The Future's Bright

Workers and bosses get it. Their PPE is excellent. We're watching a safety mindset take hold in much of the world and helping it grow.

What's the good news for safety in 2007? Just look around:

  • The Last Mile of Safety--spreading the safe workplace culture to the home and into the community--is shrinking as CEOs and companies increasingly share safety themes and information with dependents. "It is growing. It is an absolute business investment that has a great ROI," said Alan C. McMillan, president/CEO of the National Safety Council.
  • Much of the rest of the world is serious about safe workplaces and welcomes partnerships with us.
  • Machismo and blind risk taking are disappearing. Today's workers are better educated, more willing to listen, and smarter about their own safety than were the generations who preceded them.
  • Current private-sector injury and illness rates and fatality totals and rates are less than half of what they were just 20 years ago. When OSHA was created, the rates and total occupational deaths were nearly three times higher than they are now.

What's the bad news?

  • The incidence rate for Total Lost Workday Cases has dropped more slowly. Serious injuries are flat and may even be rising, a concern voiced by Dan Petersen and Fred Manuele, two highly regarded industry leaders who are members of the Safety and Health Hall of Fame International.
  • About 54,000 of the roughly 110,000 annual U.S. deaths from preventable accidents are happening not at work, nor on the highways, but in the community at large. Deaths and the fatality rate in this latter category are not declining. "I think the trend lines are moving generally in the right way with one huge exception: off the job," said McMillan.
  • "We still lose 5,500, or close to 6,000, lives a year. And we get upset, rightly so, when we lose 12 miners. But keep in mind, we lose close to 6,000 people a year in workplace accidents," former OSHA administrator John L. Henshaw said.
  • U.S. civilian fire deaths are gradually falling but remain high, at an estimated 3,675 for 2005. Home fires continue to cause more than 80 percent of those deaths every year, the National Fire Protection Association reports.

The American safety profession and its safety industry have made tremendous progress since this magazine originated in 1932. Progress during the past four decades--the era of OSHA, NIOSH, MSHA, and other safety-focused federal agencies--has been impressive, and most indicators are moving in the right direction, as McMillan said shortly before NSC's 94th Annual Congress and Expo took place in November 2006. The networked world in which we live has eliminated many borders to commerce and also to information. With some safety product categories--mainly disposable products with large unit volumes, such as gloves, eyewear, and clothing--now manufactured offshore in developing countries, safety expertise and PPE are making inroads into those countries' workplaces.

Smarter Workers, Better Tools
Edward D. "Jed" Bullard, chairman of 108-year-old PPE manufacturer E.D. Bullard Company, said he sees this time as the "post-OSHA era," which he regards as the safety industry's third phase after "pre-World War II" and "World War II to OSHA" eras. "OSHA sort of captured the country's commitment to its workers and protected workers who might be working in smaller or middle-sized companies where they were still, shall we say, employers of the old school," Bullard said. The post-OSHA era has seen a friendlier, more effective approach by the agency, he said. "With the exception of people who are making gross violations, I think they really have learned that the carrot is going to work better than the stick.

"The other thing that's happening is, today's worker is so much better educated. Today's worker is, number one, more likely to recognize the value of personal protective equipment or safe working methods, a safe working environment, and much more willing to accept perhaps giving up a little bit of their own personal choice if the workplace does a reasonable job of educating them of the hazard," Bullard said. "You don't have this sort of macho, undereducated sort of resistance that you might have had 30 or 40 years ago, or longer ago. It's a big difference for the employer.

"The equipment is better designed, it's easier to use, it's probably less expensive as a percentage of the cost of the work," he added. "Our industry, the personal protective equipment industry, has done a great job, I think, in adapting to the new world, as you would expect in any free market. All of these things tend to help out."

"If you just look at the safety harness for fall protection, the body belt that used to be used: You could hang in that for about a minute and a half before you passed out. As of today, you've got a good 30 minutes before gravity starts making you pretty uncomfortable in a harness," said Charles D. Reese, author of six safety and health textbooks, a former managing director for the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America, and the retired leader of the safety undergraduate and graduate programs at the University of Connecticut College of Continuing Studies. "When it first came out in 1998 as a requirement that had to be used, I remember all the construction guys saying, 'We can't wear that. We can't work in that harness.' If you go on any construction site today, anyplace where there is a potential for a fall, you'll see guys working in harnesses without any trouble at all."

"The biggest change that I've seen is the technology growth in the industrial hygiene arena, from the standpoint of being able to monitor, and evaluate, and also control health hazards that are found in the workplace. The instruments that we're using today are just so much more sophisticated than what I had when I got into the profession years ago. . . . And we're starting to get instruments now that give you real-time information," said Roy Buchan, DrPH, CIH, AIHA's 2005-06 president and founder of Colorado State University's industrial hygiene program.

Joe Schwed, corporate manager of Global HSE Operations for Honeywell International in Morristown, N.J., said safety commitment has grown as more and more companies, including Honeywell, implement EH&S management systems that follow models such as OSHA's VPP, ISO 14001, OHSAS 18001, and ANSI/AIHA Z10-2005, American National Standard for Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems. "These management systems set out consistent, proactive, and repeatable processes and identifying, prioritizing, and managing HSE risks in a proactive way--before these risks result in accidents," Schwed said. 

"Employers are much more aware of safety issues," agreed Joe Beck, professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Eastern Kentucky University. "I suspect that this has been driven by fines, liability, and the hiring of qualified environmental, health, and safety professionals. I wish that I could say it has happened by a values shift on the part of employers, but I am afraid that it is due to the impact of health and injury on the bottom line."

John Pendergrass, CIH, CSP, P.E., OSHA's administrator in the mid-1980s, agreed that employers are "better informed today than they were 25 years ago. And certainly far more than they were 50 years ago."

Safety Advances Around the World
John T. Ryan III, chairman and CEO of Pittsburgh-based MSA, said the company has operations in 38 countries and has maintained at least one-third of its sales outside the United States since before he started working in the international division 37 years ago.

Chile in the 1970s was the most advanced in safety among Latin American countries, he said. "Their standards have encouraged others now, I would say, to come up to the high standards they have set and approved. But a lot of Chile's initial safety consciousness was put in by Anaconda and Kennecott, which were big copper companies who were driven out in the late '60s, early '70s. They established a mentality of safety in the mines that was picked up by the local Chilean people who owned the mines. Right now those mines are government owned, but the management and the people of the mines in Chile in the '70s, while the copper companies were gone, still kept that mentality that safety works out, safety's the right thing to do, let's keep up good safety standards.

"Now all of that has been internalized, and you would say in Latin America that a locally owned company or European-owned company would likely have every bit as good a safety program as an American-owned company," Ryan said.

Safety consciousness is growing in China, South Africa, India, and other parts of the world, he added. "This is a one-way street. It's only going to go in the direction of more protection of people and moving towards global standards. And in most countries of the world, the standards that are set are generally pretty good. Where there are deficiencies in certain parts of the world, it's generally in enforcement of the standards," Ryan said.

"I've had some experience internationally," said Buchan, who has been working in the IH profession for 40 years. "In Brazil, for example, I think they're really picking up the ball and moving forward. In Poland, they've made tremendous progress. In other countries, such as Romania, they're still fairly backward. Many of the Eastern European countries are still fairly backward. Taiwan is right up there, but mainland China is still practicing after-the-fact medicine. So I think some of the countries are just going to have to go through the growth period and the growing pains we had here. At the same time, I think we should be doing as much as we can to help those people get to where we are."

"We must be careful how we approach global engagement from a U.S. perspective," the National Safety Council's McMillan said. "We cannot go and say, 'We know how to do it all, and you should do it like we do.' One, because it won't sell as an interaction strategy; it's the wrong approach. Number two, it's probably the wrong approach in the sense that it may not be right. We don't know it all. There are European initiatives, there are Asian initiatives in South Korea and in Japan and coming out of a growing China, Taiwan, Singapore, that have maybe more cutting-edge, proven-to-work innovations than maybe we have."

U.S. safety professionals' expertise can be of great assistance to small/medium companies and governments around the globe, he said. "It's much more than just us sharing our leadership with others. We have to partner with others and have the leadership that comes forth from the partnership."

McMillan noted the council's international membership has been "aggressively growing." And while for many years NSC has had as members U.S. companies with global operations, "we now have companies that are only located outside the United States--maybe in India, or China, or Japan, or Saudi Arabia, or South America, or Europe, wherever they may be--and don't have a U.S. operation at all." Although some model their safety programs on U.S. practices and standards, increasingly these companies do not, he said. "More and more, U.S. companies are global companies. So the mainline core of our membership are global operations, even sometimes small companies because they may be getting parts or supplies that are produced somewhere else in the world. Or they may even have customers in some other part of the world. They almost always now have an eye toward the global landscape that we live in today."

Ireland started its own Voluntary Protection Program in October 2005 with help from OSHA and the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association, said R. Davis Layne, VPPPA's executive director. Layne met last fall with representatives from Spain to discuss starting VPP there. "Your major international companies all have in place overseas their own VPP programs," he said. "Their corporate headquarters administer them, but the criteria are the same as VPP."

MSA says its greatest growth potential is outside North America and Europe; there are good opportunities in Eastern Europe, Asian sales are growing well, and sales in South America and Latin America are growing well, Ryan said. The high price of energy motivates many countries to increase supply, boosting the need for products everywhere in the energy industry, which is a challenging area for safety, he said.

"We'll be at our objective when every country in the world has safety standards voluntarily complied with, with the same enthusiasm that we have in Europe, and the U.S., and Canada, and Australia, and other places in the world where the standards are fairly high," Ryan said.

Bullard cautioned that "it's not yet a global environment anywhere in the PPE business, and part of that is because of the P in PPE--the Personal.

"An ironworker or a steelworker in America, he or she wants to look different than a utility worker or a construction worker. You go out onto these work sites and you look at these workers, they dress differently, they often have different types of equipment and everything else," he said. "Now you take that globally and start taking that into industries that are in different countries, you start to see that somebody will want to wear a respirator that looks a little different or acts a little differently. They have a different philosophy about what the respirator should do. All of this slows down this big tide of globalization that people tend to kind of paint with this one brush. I think the next 20 or 30 years will be very exciting times for people involved in safety as we take a moment to learn why are there differences and then what can people do to reflect the differences and advance the industry at the same time. It just takes time."

Schwed said Honeywell, which operates in more than 100 countries, has a global approach to managing HSE risk that is more stringent than local regulations in many jurisdictions. "This applies both to our management systems . . . and to our processes around specific risks, such as confined space entry or waste management," he said. "We require our plants to follow these global best practices while also ensuring that they comply with any specific requirements imposed by the jurisdictions where they operate. I think that this model, rather than just focusing on regulations, is the framework for the future for multinational companies." 

Safe Homes, Safe Communities
"People think that our equipment industry in America is under so much pressure. Well, yes, but look at the number of people who when they're working on a project at their home now wear eye protection, or respiratory protection, or even head protection, and certainly hand protection," Bullard said. "Even 10 or 15 years ago, they might have worn the protection when they were at work because they were told to, but now it's gotten to the point where they're beginning to understand the reasons for it.

"I like to say our industry has done something in making these products easier to use and more readily available. Now, if they need something, they can go down to the local hardware store and find the same stuff that 10 years ago you'd have had to go to a SEDA member to find. That's going to happen all around the world as living standards continue to rise."

MSA's Ryan said fall protection, eye protection, respiratory protection, and hearing protection products have a place in homes, which is why the MSA Safety Works initiative was created about a decade ago. MSA does not disclose the unit's sales, but it has been growing very nicely, he said.

VPP aids here, too, because participating sites encourage their employees to take the safe culture home. "What does that do? That begins to spread into the family members, the youth," Layne said. "When those family members get ready to enter into the workforce they bring that culture to the workforce, which I think is a real advantage."

Enlightened business leaders see safety holistically and recognize its value to their companies' bottom lines. CEOs of Noble Corp., the 2005 winner of the National Safety Council's Robert W. Campbell Award, and of 2006 winners Alcan Inc. and DynMcDermott Petroleum Operations Co. told reporters during the 2006 National Safety Congress that capital markets reward safety leadership. "Today, people are beginning to appreciate that it's the right thing for the shareholders. It is something that gets recognized," Alcan CEO Richard Evans said. Alcan describes its EHS FIRST program as the key to ensuring it achieves a company-wide objective of zero EHS incidents. The company says the program has delivered more than $40 million in identified savings "and is fostering a mindset and culture of EHS believers and champions throughout the Company." Encouraging employees to adopt safe, healthy, environmentally conscious lifestyles at work and at home is one of the EHS FIRST guiding principles.

Evans cited Alcan's purchase of a smelter in China that had been recording an average of three or four fatalities annually. Alcan installed its safety practices there. Though one fatality occurred during Alcan's initial two years of ownership, the site's safety performance is much improved, a point noticed by Chinese competitors in the aluminum industry, he said.

Noble CEO Mark Jackson said his company, an offshore and deep water oil and gas driller, has received a higher day rate for its rigs because of its strong safety record. Seeing it, customers know the company is efficient and productive, he explained.  

New Challenges for the Next Generation
Doom and gloom about the future of industrial hygiene as a viable profession is misplaced, Buchan said. "We've not seen the end of industrial hygiene in this country just because manufacturing has decreased. We're working in a lot more areas. For example, over 50 percent of the membership of the American Industrial Hygiene Association say they're not only practicing industrial hygiene, they're practicing occupational safety and environmental health, as well."

He and several others interviewed for this article say they're optimistic the next generation of professionals will materialize. Daniel E. Della-Giustina, Ph.D., a professor at West Virginia University's Safety and Environmental Management Program in Morgantown, said it's tough right now to attract enough students.

"Quite frankly, we're seeing the graying of the profession. We had a large number of people come into this profession after passage of the OSH Act. They're starting to reach retirement age," said Buchan. "I think there's going to be kind of a lag period here, but there's going to be another growth boom in young industrial hygienists in the next few years. We're just right at the beginning of the wave, and I think it's going to rise. I'm at Colorado State University right now, and quite frankly we don't have any trouble placing our students, but we don't have four or five companies or organizations trying to hire each one of our students like we did 25 years ago." College programs have to recruit very hard at the moment, he said, adding, "I think they'll be crawling out of the woodwork as job demands increase."

"I think we're in reasonably good shape. Our institutions are putting out good people," Henshaw said. "Do we have enough? That really is determined by whether the employers, the people who are going to pay their salary, want that expertise. The public and the regulators need to continue to put pressure on those who are going to pay those salaries to hire people to deal with these issues. Obviously, that needs to continue."

He noted there were surges when OSHA and EPA came into existence, ramping up demand and work for 10 to 15 years or longer. With that having ended, some see a decline "because now their engineers are thinking like safety professionals or environmental people, because they're designing the process, designing the equipment, so it's a little bit safer. Now they don't need them as much, so you don't see them hiring as many. But there are still some opportunities here," he said, specifically citing the construction industry.

"I'm kind of worried about who's going to replace all of us," said Bill Borwegen, 51, OSH director for the Service Employees International Union. "I think we were young and idealistic. I like to think that now I'm old and idealistic. But I don't see this young, idealistic group coming forward to take some of our places. There's still a lot out there, there's still a lot of work to be done."

"We have better equipment," said Pendergrass. "We can more easily and quickly evaluate the environment. And at the same time, we're going to be looking at things that we had not been able to before. In 1948, the aim was to prevent illness and death. Now, the approach is very much well-being. We have the ability to measure small amounts, the ability to evaluate those from a health standpoint. All of that, as far as I'm concerned, is a big plus."

Asked whether industrial hygiene remains a vibrant field, he replied, "It's going to be a changed field. I think its vibrancy is going to depend on the leadership of the profession. If they think it's going to be doomed, it'll be doomed."

In March 2006, at the most recent annual meeting of leaders of numerous safety organizations (including the National Safety Council, ASSE, AIHA, ACOEM, BCSP, and certifying boards for industrial hygienists and occupational health nurses), membership declines and the graying of the profession were topics they discussed, McMillan said. He said he attributes the decline partly to OSHA's overall inactivity during the past two presidential administrations.

Although companies have not been as assertive as they once were of their need for new, college-trained people coming into the profession, there will always be a need for good technical capability in process safety for petrochemicals, ergonomics issues, and many other areas, he said. Beyond that, he said, workplaces in America are changing, using much more technology and requiring safety and health vice presidents and directors who are much better than today's professionals at being business partners in their organizations.

That's the future of safety both internationally and domestically, and it is what will keep fresh talent coming into the profession, McMillan said. "You really want to make safety a career and are working for a small or midsize company, you need to get your MBA at night or educate yourself in some way. You're going to have to be a business partner if you're going to track your way to the senior levels of leadership."

Henshaw said the future will be demonstrating the value of safety, and he's already working with business schools on studies to prove it and with an economist to show the value of VPP. "We want to foster [an understanding of safety's value] at the site, at the workplace, because there's no way you can develop enough rules to cover all the circumstances that exist out there in a dynamic workplace. It just can't be done. And the only way to do it is, there's got to be a value statement there. . . . Either it's a value given by Wall Street--they recognize organizations who do that, so there's some additional value attributed to them--or it's on their bottom line on a daily basis. They can perform much more effectively if they do it this way," he said.

"We live in a world where safety professionals are now working in organizations that may not have had anyone in this function five years ago. This is a good thing," said Honeywell's Schwed, 39, who earned a master's degree in Occupational Safety and Health Engineering in 1993 and a second master's in Environmental Science in 1995. "You must be passionate and diplomatic. You need to be able to distinguish yourself by defining who you are, so education and certification are very important," he advised. "Just as important is understanding the business of the company where you work so you can effectively integrate health, safety, and environmental practices into the work environment."

This article appeared in the January 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

Safety and Health Pioneers
The pioneers of workplace safety and health in the United States were born in the 19th Century or the early years of the 20th. Created in 1943, AIHA's Cummings Award is named for the third president in AIHA's long history, Donald E. Cummings, who was born in 1900 and died in a plane crash in December 1942. Many safety and industrial hygiene leaders have received the award, as CIH Steven P. Levine pointed out in his 2006 Cummings Memorial Award lecture, which was published in the October 2006 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

Besides Dr. Alice Hamilton, who delivered the Cummings lecture in 1948, the "founders" Levine hailed were Warren A. Cook--president-elect in AIHA's first election of officers in June 1939 and a 1953 Cummings recipient--for laying the groundwork for Threshold Limit Values and occupational exposure limits; Morton Corn for working to fashion a governmental role for industrial hygienists; and Harry Ettinger for his contributions to the PEL Update Project of 1989. Corn was OSHA's assistant secretary from December 1975 to January 1977 and was instrumental, along with fellow industrial hygienists Don Chaffin, Jim Pierce, and Jeff Lee (later ACGIH's chairman), in helping NIOSH establish the Educational Resource Center concept in 1977, according to "The American Industrial Hygiene Association: Its History and Personalities" (1994).

John Pendergrass, AIHA's 1974-75 president and OSHA's 1986-89 administrator, was the second industrial hygiene graduate from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, earning his master's degree there in 1955, when Cook headed the school. "Second individual. I was the class," Pendergrass said in an October 2005 interview. "It was a very fortunate thing, to have a tutorial with Warren Cook for that period of time was outstanding. He was a remarkable individual. He was born in 1900 and dearly wanted to live in three centuries. He died at 92 and was still working."

Levine in his lecture also identified 11 "pioneers" who included corporate, governmental, and academic industrial hygienists in the United States, Puerto Rico, France, and South Korea, beginning his list with Professor Patricia Brogan of Wayne State University and ending with ventilation expert D. Jeff Burton, a former AIHA president and 2004 Cummings recipient. Other pioneers mentioned frequently in AIHA's printed history include Frank Patty, the 1946-47 president who was General Motors' IH director during his presidency and was general conference chairman when AIHA and AGCIH held their first joint conference in 1961; and Anna Baetjer, the first woman to be AIHA's president (serving in 1951-52).

Many of the profession's luminaries who have held senior positions at AIHA and ASSE are members of the Safety and Health Hall of Fame International, including Roger L. Brauer, who is executive director of the Board of Certified Safety Professionals; renowned authors Dan Petersen and Daniel E. Della-Giustina; and Dr. Irving J. Selikoff. (Hamilton, too, is a member of the hall; NIOSH annually presents Alice Hamilton Awards for Occupational Safety and Health to recognize excellent research and instructional materials created by its scientists and engineers. NIOSH similarly honored Dr. James P. Keogh, a champion of occupational disease prevention who died in June 1999 at age 49, by instituting the annual James P. Keogh Award for Outstanding Service in Occupational Safety and Health in 2000. It recognizes a current or former NIOSH employee for outstanding service in protecting workers' health and safety. Likewise, the National Safety Council's Robert W. Campbell Award honors the first president of the council after its 1913 formation. Campbell was a lawyer who in 1908 became chairman of Illinois Steel's corporate safety committee, which the council says was one of the first of its time and the organizer of visionary programs, training materials, and safe work practices for the company's plants.)

Selikoff, who died in May 1992, had a long association with Mount Sinai Medical School. He co-discovered a treatment for tuberculosis and also conducted some of the earliest research that proved the health hazards of asbestos (Selikoff IJ, Churg J, Hammond EC. Asbestos exposure and neoplasia, JAMA 1964; 188:22-26). His work won awards from the American Public Health Association, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the American Cancer Society.

The 1964 report from Selikoff, et al. on mortality of a cohort of 632 asbestos insulation workers in the New York area during their working years of 1943-1962 found significant increases in deaths from lung cancer, mesothelioma, gastrointestinal cancer, and asbestosis. Fifteen years later, Selikoff and colleagues published a follow-up study of 17,800 insulation workers in the United States and Canada that found an increased risk of death from cancer and asbestosis at a latency between onset of exposure and death of 20 to 40 years or more. (Selikoff IJ, Seidman H. Mortality experience of insulation workers in the United States and Canada, 1943-1976. Ann NY Acad Sci 1979; 330:91-116.)

The International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health ( noted in its September 2006 issue that the World Health Organization finally declared in May 2006 that all forms of asbestos cause cancer. IJOEH's editor, Professor Joe LaDou of the University of California School of Medicine, wrote in a comment on the WHO statement that "it was not until 1986, 22 years after the publication of the Selikoff study, that the WHO published its first document on asbestos. By that time, the asbestos cancer epidemic was claiming tens of thousands of lives. By 1973, the full range of the danger of asbestos was apparent. If the WHO had pressed the world community to end asbestos mining and manufacture, the world could have added asbestos to polio and smallpox viruses as conquered agents. Instead, the WHO and the ILO were lulled into inaction by industry experts who gave conflicting scientific reports of the epidemic. To this day, WHO and ILO have played only minor roles in the international campaign to end the asbestos cancer epidemic. This new statement on the health hazard of asbestos may be late, but it is nonetheless a milestone on the path to an international ban on asbestos supported by all United Nations agencies."

This article originally appeared in the January 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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