The 1990's: What Challenges Await Safety and Health Professionals? Changes in the Work Force, Workplace, and Technology Will Require the Occupational Health and Safety Professionals of the Next Decade to Maintain Flexible, Responsive Programs

By LaBar, Gregg | Occupational Hazards, February 1989 | Go to article overview

The 1990's: What Challenges Await Safety and Health Professionals? Changes in the Work Force, Workplace, and Technology Will Require the Occupational Health and Safety Professionals of the Next Decade to Maintain Flexible, Responsive Programs


LaBar, Gregg, Occupational Hazards


THE 1990's: WHAT CHALLENGES AWAIT SAFETY AND HEALTH PROFESSIONALS?

In the 1990's, women will continue to increase their work force participation. Employers will be hiring workers from an older population. A growing percentage of jobs will be in the service sector. Advanced equipment and new processes will be entering the workplace in a steady stream.

Technology, global competition, and regulatory activity have made "the future" not a matter for idle speculation, but an important factor in business planning. It is worthwhile and realistic to "forecast" 10 years into the future to avoid being "blindsided by a change you don't anticipate," according to Marilyn Block, executive vice president of the Naisbitt Group, founded by "Megatrends" author John Naisbitt.

For the safety and health professional, buffeted in the 1980's by such concerns as hazard communication, community right-to-know, and cumulative trauma disorders, the next decade also promises to hold its fair share of new challenges.

Dr. James O. Pierce, director of the Southern California Educational Resource Center (ERC) and a professor at the University of Southern California (USC), tells Occupational Hazards that changes in health and safety standards, regulations, practices, and programs in the 1990's are likely to be "evolutionary," much like the redefining of the work force itself.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the size of the work force will increase steadily throughout the 1990's, to about 139 million people by the year 2000. BLS estimates that 21 million new jobs (all but 1 million in the service industries) will be created between the years 1986 and 2000.

BLS predicts for the same period that labor force participation by females will increase from about 52 million to roughly 66 million. Only 39 percent of the work force in 1972, women are projected to have a 47 percent share by 2000.

In addition, the civilian work force will be older, as people in their late teens and early 20's eschew entering the labor market to further their education. Many workers will be in their 40's and 50's, a result of the aging of the baby boom population and the baby bust of the 1970's.

In the next decade, health and safety professionals may find themselves dealing regularly with an older working population that tends to have poorer vision, slower reaction times, and general body frailty, according to industrial hygienist Charles McJilton, a consultant to Twin City Testing and an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis-St. Paul).

Coinciding with changes in the work force will be dramatic changes in the workplace. Jonathan Peck, associate director of the Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF), a nonprofit research organization founded by Clement Bezold and "Future Shock" author Alvin Toffler, says that labor's contribution to production has become "a negligible component" -- about 10 percent -- and predicts a continuing decline with "no certain end point."

Automation and streamlined management concepts will enable companies to produce more goods with fewer employees, Peck adds. "Seventy years ago, everybody said we needed people in agriculture instead of manufacturing. What people didn't understand was that 7 percent of the work force could feed everybody. The same thing seems to be happening to manufacturing." Naisbitt Group's Block calls the phenomenon a "deindustrialization of labor," not of the entire economy.

USC's Pierce sees a trend toward "the home work force," where people are plugged into the company computer for work at home. Peck foresees a worker sitting at a computer terminal in a small office completing tasks that previously required interaction with supervisors, communications specialists, accountants, and secretaries. He anticipates reliance on voice-to-data technology and forecasts "a merger of three key areas" -- the television, telephone, and computer. …

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