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).
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. For example, a dramatic rise in the percentage of American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) members calling themselves consultants has occurred. At present, they comprise almost one-quarter of AIHA's members, compared to less than a tenth not many years ago.
I believe a similar change in membership has also occurred in the safety and environmental associations. I predict that consultants will comprise about 35 percent of AIHA's membership within five years. They will represent the largest single employment segment of members. The same growth in consulting will occur, to a lesser degree, for safety consultants, but even more dramatically for environmental professionals.
These trends will be fueled by increased demand for consulting services, lack of other employment opportunities, and early retirements or separations from traditional jobs. The majority of consultants will work for either large firms (over 100 employees) or very small "niche" firms. That is because consulting services will become more commodity-like (a very negative trend) and price competitive, resulting in an economically driven consolidation that favors larger firms and very small firms.
Globalization and the Greens
The globalization of markets is a continuing trend. Propelled by GATT, more companies will become truly worldwide suppliers and manufacturers.
Service organizations such as banks, management firms, insurance firms and even safety and health firms will take on a truly global character or risk loss of work from multinational companies. As this trend matures, safety and health professionals will need to be ready to help design products and information services on both a global and a country-specific basis.
Within the market globalization trend is the increasing importance of world standards, also propelled by GATT. Many of these standards are essential to world trade and very benefical to the world consumer (such as standards for electronics and components of products like computers). ISO and ISO-like standards will dominate our field within the next five years. This will include a health and safety management standard, which will help offset the negative trend of decreased safety and health regulation.
The green movement has been evident in the U.S. for the last two decades. It has gained momentum to embrace business on a global basis as demonstrated by the recent cooperative actions on CFCs and carbon dioxide in their green movement (e.g., recycling). As Tom Peters said in his book "In Search of Excellence," "Clean and green engenders growth, profit and lasting competitive advantage."
This is a dramatic change from the historical notion that environmental restrictions hampered the bottom line.
While the current global green movement will have the greatest effect on environmental professionals (some of whom are in our profession as well), it is also a long-term driver for the safety and health profession. The reduction of pollution and waste will significantly affect the manufacturing environment and our activities. We will become more involved in the achievement of ecologically sound solutions as well as more active in activities outside of the plant walls that have historically been our boundary. This trend bodes well for us.
A Reduction in Regulation
We have witnessed the self-imposed "reinvention" of both NIOSH and OSHA in their survival efforts over the last several months. Probably within the next year, Congress will significantly reduce the power and scope of OSHA and could eliminate much of NIOSH. It is also likely that there will be an overall reduction in regulations of all types affecting commerce, coupled with less enforcement. This will have an initial chilling effect on our profession as most companies drive to reduce overhead in the new business climate.
While our employment and opportunities will suffer initially, the profession will rebound as companies experience the long term consequences of a decreased emphasis on safety and health.
This should not be interpreted as a suggestion that companies will abandon safety and health, but simply an observation that less emphasis (and staffing) will follow decreased regulatory pressures for the short term.
As stated earlier, I also believe an ISO standard on safety and health management will help offset some of the negative effects of a reduction in compliance pressures.
Risk and Decision-Making
The trend of decision-making driven more by risk and economic analysis for the government sector will definitely continue. Government regulations requiring large capital or other private sector expenditures will have to be based on benefits that outweigh those of other options. For example, does it make more sense to provide economic incentives for medical research in heart disease, or to regulate and restrict exposures of carpenters to wood dust? This trend will also influence the efforts of the private sector in their allocation of resources to our work. I expect the result will be more economic justification being required for much of the work we do.
Future members of our field will be expected to have a better understanding of economic analysis and risk assessment.
Women and Minorities
More women are entering our profession. We have also seen more minorities, although their relative numbers remain low. Though men will continue to outnumber women in the profession because more men go into the sciences as undergraduates, we will see as much as 35 percent of our profession comprised of women. Minority representation will also increase, but not to the same extent. I believe that this is due to pure economics.
Minorities with good academic credentials in science and engineering are in high demand, hence will go where the greatest opportunities lie. These are not usually industrial hygiene and safety at an entry level. Additionally, there are fewer people of all races entering the science and engineering fields.
Restriction of Certification
Most of us would describe the EPA model accreditation program in asbestos to be perhaps the single most negative legislation for safety and health professionals. This model program and the subsequent state legislation has severely restricted our right to practice and to receive professional recognition. This was followed by other federal programs in hazardous wastes, radon and, most recently, lead. All of these federally mandated programs require some type of low-level state certification or licensing. In addition, there has been a proliferation of professional certifications and designations. Those certifications and designations in our field not requiring completion of some type of selective exam and at least a bachelor's degree in a cognizant discipline are bogus in this writer's opinion.
This is because the public and most business persons do not understand the difference between the certifications designed to imply knowledge and skill where it does not exist and those designed to legitimately recognize it. I am saddened to say these will continue for the near term. The situation will need to get much worse in combination with some serious incident caused by a "certified" group before we see corrective legislative and public backlash.
I believe this will happen sometime near the end of my five-year forecast. On a somewhat more positive note, states have and will continue to title protect and license us. This should help with the proliferation of fee-for-certification types practicing in our field without any real knowledge or training and encourage a higher level of qualifications. However, this will cause difficulties for consultants that practice across state boundaries.
As our discussion of company restructuring indicated, the health and safety professional of tomorrow will be expected to perform more with (and for) less. A growing number of industrial hygienists practice routinely in the "safety" field, with an increasing number of industrial hygienists obtaining the CSP credential. It is also common for many safety professionals to perform "industrial hygiene" work, with some of them obtaining their CIH.
These trends are all occurring while the requirements for certification are increasing (the American Board of Industrial Hygiene has proposed that candidates for the CIH exam be required to have a master's degree). Coupled with this trend has been the growth of safety and health professionals actively working in the environmental field. The future will belong to generalists with expertise across safety, industrial hygiene and the environment. That is not to say there will not still be a need for those with a narrow focus and special expertise in a single discipline (e.g., industrial hygiene chemistry). However, as more companies go to a scheme where a single or very few persons oversee the services provided by outside firms, they will be looking for persons that "can do it all."
Based on the current trends and outsourcing and consulting, it would seem likely that the generalist will be more "employable" than the specialist since these specialized skills can be obtained from consulting firms for short-term needs.
The Information Age
Over the last five years, we have witnessed an increasing use of computers in the profession and in life. This has been fueled by rapidly changing technology, reductions in the relative cost of computers (cost per unit of computing power), and the geometric growth of information. This is the information age. A prediction for five years out is relatively easy - more of the same!
In the near future, use of the Internet and like services will have a major impact. Information is power and money since it translates to knowledge. As a friend of mine once told me, "He who has the most information will win." On the negative side, your feelings of information overload will pale compared to the future. This problem may be mitigated by future software for "information management."
You will be able to access most any document in the world in five years or less. If you want to know what the requirement is for floor load limits in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, you can simply jump onto the Internet and call up its building codes home page. If your plant operation in Godthab, Greenland, has a problem with workers' gloves cracking when they work with 2,4-Diphenyldihydrodigel, you can simply consult by E-mail or direct written conversation with your plant experts worldwide, as well as use fee-for-service organizations that I believe will rapidly spring up.
I predict safety and health consulting services will spring up over the Internet in less than five years, though the cost of keeping up with this technology likely will overwhelm most consulting firms and private consultants.
A Few Final Words
In summary, I predict our profession and the world around us will change more in the next five years than it has changed over the last 10 years. If we are prepared for the future, we can see our profession mature and prosper. If we ignore what is going on around us, we could be in for a rough ride as strong economic and sociopolitical forces collide. All in all, there are some bumps ahead on the road to our success. My advice is to put your career into four-wheel drive.
Contributing Editor Zack Mansdorf, Ph.D., CIH, CSP, QEP, is director, environmental health services for Clayton Environmental Consultants, based in Stow, Ohio. He is vice president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association.…
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Publication information: Article title: The Future of Safety and Health. Contributors: Mansdorf, Zack - Author. Magazine title: Occupational Hazards. Volume: 57. Issue: 12 Publication date: December 1995. Page number: 22+. © 2008 Penton Media, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1995 Gale Group.
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