People who are passionate about safety likely have had a few versions of this conversation around the Thanksgiving dinner table:
A friend or relative asks, “What do you do?” or “What’s with the hard hat?”
“I help protect people in the workplace,” you reply. The response comes quickly.
“I’d better watch my back, or you’ll send me to safety jail.”
When you take something seriously, knowing real people’s lives are on the line, it can be frustrating to feel as though you have to explain yourself again and again. To help you overcome those frustrations, we’ve compiled a list of 10 things you, as a safety professional, wish everyone understood about what you do every day. Feel free to pass it along.
1. Safety Is a Profession
Safety and loss prevention programs at companies of all sizes rely on versatile and educated professionals to help them protect their workers and their bottom line. More and more organizations are realizing that assigning safety compliance responsibilities to untrained individuals is both dangerous and bad for business. Instead, they’re hiring capable professionals and paying them competitively.
That’s why more students are choosing to attend one of 20 accredited occupational safety and health programs in the U.S., and are going on to earn certifications from the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) and other reputable organizations. These certifications supplement their education and credibility, and signify their special focus on topics such as ergonomics, industrial hygiene or training.
2. Safety Affects Everyone
When was the last time you put on a seatbelt? How often do you wear special mitts to protect your hands and arms when you take a hot dish out of the oven? Have you seen the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) poster in your workplace, informing you of your rights?
Many people have worked hard over many years to make these safeguards possible. The safety professionals, product designers and legislators who worked on these initiatives did so because they knew that safety affects everyone. While you might think that identifying risks and then taking steps to mitigate those risks is common sense, it takes uncommonly risk-focused individuals to keep others from harm.
3. Safety, Health and the Environment Are Connected
People and their organizations exist within ecosystems. What is good for the environment is usually good for health, which is usually good for safety. What is good for safety is usually good for health, which is usually good for the environment. That is why the full name of the discipline with which most of our industry’s professionals identify is called occupational safety and health (OSH) or environmental health and safety (EHS).
Companies are increasingly aware of this fact, spending significant resources on corporate sustainability and keeping a close eye on metrics – such as the DOW Jones Sustainability Index in the U.S. – indicating their competitive standing in these areas. While undoubtedly there are altruistic reasons for wanting to protect people, property and the environment, businesses can also make significant financial gains by investing in the earth and their own workers.
4. Safety Professionals Aren’t Cops
The first time many people consider workplace safety is when they are presented with a list of OSHA regulations and training requirements. Without a qualified safety professional to provide context for these rules, it’s easy to understand why workers would misperceive these regulations as unnecessary – or worse, irritating. It’s also easy to understand why workers and company leaders would wrongly assume that safety professionals only exist to police mistakes.
Ensuring that organizations are in compliance with safety regulations is a part of any safety professional’s role, but the job is so much more – from pinpointing challenges to identifying business risks to crafting solutions and implementing systems that save lives. Safety professionals use their technical and soft skills to make lasting change.
5. Safety Is About Expecting the Unexpected
Do you work in an area prone to tornadoes? A safety professional has probably thought about that. Are you coming in contact with silica dust, pesticides, mercury or other substances that could cause diseases or fatalities? A safety professional has probably thought about that, too. These experts are known for being able to simultaneously evaluate past, present and future risks in an effort to protect workers and business operations.
Part of expecting the unexpected is convincing stakeholders that it’s important to invest in regular risk assessments. Safety professionals do this by measuring the effectiveness of previous efforts and aligning the risk assessment process with their organization’s strategic plan. That means they must be proficient in many aspects of their business’ operations.
6. Safety Doesn’t Stop at Work
When you get into your car, board a train or even walk down the street to get home at the end of your workday, you encounter countless risks. Once you arrive at your front door, the potential for safety incidents and disease follows you inside.
Smart organizations invest in their workers’ safety and health 24 hours a day. They know people’s habits off the clock – including exercise, substance use and sleep – affect workplace performance and could affect company retention rates. The concept of approaching employee well-being holistically is known in the OSH profession as Total Worker Health. With the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) leading way, more and more businesses are adopting this model.
7. Safety Earns Companies Money
For many years, few companies adopted the idea that taking care of workers could increase profits. Organizations saw expensive and tragic incidents as a cost of doing business. But companies are getting wise to the fact that formal safety and health programs aren’t just the right thing to do, they’re also a way to make shareholders happy.
More than 60 percent of U.S. CFOs surveyed by Liberty Mutual several years ago said that each $1 they invested in injury prevention alone would likely yield at least $2. Data from Liberty Mutual’s 2019 Workplace Safety Index show that U.S. organizations pay more than $1 billion per week in direct workers’ compensation costs following workplace injuries and illnesses. As the research in this area expands to encompass an increasing number of metrics relevant to businesses, safety programs are earning a new level of respect.
8. Safety Takes Constant Communication
It’s a familiar refrain in safety: First you tell them what you’re going to tell them. Then you tell them. Then you tell them what you told them.
For all their training in engineering, chemistry or other technically advanced specialties, safety professionals must bridge communication gaps between diverse groups of people with different motivations for keeping workers safe. During any given day, safety professionals might need to train front-line workers, talk with OSHA inspectors, present complex data to C-suite executives and update their peers on their progress. Safety professionals’ adaptability and agility is one of many reasons they are a crucial part of any organization.
9. Safety Doesn’t Just Happen
Unfortunately, most people don’t learn safe behaviors once and put them into practice forever. It usually takes many explanations, demonstrations and reminders over a long period of time for messages to stick. Safety professionals understand this better than anyone, and know how to connect with workers using empathy, active listening and storytelling techniques.
Because a large portion of the work that goes into safety programs is invisible, these experts have historically been underappreciated and confronted with “anyone could do that” attitudes from leaders within their organizations. When money is tight and initiatives are cut from the budget, it is common for safety to end up on the chopping block. This is changing slowly over time, driven by new research and a business culture focused on sustainability, and safety professionals are beginning to get their due.
10. Safety Is in Demand
There are a lot of unfilled safety jobs. A quick online search yields more than 27,000 open positions in the U.S. Not only are safety jobs plentiful, but the compensation is also often attractive. For full-time safety professionals, the median base salary is $97,000, according to a 2018 survey we conducted in partnership with BCSP. This is good news for job hunters and students who are about to graduate from OSH programs.
Because demand has outpaced supply, and organizations are struggling with recruitment and retention, candidates can often anticipate competitive compensation packages. These packages could include attractive extras such as wellness benefits, support with financial planning and flexible work schedules.
Want to learn new strategies and solutions to solve some of your biggest occupational safety and health challenges? Join us and more than 5,000 of your peers at Safety 2020 in Orlando.
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