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Embracing Our More Visible Role

Deborah R. Roy, M.P.H., R.N., CSP, COHN-S, CIT, FASSP, FAAOHN, 2020-2021 ASSP President
Jul 01, 2020

Deborah RoyAs I wrote this first message to you, I realized that my term as president will be the first time since early in our more than 100-year history that the world is facing the same public health crisis at the same time. The SARS CoV-2 virus has challenged each country to find a strategy to protect public health and preserve its economy. Each country has tried various measures to flatten the curve, from containment with testing and contact tracing, to mitigation by sheltering at home. There simply is no quick solution.

Although the amplitude of the pandemic wave varies from one country to another, we all remain vulnerable to a new coronavirus to which no one is immune and for which there is no preventive vaccine. This creates a vital role for us as OSH professionals. We are evaluating this risk, interpreting the research, developing pandemic plans and helping our organizations make the right decisions to protect their stakeholders. I even had a client tell me recently that I have spent my entire 35-plus year career in occupational safety, occupational health and public health just to respond to this pandemic. These truly are unprecedented times.

During the first COVID-19 webinar I taught for ASSP on March 18, 2020, I stated, "COVID-19 will likely be one of the most challenging risks that we as OSH professionals experience in our careers due to the level of unknowns." We have learned much about this virus in the past 5 months, but many questions remain.

As OSH professionals, we must continue to monitor the latest research, identify the evolving risks, then develop innovative solutions that focus on the higher levels of the hierarchy of controls. Creative, practical and industry-specific solutions will position us in a more visible role within our organizations than ever before.

During her webinar, "COVID-19: Proactive OSH Performance During Challenging Times," fellow board member Pam Walaski, CSP, said, "OSH professionals have a unique opportunity to lead their organizations in the post-pandemic world." She added that we are most effective when we understand how our organization functions “along several parameters, including risk management, capacity/resilience and sustainability/human capital. Pam's words really resonated with me. Our company leaders want answers.

As OSH professionals, we are well positioned to provide those answers in the form of science-based solutions and best practices that are grounded in an understanding of our organization and our industry. I have seen a growing number of social posts from OSH professionals saying they have been included in making decisions, often for the first time.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause sickness and death globally. But for OSH professionals, this crisis presents us with a new opportunity. Our unique skill set, knowledge and experience place us in a unique position to provide the C-suite with credible guidance, informed risk analysis and practical solutions that enable them to make good decisions that protect employees, contractors and customers.

If you have not yet been asked to do so, take some time to develop succinct summaries of the latest reputable data that applies to your industry and modify existing pandemic plans based on what has been learned so far during reopening. Then, start to consider the long-term solutions that mitigate the risks, such as touchless design and new layouts that allow for distancing.

This pandemic will likely continue in waves for the next couple of years. We have a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow by using the valuable resources readily available from ASSP, OSHA, CDC and many other credible organizations and agencies. We fulfill a critical role that will impact the overall well-being of much of the working population worldwide. Working together, we will create a safer, stronger future. This is our time to shine. Let's seize the opportunity.

 

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