Safety and Health in the New Millennium

Article excerpt

Is the changing nature of work and the safely and health profession on your mind as we near the year 2000? Well, it should be if you hope to meet the challenges ahead.

Y2K is fast approaching. What will the new millennium mean for the practice of occupational safety and health? In this column, I review some of the current trends in our practice areas and venture a guess for what they might mean in the future. I realize millennium actually refers to a thousand years' span. I really am only commenting on the very near term; however, it does make for a snappy title.

Some key trends that have been with us for the past several years include:

* Continued reorganizations, downsizing and consolidation, along with acquisitions, mergers and globalization of business,

* Greening of the corporate world,

* The movement of corporate occupational safety and health responsibilities to the line functions,

* The convergence of safety, industrial hygiene and environmental practice,

* Proliferation of certifications and other forms of qualification,

* Growth in consulting, and

* Rapid information sharing and communication advances.

Reorganizations, Acquisitions and Mergers

Hardly a day goes by without headlines that describe layoffs, consolidations, acquisitions and global mega-mergers, all in the same newspaper. Clearly, there is more pressure today on producing shareholder value than ever before. The most closely watched feature up and down the management layers in many corporate offices is their stock price. I am confident that many of you reading this article have your company share price bookmarked on your Web browser so that you can see it several times a day. For many of us, our futures are tied to the rollercoaster of a currently volatile market.

So what does that have to do with the price of apple butter? These organizational and structural changes, driven by a need to increase shareholder value, continue to sweep corporate America and other developed and developing countries. They will drive our future and the future of our profession.

There are only a few ways one can fundamentally improve corporate performance. In essence, it is a question of having the best market presence or newest technology, or being the low-cost producer. While this is wildly simplistic, the point is that most companies have now picked all of the low-hanging fruit in reducing overheads. In this regard, we will now see a waning of massive layoffs and re-engineering efforts. Meanwhile, the pace of further consolidation and national and international acquisitions and mergers will increase, due to the desire to gain market share, capture technology and benefit from economies of scale. British Petroleum, Exxon, Yahoo, Chrysler and Ford are some of the latest examples of companies with this business strategy.

Back to the price of apple butter. Downsizing, re-engineering and the host of other business strategies applied to the effort to reduce overhead and outsource noncore services have led to a significant reduction in corporate, divisional and plant staffing in safety and health over the past decade. Right or wrong, we are all expected to do more with less.

Mergers and consolidations will have much the same effect by taking two companies and reducing costs through economies of scale (translation: you no longer need two complete management structures). This trend means the ability to eliminate redundancies. Additionally, mergers and acquisitions bring up the issue pairing sometimes very different cultures and philosophies. Some of these are not that friendly or supportive of ES&H initiatives.

However, it is not all bad news. The growth of companies on national and international bases means much greater opportunity for those ES&H professionals who will still be needed. Large companies are more likely to recognize, utilize and reward technical excellence. …