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We Must Be Change Agents

Jim Smith, M.S., CSP, 2017-18 ASSE President
Apr 01, 2018

Jim SmithAs the safety profession evolves, it is natural to assess whether we are increasing our influence on workplace safety. Are we advancing as individuals? Is the profession improving?

Let’s look at some data. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, in 2016, U.S. employers reported 5,190 fatalities and 892,300 cases involving days away from work with an average mean of 8 lost workdays per case. Of the fatalities reported, 1,252 occurred in motor vehicle crashes on the roadway. Homicides accounted for 500 fatalities, a 17% increase over 2015. The 2017 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index indicates that in 2014 workers’ compensation cost $59.9 billion in direct medical cost, wage replacement and expenses. And we know these are not the only costs of the incidents that lead to these compensable injuries and illnesses.

As OSH professionals, we can all agree that these numbers are not acceptable. Therefore, we must challenge ourselves to answer some difficult questions about what we are doing to change these statistics and reverse these trends.

  • Are we regularly changing our programs or processes, or are we repeating the same tactics and hoping for a different outcome?
  • Are we growing our professional knowledge, skills and abilities through continuing education and research, or are we resting on our laurels?
  • Are we pushing for occupational barriers to ensure that only qualified individuals practice in OSH or are we simply maintaining the status quo?

Each of us must be thought leaders and agents of change. As a starting point, I urge you to access two tools from ASSE that can help you improve professionally and enhance safety in your workplace.

  1. Take some time to read the OHS Professional Capability Framework that ASSE and its international partners developed to identify areas where you need to grow your knowledge, skills and abilities.
  2. Share with your employer or clients ASSE’s guide for hiring a safety professional. Helping businesses understand how to identify and hire qualified individuals to implement and manage their OSH programs will go a long way toward ensuring that more workers return home safely each day.

And what about our safety intervention processes? We need to redefine our roles when it comes to managing risk within our organizations. ASSE has been a leading voice in the development of ISO 45001, a highly anticipated standard on occupational safety and health management systems. A systems approach to OSH encourages a more holistic view of interdependent core elements, which, in turn, encourages better engagement with management and workers, and leads to more effective risk assessment. Such an approach can not only prevent injuries and illnesses, but also expand our influence as we help identify and control organizational risks outside the traditional realm of safety.

Management’s core objectives are to grow revenue, protect financial assets, and acquire and retain talent. As safety professionals, we must contribute to these objectives by improving our business acumen.

One place to start is with the metrics we use to measure our success. ASSE is developing a consensus standard on leading and lagging indicators. We anticipate that this standard will move our profession beyond injury statistics and help OSH professionals better measure whether our safety interventions and processes are improving performance; it will also enable us to connect our outcomes to financial results, which will support our business case for more funding.

Our profession must continue to mature, and as professionals we must constantly change and grow our abilities beyond our technical knowledge. The status quo will not work in today’s fast-paced, dynamic business environment. The time for change is now.

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