Will the Safety Job Change?: After Sept. 11, Uncertainty Hangs in the Air about What the Tragedy Portends and What the Impact Will Be for the Safety and Health Profession. (Editor's Notebook)

Article excerpt

Stephen G. Minter

Did the crashes of four jet aircraft on Sept. 11 mark not only the worst terrorist acts in the nation's history, but also a turning point in the safety and health profession?

National Safety Council President Alan McMillan made that case at the opening session of the 2001 Congress & Expo in Atlanta.

"Your jobs will never be the same again," McMillan told the audience. "The role of the safety professional has just changed."

McMillan argued for a more holistic view of the safety function that encompassed off-the-job safety and the safety of employees' families.

"You are being asked to think about safety in a much broader context than perhaps you have done before," McMillan said. "You are being asked to become engaged in security planning and preparedness, emergency response and disaster relief. You are being asked to expand your thinking as it relates to the safety of your employees and their families. Your concern no longer stops at the plant gate or at the end of the workday. You must now think about the safety of your organization and its people in a more universal way."

Dr. Jim Thatcher, president of the National Safety Management Society, agrees with McMillan that the safety profession has been "profoundly impacted" by the events of Sept. 11.

"As a discipline, the safety function has been steadily progressing toward the security aspects of what it means to be 'safe' within the work environment," he noted. "With the increase of workplace violence, the increase of employees [forgive the term] 'going postal,' and the increase of acts of aggression by customers, clients and even neighbors, the safety professional has had to increase his knowledge of the security function and incorporate that function into how he structures his safety programs and how he manages those programs."

With the looming threat of terrorism, Thatcher believes, "the physical protection of the facility becomes the focal point of how to reach an acceptable level of 'safeness' within the confines of the facility, as well as how to keep the employees safe while performing their daily tasks."

This requires safety professionals, Thatcher said, to "rethink our positions relative to where safety fits within the organization, and how to manage safety while at the same time providing a secure place to carry on the daily tasks required. …