Safety at a Crossroads: To some, the future of safety holds great promise, with jobs being created faster than colleges can graduate qualified professionals. But others see storm clouds on the horizon. This insightful look into both sides exposes some trends in safety that you are definitely not aware of.
On December 29, 1970, Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 into law, forever changing the relationship between business and safety and ushering in the Age of Safety. It has been 41 years since safety became a formal profession, and now it stands at a crossroads.
To some, the future of safety holds great promise, with jobs being created faster than colleges can graduate qualified professionals. But others see storm clouds on the horizon and point to increasingly hostile political rhetoric that equates safety with job losses and an inability to compete globally. Time will tell which side is ultimately correct, but it’s all but certain that it will be some combination of the two. To paraphrase Dickens, “it will be the best of times; it will be the worst of times”.
I make no claim to psychic powers (those of you who do probably knew I was going to say that) and no one has a crystal ball or a perfect view of the future, but there are certain trends in the safety industry that are highly likely to continue during the next decade or two:
A DEMAND FOR ROI
Few business functions are immune to the pressure to contribute to the bottom line and to provide a quantifiable return on investment (ROI). Some resist it and try to shift the focus to Return on Expectation, but that is being seen by most business leaders for what it is: weaseling. If a function is to survive it needs to contribute more value to the organization than the resources it consumes. Period.
Nowhere is this likely to be more of a shift in thinking than in the discipline of safety. Many safety professionals still cling to the idea that their jobs are sacred, safe, decreed by divine right. These professionals will find it increasingly difficult to find and keep a job.
GREATER SPECIALTY WITHIN THE PROFESSION
Industrial hygienists, ergonomists, safety trainers, process engineers, mechanical engineers, risk managers, loss control . . . 40 years has seen an explosion not only in the number, but in the type of safety professionals. Look for this growth to continue in the coming decade, but don’t look for every fabrication shop to hire a pantheon of safety professionals. Instead, look for the increased use of consultants and third-party safety firms that manufacturers hire to provide tightly-controlled business deliverables.
CONSOLIDATION OF SAFETY WITH OTHER FUNCTIONS
This may seem to contradict the point above, but look for these two trends to work in tandem. Companies cannot afford redundant functions that send mix messages to the organizations. Quality, safety, lean, environmental, and continuous improvement must all sing from the same hymnal. In fact, look for a considerable consolidation of these functions.
If it doesn’t make sense to pursue any of the SQDCME inside a vacuum, how can it possibly make sense to continue to silo these teams? Given the choice between maintaining a safety department and a continuous improvement or lean team, most business owners would dump the safety department. The choice isn’t as capricious as it might appear to safety professionals. Lean and/or continuous improvement teams typically provide a return on investment – they earn their keep – whereas safety has not, at least not in any quantifiable way.
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