THE SAFETY GENERALIST
By Phil La Duke
Before there can be any discussion about specializing within a particular area of safety, it makes sense to first explore the role and duties of the one who typically owns worker safety from “soup to nuts” within a given manufacturing facility.
While Safety Generalists are most often employed by smaller manufacturers with limited resources, larger factories often employ a mix of Safety Generalists and specialists. Because of the disparity between industries, governments, and organizations, the job duties of Safety Generalist s can vary widely between individuals, but there are generally similar categories of duties.
COMPLIANCE AND RECORD KEEPING
Every facility must comply with its respective government regulations, and the onus of keeping records that demonstrate this compliance often falls to the Safety Generalist. A lot of “paper worker” is associated with the world of compliance and record keeping, and for those Safety Generalists working in larger scale operations, simply keeping up with the required documentation alone can be a real challenge that leaves them with little time left for other duties.
The reason why is that compliance is much more than just mindless bookkeeping. Regulatory conformance demands navigation through a labyrinth of federal, state and local laws that must be interpreted properly for the correct application of specific regulations to certain site operations. If this task doesn’t sound daunting, it should. The application of a single government regulation can differ significantly between manufacturers, depending upon their sizes, their industry codes, the number of people they employ and a host of other variables. Most importantly, millions of dollars in fines are at stake if any given requirement is misinterpreted.
DEVELOPING SAFETY POLICY
Whether a Safety Generalist is actually writing the safety policies or acting as a subject matter expert that advises the human resources or legal department, this role will be deeply involved in the development of safety policy. Often, the organization will ask this position to research best practices in safety policy or even to study the efficacy of various safety recommendations. In one case to which I am privy, a Safety Generalist was asked to specify the exact amount of tinting that safety glasses and protective goggles could contain without creating a hazard in itself.
Many manufacturers lack sufficient resources to employ a full-time training professional capable of delivering safety training, so the responsibility for completing compliance training is heaped on the shoulders of the Safety Generalist. Records that prove a given worker has completed all of the required training must be kept, updated and maintained – additional record keeping tasks. In many cases, the organization not only expects the Safety Generalist to deliver training, but to develop it as well. This practice sometimes produces good results, but the truth is that it more frequently leads to shoddy, unprofessional training being provided to workers.
Worker safety requires a lot of esoteric communication that does not apply to other organizational functions, For this reason a fair amount of the Safety Generalist’s role may be devoted to creating, generating and distributing communication pieces designed to increase employee awareness of company compliance policies, job hazards of a particular note, or even the relationship between the lifestyle of the employee and their overall health and well-being.
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About the Author: Phil La Duke is a partner in the Performance Assurance Practice at ERM: Environmental Resources Management, 3352 128th Avenue, Holland, MI 49424, 313-244-2525, www.erm.com. You can also follow Phil and reach him on his blogs at www.philladuke.wordpress.com.