has had quite a bit of experience doing just that in her role at CRH (formerly known as Oldcastle Materials), a supplier of aggregates, cement, asphalt, ready-mixed concrete and paving and construction services. CRH surveys its employees on safety topics every three years—no small task considering the initial survey process involved more than 20,000 employees at 70 CRH companies. What’s more, the survey process is manual, not online. “Employees are inherently skeptical of online surveys,” May said, “so CRH surveys them in person—written and anonymously—and then sent to a third-party service for compilation.” Although the safety survey form asks 20 questions, the most germane input, May explained, comes from the requirement that each employee contribute two comments about the state of safety at the company. Also, 20% of the employee population is randomly chosen to participate in focus group sessions that last roughly 90 minutes. After the entire survey process has been conducted, the results are presented to the full workforce in timely fashion. For instance, the top recommendation from the survey results (61%) is to improve the new hire safety training process as well as refresher training for existing employees. The company also learned that its employees believe supervisors need to be better trained in performance coaching. Let's block ads! (Why?)

Are You Ready to Go Digital?

How much time do you spend thinking about artificial intelligence? Does implementing virtual reality appear anywhere on your “to-do” list? What’s your strategy for using predictive analytics? What about blockchain or robotics or drones or the Internet of Things? While you might think that investigating these kinds of disruptive technologies is somebody else’s job—isn’t that what those IT tech wizards get paid to do?—the application of these technologies to the safety function is very much in the near future. While you may not have noticed it yet, there’s a digital revolution underway in EHS, and the more prepared you are for it, the safer your workforce will be. At least that’s the way global consulting firm Accenture sees it. The impetus behind this movement towards technologizing the safety discipline is a perceived slowdown in EHS performance gains. According to Pete Sullivan, EHS expert with Accenture, “Safety performance is plateauing due to changing expectations.” During a presentation at the recent NSC Congress & Expo in Houston, he explained that “while the value of safety is undisputed, most of the gains made in previous waves of safety innovation have run out of steam. And further improvements have become progressively more difficult to achieve.” Sullivan pointed to statistics compiled by the federal government that show that for asset-intensive companies (e.g., oil & gas, chemicals, transportation, mining & metals), total recordable incident rates (TRIRs) have remained unchanged or actually gotten a little worse over the past five years, indicating a pattern of stagnation when it comes to making worksites safer places. The problem is, the safety department’s projects tend to take a back seat to other departmental initiatives seeking internal funding. But as Sullivan explained, that situation could be enhanced by savvy EHS professionals who are able to articulate to the C-suite the value of emerging technologies—that not only can they protect their employees but they can also protect the company’s bottom line. And based on an Accenture study on what kind of tech CEOs plan to invest in, the C-suite has gotten the message that digital technologies have the capability to improve safety across the board. Current Accenture research suggests, for instance, that companies could see TRIR improvements of 20% or more from these technologies. The power of predictive analytics, for instance, would allow companies to predict high-potential worker incidents or inherent fatigue risk levels, while sensor-based technology could predict systems failures. Imagine, for instance, having technology that would allow you to track people and assets in your facility. As Sullivan explained, you would have real-time visibility for emergency mustering and security. Dynamic barrier solutions using video analytics could provide an automated view of risks across operations, even down to the equipment level. “Companies are already starting to invest in capital expenditures based on how they’ll impact the safety function,” observed Adam Cooper, a managing director at Accenture. However, he added, that situation is placing greater expectations on the safety function to improve performance. Most CEOs, Cooper said, have stopped asking, “What is digital?” and are now asking, “How can we best use digital in our companies?” Speaking to an audience of EHS professionals, Cooper stressed, “the safety function needs to have a seat at the table and you need to know what role you’ll play in this digital revolution.” Referring to the concept of technical debt, he pointed out, “Every day that you don’t invest in new technology, you get deeper and deeper in debt in terms of what it will eventually cost you to replace your outdated technology.” And for the safety function, that cost is measured not only in dollars but in lives. It’s important, Cooper said, that you have the right talent to shape and execute your digital strategy. As data gets more predictive, its capabilities to improve safety becomes greater, and hiring data scientists to work with the safety function will become a key strategy for EHS professionals. And keep in mind that he data sets of your suppliers and customers are becoming more important as well. The key, he said, is being able to identify where are the greatest risk areas where you need to improve, and how can technology best enable that? Not every technology will work for every company, and the investment they require can be significant. It’s important to understand exactly how your workers will be using the technology, and to educate yourself on what’s realistic for your operation and what’s just throwing money away on new tools that nobody will ever use. Your digital strategy, in fact, should basically mirror your EHS strategy by helping ensure that you put your best people in situations where they can get the job done in the safest way. Let's block ads! (Why?)

What If the Fate of the Entire World Rested in Your Hands?

We talk a lot here about safety, and quite a bit about health, but environment—the E in EHS Today—comes in a distant third among the three topics contained in our acronym. You’ll be hearing a lot more about environmental issues here in the months to come, though, and not just because I’ve covered supply chain topics for the past couple decades. What’s become quite clear in recent years is that companies need to focus not just on the health and safety of their employees but on their entire community—their suppliers, customers and end users. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports, which almost every public company produces annually, are scrutinized by shareholders with almost the same fervor as financial reports these days. While companies are still expected to turn a profit, the manner in which they do that is very much part of the ongoing debate on the global rights of citizens to expect companies to leave the planet in at least as good if not better condition than before they set up shop. Reducing injury rates and workers compensation claims are just part of the expectations for 21st Century EHS managers. The thinking now is that companies need to take responsibility for not only their own employees but for every worker throughout their global supply chain. It’s great, for instance, to have an affirmative action plan at your facility, but how aware are you of the incidence of human trafficking throughout your supply chain? It’s not enough to just provide respirators for your employees; companies are also expected to monitor and reduce and eventually completely eliminate their greenhouse gas emissions to protect their entire community. Holding toolbox safety meetings every morning is definitely a best practice, but before you pat yourself on your back, how often do you evaluate your suppliers’ working conditions? As you would expect, some industries are better at CSR than others. EcoVadis, a firm that maintains a global CSR risk and performance index involving more than 33,000 companies, evaluates each company in four broad areas: environment, labor practices and human rights, fair business ethics, and sustainable procurement. And the good news, according to Pierre-Francois Thaler, co-CEO of EcoVadis, is that initiatives aimed at tackling issues such as modern slavery, conflict minerals and environmental pollution are paying off. The one area that’s seen the most improvement worldwide is business ethics, particularly when it comes to fighting corruption and bribery, as well as improving information security. In fact, while most EHS professionals are understandably more focused on fire suppression equipment than data network firewalls, cybersecurity is not just something for the IT department to worry about. Cyber attacks and data breaches are today considered some of the leading causes of supply chain disruptions. “The global progress in business ethics and information security is an optimistic indicator that businesses recognize the importance of data protection and are becoming more aware of security risks that could impact operations,” Thaler points out. Interestingly, small and medium-sized companies (those with between 26-999 employees) tend to score higher on the CSR index than large companies (employing over 1,000 people). Also, European companies overall do better than other regions of the world. Although President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement was widely criticized as a move that would contribute to a higher incidence of climate change, the EcoVadis found no evidence that such a thing has happened. The environmental scores for U.S. companies, in fact, improved over the past year. So what types of companies score best on the CSR index? According to EcoVadis, small and medium-sized food and beverage companies are the overall winner, with an aggregate score of 46.8 (out of 100; any organization that scores above 45.0 is considered to be “engaged”). The group scoring the lowest, on the other hand, were large wholesale and services companies, with an aggregate score of 39.6. What then should EHS leaders take away from these types of studies? Isn’t there enough work to be done just to protect their employees from every manner of safety hazard that comes their way? Obviously, ensuring the safety of every employee will always be Job # 1 for an EHS professional, but maybe it’s time we take another look at what exactly that word “safety” means. Consider (as the EcoVadis study points out) that 40 million people are victims of modern slavery, and that more than 150 children are subject to child labor. How well do you really know your employees and their life situations? It’s not just an HR problem, or an IT problem, or a finance problem, or a C-suite problem. EHS leaders already know more than most how to protect their companies and their employees; who better to also be at the forefront at protecting their world? Let's block ads! (Why?)

The Biggest Danger Your Employees Face Could Very Well Be You

The number one job of a safety director is to protect their employees from harm. Harm can come from many different directions and can strike an employee in any number of ways and places—the head, the hands, the feet, eyes, ears, nose, lungs, heart. It could be excessive heat, excessive cold, excessive sunlight, toxic chemicals and gases, spills, falls. It could come from equipment, vehicles, dry rot, asbestos, combustible dust, animals, electricity, fires, floods. The list goes on and on, of course, as every workplace has its own unique potential to expose workers to some kind of harm. And for just about every possible danger, there is a corresponding solution to prevent it, or at least contain it. But what if the biggest risk factor to your employees’ health and safety isn’t any of those things mentioned above? What if you—the safety manager—are yourself the biggest threat to your workers? In a recent poll of its members, TeamBlind, a community app for the workplace, asked: What is the main source of employee burnout at your current workplace? Some of the most frequently cited responses include: work overload, toxic culture, lack of career growth, and insufficient rewards. But by far the number one cause of employee burnout is: poor leadership and unclear direction. Now, burnout doesn’t refer to the occasional stress that all of us experience from time to time on the job. It’s not the typical employee grumble about being overworked and underpaid, or the wish that Friday would hurry up and get here already. According to Psychology Today, burnout is “a state of chronic stress that leads to: physical and emotional exhaustion; cynicism and detachment; and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. When in the throes of full-fledged burnout, [employees] are no longer able to function effectively on a personal or professional level.” Various university studies in recent years, including those conducted by Harvard, Binghamton University and the University of Manchester, indicate that poor leaders—in popular parlance, toxic bosses—are often the culprit for an employee’s high blood pressure, depression, substance abuse, overeating, heart attacks, and other physical, psychological and emotional issues. It should be pointed out that merely being inexperienced or not-a-people-person doesn’t make somebody a toxic boss. The type of boss that can burn out employees is one whose behavior is consistently abusive, one who takes a tangible delight in inflicting emotional harm on his or her workers. As Lancaster University’s Cary Cooper once put it, ““Nobody damages your health more in the workplace, potentially, than your manager.” Here are just some of the ways that burnout can affect an employee (and by extension, the company itself): chronic fatigue, forgetfulness or lack of attention to details, dizziness, anxiety, lack of productivity, anger, absenteeism, apathy, poor performance. Now imagine a scenario where an employee suffering from one or more of these traits is, let’s say, working at a construction site, or driving a forklift, or handling hazardous materials. Not a pretty picture, is it? One of the most popular comic strips of all time is Blondie, although more often than not the main focus of the strip is Blondie’s husband, the hapless Dagwood Bumstead. Dagwood works for Julius Dithers, owner of a construction company and as toxic a boss as the workplace has ever seen. In a recent Sunday strip, as part of a daydream sequence, Dithers clubs Dagwood over the head, chokes him, kicks him, yells at him, drags him by the feet, lifts him over the head, and tosses him out the door as he fires him. When his wife asks him why he’s in such a good mood, Dithers says, “I was just thinking how much I love going to work each day.” While Dithers’ constant verbal and physical abuse of his employees (mostly Dagwood) is played strictly for laughs in the comics and Hollywood has mined the entire premise of “Horrible Bosses” for comedic gold, this kind of workplace bullying is definitely no laughing matter. The damage that bad bosses can inflict upon their employees’ health, to say nothing of their company’s financial health, can be enormous. According to Inc., bad bosses cost the economy roughly $360 billion per year in lost productivity, partly because employees with bad managers tend to slow down, purposefully make errors, hide from their boss, take longer breaks, or just generally fail to do their best work. Safety managers, probably due to the nature of the job, tend to be the least prone to displaying this type of bad boss behavior, but they need to be sensitive to recognizing when this type of abuse occurs at their companies, especially among their managerial peers in other departments. Being proactive is one way we all can ensure that this type of toxic manager is an endangered species. Let's block ads! (Why?)

What’s the Biggest Challenge in Your Job?

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar: “The regulatory climate is concerning. Excessive governmental regulation and inconsistent enforcement have created an over-taxing burden on safety budgets, staff time allocations and workload burnout. Regulations interfere with proactive safety leadership and increase risk of unsafe behaviors as employees perceive the regulatory and legal requirements of training as compliance being more important than the relational aspects of safety coaching.” That’s just one of the hundreds of comments we received from our 2018 National Safety Survey, but it pretty well encapsulates similar sentiments from the 870 EHS professionals who participated in the survey. Even in the best of situations, EHS professionals tend to view the various regulatory agencies with a bit of trepidation, so it’s not surprising that compliance with the steady stream of regulations is one of the main things keeping safety leaders up at night. A year ago, shortly after President Trump took office, we asked if you thought his administration would have a positive impact on OSHA, and most of you (60%) said no. This year, we asked if you thought the Trump administration had brought a more balanced approach of cooperation and enforcement to OSHA than the Obama administration, and a very small majority (51%) said yes. It’s hard to make any clear conclusion from those results, other than to say EHS professionals seem to believe OSHA under Trump is no better nor worse than OSHA under Obama. Taking a look at the demographic information gleaned from the survey, we’re able to develop a profile of what a typical EHS professional looks like (not that there’s anything typical about an EHS professional). This archetypal EHS manager is a white male in his 50s, with more than 20 years of experience in the EHS profession, living in the Midwest, and working in the manufacturing industry. He earns more than $100,000 and anticipates getting a raise this year between 1%-2%. His primary responsibility is safety, with a second responsibility for occupational health. He works in a plant or facility and reports to the executive suite. That’s what the number-crunching reveals, anyway, but we’ve found that we get an even better sense of who you are and what matters most to you from the open-ended (and anonymous) responses to our questions, such as the one we led off this column with about the regulatory climate. Here are a few other comments from survey respondents: • “Senior management talks big about safety but does not reinforce it on the shop floor, nor lead by example. I have become the Safety Cop, but I am not considered part of management and do not get the benefit of the doubt or support from the other supervisors and managers with regard to safety.” • “I have been promised that extra staff will be hired to help with EHS responsibilities. After over a year and ongoing budget cuts, I’ve been told I won’t get help. I have been working 12- and 15-hour days for over two years and am just worn out. I can never catch up.” • “With the introduction of pleasure drugs and legalized marijuana the state of U.S. industry will crumble. We are already seeing spikes in workers compensation claims in MA, RI, CO, WA, OR, CA. Why? Because the workforce is high. It will be a challenge going forward.” • “My job would be much more satisfying and meaningful if management would offer support. If regulations were actually enforced it could help push safety to the forefront of importance.” • “I don't know where to learn about the ‘E’ in EHS. It was not in my educational program and I feel like I am behind my peers in environmental knowledge.” • “I love my job, but women have to work three times harder than men still.” • “Safety regulations are driven by public perceptions and politics. This is as crazy as a rabid weasel.” So plenty of things are keeping safety leaders up at night. But to put it all into context, we also sought to identify your level of satisfaction with your job and profession. And the good news is that 79% said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs. And when we asked about their satisfaction with EHS as a career path, the response was even higher: 85% said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the EHS profession. So while the job may be tough and the hours long, the role of the safety leader is one that offers a very high level of personal satisfaction. And when you consider that you’re the ones focused on making sure all of us get home safely at night, that’s very good news indeed. Let's block ads! (Why?)

You Can’t Be an Effective Safety Leader Unless You Inspire People to Greatness

Describing her 40+ year career in industrial hygiene, Deborah Imel Nelson says, “It’s been a never-ending source of gratification, friendships, learning, knowledge, a little frustration thrown in there, but I would do it all over again.” Although Nelson recently retired from a long career in government (including stints at the Department of Agriculture, the EPA and OSHA) and just completed a one-year term as president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), she is hardly slowing down. Besides remaining active on the AIHA board, she also plans to return to school—not as a professor this time (earlier in her career she was a professor at the University of Oklahoma) but as a student, as she intends to earn a Total Worker Health certificate. On the occasion of her completing her term as AIHA president, Nelson shared her perspective with EHS Today on current trends in health and safety, and offered some insights on what the industrial hygiene field could be and should be doing to advance the cause of workplace safety. What was it that got you interested in a career in industrial hygiene? Nelson: I always thought I’d be a doctor, but they weren’t really encouraging young women to go to medical school back in the 1970s. I had also read Rachel Carson’s book, The Silent Spring, and I had always wondered: What if there’s a profession that combines air pollution and environmental contamination with human health? I was so excited when learned about industrial hygiene—that there is a profession that deals with these things—that I never looked back. I’ve had some detours working in emergency management and a couple other things, but those side trips have had the unintended benefit of strengthening my skills that I could bring back to industrial hygiene. What have been your greatest successes and greatest challenges in the past year as president of AIHA? Nelson: We’ve tried to change the culture of the organization, and this was already in play when I came onto the board three years ago, but we’ve continued the push to involve more people on committees and boards through what we call open call. That’s kind of our shorthand for putting out a call to say we’re looking for people to be on the strategic planning committee, or our nominating committee, or our awards committee. And while we’ll have leadership from the board involved, we want to get members young and old, new members, and academia to participate. That’s going to be valuable in getting more people involved, getting more diversity, and helping us make better decisions. One of our big successes this year is that we have spent hours and hours looking at our bylaws. Some of it was obviously outdated and needed to be changed for just housekeeping. But we also are proposing opening up membership to anybody who wants to come and play with the industrial hygienists, anyone who has an interest in industrial hygiene. We’re making it easier for students to continue to be student members. We’re opening up the process for our nominations procedure so that we have wider participation from the membership on who gets nominated to run for the board. We’ve listened to our membership. As for the question of challenges, we have such a wide range of membership, from people who are brand new to people like me who have been a member for more than 40 years. We have people in academia, government, industry, consultants, military, and so on, so there are a lot of different opinions. To me one of the challenges is all the moving parts and the diverse opinions, the number of projects and initiatives. So we all have to go back to our magnetic north, which is worker health and safety. I think I knew this going in, but I really learned it this past year that there’s no one person who can make all the decisions. The CEO certainly plays a role, and the president plays an influential role as well, but you can’t be an effective leader unless you inspire great people along with you. What issues has AIHA focused on over the past year? Nelson: I wouldn’t necessarily call them new initiatives, but we’ve focused on new ways of looking at things that were going on already. Take, for example, our international strategy. We’ve always had people going to different countries and we’ve always donated money to different charitable groups, but we now have a rich strategy that helps us focus our efforts. We’ve spent a lot of effort in China, and we’re now shifting our focus to Southeast Asia and the Asian continent. So for example, India has a growing industrial hygiene community, and they want to partner with us. So given our limitations in resources—both financial and in terms of bandwidth of our staff and members’ time—we have made this decision to shift our focus from China to India. That’s not 100% yet; it’s still a conversation that we’re having. We’ve always had a government affairs program, but now we’re working on getting membership involved. We have a number of different committees now that our government affairs director is leading, so we have a group that is working on cannabis. We have a group that’s going to start working on the needs of contingent workers, meaning people who don’t punch a timeclock for an employer. They’re not in a standard employer/employee relationship, so they may be temporary or subcontractor workers or Uber driver types. In other words, people who don’t have somebody looking after their health and safety. So we’ve got a group that’s focusing on how do we provide health and safety benefits to those people, and the learning that they need to keep themselves protected? One thing we’re really excited about is a one-hour program called Safety Matters [a one-hour interactive teaching module and PowerPoint presentation]. This started at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as a semester-long program called Talking Safety that was developed mainly for middle school and high school kids who were going to be heading out for their first jobs, whether it’s in fast-food or retail or construction or whatever. There’s an unacceptable rate of injuries to these kids when they’re new on the job, so the Safety Matters program is designed for our members, many of whom don’t have a teaching certificate, to go into the schools or 4H or after-school programs and talk to kids about how to look around the workplace, see what might be hazardous, and then what to do about it, who to talk to, how to get help. We’ve got legislation that references this program now—it doesn’t require it but it references it—in Oklahoma, Texas and a couple other states. This is an ongoing effort. It’s going to go on for a long time, but we’re hoping that not only can it help protect young workers but also have the benefit of letting young people know what a great profession industrial hygiene is. Because many of them have probably never heard of it before.We’ve got efforts going on right now for women in IH. And our strategic plan for the next three years includes focusing on community awareness, advancement and dissemination of knowledge, integrity of practice, and advocacy. So we’re really pleased with the direction that the plan is taking. What are the current trends that you’re seeing—not just within AIHA but within the workplace, within the country, that are related to industrial hygiene? Nelson: I retired from the federal government a little over a year ago, so I can really only speak to the daily problems of industrial hygienists in government practice, but from talking to my colleagues I think this is pretty true across the board. So many organizations have downsized their number of health and safety professionals. You hear this everywhere you go: There’s so much more to do with fewer people to do it. When I was working for the government at the Department of Agriculture, one of our biggest issues came up during the Bird Flu outbreak of 2014-2016. We couldn’t put down 50 million birds on our own, so there were thousands of contractors and sub-contractors and their subs and their subs. Dealing with the complexity of determining who’s responsible, who created the hazards and who controls it, and all of that, getting the attention and resources from management that are needed—and it’s not that management doesn’t think it’s important, it’s just that there are limited resources. It’s in large part a bandwidth issue. There aren’t enough people to do all the work, and not enough hours in the day. What is the health of the organization and the profession? Nelson: When you talk about the current regulatory environment, and my career has spanned many administrations, things are going to change from year to year, especially when you get a new administration and a new OSHA director and secretary. But I’ve always thought that the very best companies, and the really progressive people who recognize the value of safeguarding their human capital, are working to make sure that the standards they operate under within their company or in more and more cases with their suppliers, that they exceed those standards. I’ve recently become enthused about an initiative from NIOSH called Total Worker Health [a program that integrates protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness prevention]. We spend so many hours a week at the workplace, so if we’re going to help people be physically active, a lot of that is going to have to happen at the workplace. There’s a lot of talk on things like workplace stress and the role of the employer on worker health. There are issues beyond just how many chemicals are in the air, or how noisy it is—people are starting to think in a wider sense about the impact of work on people’s health. Companies are starting to do things like ensure there’s healthy food in the cafeteria, that there are smoking cessation programs, that people have a chance to get up and walk around at work. Those are very simple examples, but I think those are so important. In terms of the health of the organization, we can always welcome more members or donations, but we’re holding steady. But so many people that entered the IH profession like I did back in the 1970s—call it the retirement cliff or the silver tsunami, whatever you want to call it—we’ve either already retired or we’re going to retire really soon. I don’t want to see us lose our emeritus members so we’re trying to come up with ways to continue to involve them, such as by mentoring students and early career professionals. We’re working on what we call our brand refresh project, and this is not specifically for AIHA, but we’re working with the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) and the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH) as well. We have identified some key audiences, and we’re focusing on various groups, such as high school and college academic advisors and guidance counselors, to let them know what a terrific career industrial hygiene and safety is. We’ll focus on the C-suite to make sure we get the right messages to the right people so that they know what an EHS professional can do—not only for the health of individuals but for the whole organization. Has the health of the worker in the workplace gotten better over the years? We’ve got all the technology and data and information, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to better health. Nelson: One way you can track it is by the number of workplace fatalities. Starting almost from the day President Nixon signed the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the number of fatalities started dropping from something like 14,000 a year down to somewhere around 4,000-4,500. That doesn’t include every workplace fatality, just those that are required to report it through OSHA. But in the last couple of years, that trend has started reversing [5,190 workplace fatalities in 2017, according to OSHA]. I don’t know if it’s an aberration or if it’s an indication of a trend. There are two very key factors involved here. One is the opioid crisis, and we know that nationwide, the counties that have the largest percentages of their employed people in manufacturing are the counties with the highest number of opioid deaths. That’s according to a recent report from MAPI [Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation]. You start to wonder: Are these people who got injured on the job? Did they start taking opioids for injuries or back pain or whatever? The national trends in mortality indicate that the group that’s showing reductions in life expectancy are the middle-aged, unemployed people in despairing conditions. And that certainly spills over into the workplace, even though they’re unemployed. We are starting to recognize that people who have opioid addictions in the workplace may very well be a safety risk to others. I think for a lot of reasons that we don’t totally understand yet, the opioid crisis is playing a role in that. There’s another factor, and I worked constantly on this issue when I was at the Department of Agriculture, and that is the issue of distracted driving. Forty percent of workplace fatalities are transportation-related, and how much of that is due to people texting or talking on the phone? The National Safety Council has tried to make people aware of this through awareness campaigns. People, even highly educated people, will call me from their cars and say, “Well, I’m on the phone but it’s hands-free, so I’m ok.” Well, no, you’re not because it’s your brain that’s occupied. It’s the whole business of inattentional blindness. I don’t know how we get around that because cars nowadays are being manufactured with Bluetooth connections. They’re making it easy for you to be a distracted driver. I think that’s certainly played a role in the rise in workplace fatalities. What’s your take on self-driving vehicles? Nelson: I know there are problems but I think in the long run—and this is just personal opinion, I don’t have any statistics to support this—self-driving vehicles are safer than people who are texting and shaving and putting on makeup and eating a hamburger while they’re trying to drive and their kids are screaming in the backseat. I’m a cyclist, and Boulder, Colo., is a pretty good place to ride your bike, but still, too many people get hit by cars here, so I’m always thinking about road safety for pedestrians and cyclists. You bring up a good point because robot cars also aren’t going to be driving while intoxicated. And they’re not going to fall asleep behind the wheel.Nelson: And they’re not going to be exceeding the speed limit, either. If smart highway technology can space out cars on the road, and monitor speeds, we’ll be able to avoid the traffic jams and rubbernecking we have now. So that’s my take on safety in the workplace. In terms of health in the workplace, we have not made much progress in occupational illnesses. Some of the most reliable estimates put the number of occupational illnesses at ten times the number of safety injuries. Since many of them, such as cancers, respiratory disease, renal disease and cardiovascular disease, have long latency periods, those aren’t tied directly to the workplace so they’re not identified as occupational illnesses. We haven’t made progress in turning that around, and that’s a huge, unaddressed issue in the area of worker health and safety in this country. We know now that workplace stress leads to heart disease, and depression leads to cardiovascular disease, and those have implications on your lifespan. When it comes to the increasing amount of stress in the workplace, it isn’t just industrial hygienists who are trying to do more with less every single day—it’s everybody. We’ve got to look at the whole picture in order to address that issue. How has the IH practice itself changed?Nelson: When I first started I was carrying around a single 15-pound instrument that measured carbon monoxide. None of us had computers back then, of course. We’re now looking at wearable, sensor technology—how is that going to impact how industrial hygienists take measurements and record it and manage that data over a 24-hour cycle? I’ve got two different sound-level apps on my phone, so now that people can measure sound level with their phone, is that going to make them more active participants in the workplace toward reducing noise exposures? There are a lot of different things going on that we need to be aware of. Do you have any advice for young IH practitioners?Nelson: My first suggestion would be to join your local section of AIHA because you’re going to get opportunities for leadership that you may not get yet at your workplace. You’ll work with other young professionals. You’ll learn from senior professionals. And you’ll learn not only from the technical presentations but also the life skills, workplace strategies, and those kinds of things. Another piece of advice is to keep that balance of work and family life and friendships and physical activity and your spiritual life to keep a balanced approach to life because as wonderful and exciting as this profession is, it isn’t everything. Let's block ads! (Why?)