Summit View: The Presidents of AIHA and ASSE Identify the Biggest Priorities Facing the Occupational Safety and Health Community, and Highlight Actions Their Organizations Are Taking to Address Them

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Gayla McCluskey, CIH, CSP, ROH, QEP, and Mark Hansen, P.E., CSP, the respective presidents of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), share the belief that their members offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise on occupational safety and health. As a result, they both embrace the role of advocates for greater involvement by safety and health professionals in informing and guiding policy at the government and corporate levels.

"I would like to see a better synergy between the legislators, the regulators and the stakeholders, people like our professionals in the business," said Hansen, the director of risk control for oil and gas for the St. Paul Co. "Our members understand the regulations. We have to work with companies to implement them; in other words, take something that may be academic and make it real world."

Hansen recalled his experience with the original OSHA ergonomics proposal, which was developed by a team led by Barbara Silverstein, a Ph.D. and ergonomist. While Hansen said Silverstein saw the issue from an academic viewpoint, "We, the stakeholders, saw it from the viewpoint of how Joe Safety Manager is going to implement it. We tried to say a 1,000-page document isn't going to cut it." Rather than try to make every industrial safety manager an ergonomist, Hansen added, OSHA instead needed to produce a manageable set of requirements.

While Hansen doesn't expect OSHA to follow ASSE's advice every time, he is encouraged by a trend toward seeking more input from safety professionals, and he argues against any cynicism about the value of participating in government affairs. "I'm always optimistic that whatever we do can have an impact. Sometimes, it just takes time for that message to get through," he said.

One message Hansen wants companies and the federal government to understand is the value of safety and health management systems. In recent testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training, Hansen voiced support for the injury and illness prevention rule, formerly known as the program safety and health rule.

"Promulgation of this rule is ASSE's most important regulatory priority," Hansen's testimony stated. "Requiring all workplaces to have in place a comprehensive program that addresses the particular safety and health difficulties at a workplace, as well as a plan for addressing those problems, is the key element missing in occupational safety. In hindsight, requiring such a plan seems so elemental that it is difficult to see how such a requirement was not made part of the initial occupational safety and health requirements. Rather than being an additional burden on employers, such a program would encourage employers to identify difficulties before they become expensive problems."

In Hansen's view, safety often seems amorphous to many industry managers and employees. Management systems give it a more concrete form so that employees at all levels can understand what safety involves, what actions will be required and how it will be measured.

Not surprisingly, Hansen said the single most pressing issue before ASSE members is "convincing management that safety pays and that they are business people as well as safety professionals. We have to be able to demonstrate the value of an effective safety and health program to the senior management of companies."

When he was a safety manager at Weatherford International, an oil services company, Hansen was able to demonst rate a very direct impact of safety on the business. Some of Weatherford's customers established safety program requirements and incident rate thresholds that firms such as Weatherford had to meet to bid on contracts.

"I convinced management that, yes, we want to be safe for altruistic reasons, but safety also means money to the bottom line, because if we go over the incident rate, they won't hire us," he recalled. …