The Future of Safety and Health

By Mansdorf, Zack | Occupational Hazards, December 1995 | Go to article overview
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The Future of Safety and Health

Mansdorf, Zack, Occupational Hazards

Some levels of stress can be beneficial, according to recent medical reports. If this is true, the health and safety field may be a good place to work over the next few years. Most of us in the health and safety profession are currently experiencing an uneasiness over the changes proposed for NIOSH and OSHA, as well as a continuing concern over the recent trends in rightsizing.

Philosophical questions aside, these trends are bread and butter issues for us. Namely, what are our long-term employment prospects? Should I refinance and remodel the house this year, or do I search for an inexpensive hovel in the wrong part of town? Buy a new Lexus or find a used Yugo?

There is little doubt that our profession is undergoing profound changes. Some may even describe these changes in terms of chaos (reflecting a certain randomness). Many of these are directly linked to three key factors: Change in the regulatory climate, changes in organization and management in the private sector, and global economics.

In this article, I will identify and explore some of the key recent and near-term future trends affecting our profession. From this discussion and with help from the stars, I will predict our future for the next five years to the year 2000. I have selected the next five years rather than dwell on megatrends and our fortunes in the years 2020 and beyond since the majority of us are most concerned with the near term. Secondly, I am less likely to be proven wrong with shorter-term guessing.

Finally, I expect to be sitting under a palm tree sipping prune juice by 2020 (I will definitely be part of the geriatric set by then).

TRENDS: Restructuring

Changes in the corporate world, in the form of off-shore manufacturing, mergers, acquisitions, consolidations, and re-engineering, have occurred at a fast pace over the last few years. In almost all cases, staff levels have been reduced, particularly in the middle ranks. The intent is to flatten the traditional corporate pyramid, thereby reducing overhead and increasing efficiency (i.e., the bottom line). The middle management level most typically would include many of us safety and health types. This trend has already adversely affected many in our ranks. I believe this trend will continue over the next five years, but at a slower pace, as companies prepare to meet stiffer domestic and international competition. The future likelihood of someone retiring with 30 years of service from the company where he or she started is minimal.

The result of this trend is less loyalty from the employee and less paternalism from the companies. Consequently, safety and health professionals can expect to have more job changes and less stability. On a longer-term basis, as high-tech employees become harder to find, this trend may reverse for those companies still in the domestic manufacturing sector and for service companies. This restructuring has led to other trends such as outsourcing, globalization and a growth in consulting, which are discussed below.

Outsourcing of Support Services

Outsourcing has been widely practiced for at least the last decade for those parts of the business where it made economic and strategic sense. More recently, companies have begun to outsource a greater percentage of corporate functions and entire segments of traditional corporate and professional service departments. This trend will not only continue but also expand.

It is quite possible that many companies will completely outsource safety and health services, just as they have outsourced security and other support activities. This, of course, has led to essentially a transfer of people from the corporate world to the consulting world. Within five years, the corporate model will be one or two manager employees, with all other staffing supported by outside consultants or temporary employees.

The Growth of Consulting

Consulting has been on a growth curve over the last decade and this will likely continue, although at a slower pace.

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