As I See It

Perfect Diversity (or, A Crisis A Minute)

SAFETY is the most supreme of diverse occupations! I am constantly asked by either new graduates or those entering the study/field about long-range options for this profession. What a marvelous occupation to house so many layers of professionals in so many work situations!

Safety touches every employee and employer (some, more willingly than others). We have professionals who never see an office because of remote locations and duties in the field; others will never leave the office. Long-range planners of safety programs map "big picture" strategy for the worker bees of safety, who implement the plans, policies, and workplace changes over time. Then, there are the outside, remote safety professionals -- those who audit, investigate, or conduct special training and inspections to solve problems.

Much of our training and abilities are transferable, too, from one industry to another. Code knowledge and the ability to plan, work alone, or with teams accompany us from place to place. I often ask those in the new generation of safety professionals (or those wanting a change) to answer a few questions in order to find the perfect position:

• What do you have to offer the safety world? What are your best talents and skills, and are you aware of your shortcomings? Make a list of your likes and dislikes; it will help you plot your career path.

• What do you like to wear to work? Jeans to specialty equipment to boardroom suits are the norm for this profession.

• On what danger level of work do you thrive? Safety professionals are often in the thick of workplace hazards and have to go where the problems are.

• What is your particular skill set with computers and data management? Many old-timers of safety still have boxes and boxes of paper programs that are regularly "mined" for examples, plans, and information to reformulate into a new policy or plan or training session. (I have 26 cases and two file cabinets.) It is a creative experience for me to delve into this trove. The new generation of safety professionals is much more technically savvy and paperless.

• What is your ability to handle stress and confidential information? Stress affects us all in different ways. Some focus when under extreme workplace stress; others crumble. Safety is a constantly morphing situation where few days go as planned and sudden crisis situations abound.

• How do you handle change? Safety thrives on constant change -- improving, upgrading, changing to a new system, employees coming and going. What about the politics of the office situation? Can you stay out of the mud flinging, or do you thrill at the hysteria (or cause it)?

• How much integrity do you have? (It makes a difference.) How long will you stick to a principle in a crisis? How well do you face anger from upper management? What about anger from co-workers? If falsely accused, how do you confront the accuser?

From the broad generalist to the professional with the finest-detailed assignment, safety covers it all. Pick up any big news story and we are mentioned: space travel; food safety and recalls, medical virus outbreaks, bridge collapses, mine accidents, weather extremes -- we are there for the latest, the most important, the most critical. The bottom line is our ability and desire to make a difference.      

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

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