Partners in Prevention

Safety's professional associations will play an increasingly important role in support of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the decades ahead.

OSHA's 40-year anniversary has come and gone. In that time, the agency's direction has changed as often as our nation's politics. Fortunately, some of our oldest worker safety organizations have helped the agency navigate through troubled and choppy waters. When OSHA has needed to reconnect with industry, play catch-up with the ever-changing hazard arena, or seek support to effect change, it has had to look only as far as the nation's safety associations for guidance and support.

During the next 40 years, it makes sense that these same organizations will continue to play a role. Three of the oldest and most influential organizations are the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), and the National Safety Council (NSC). To fully understand where OSHA might be headed in the future, one must understand the direction of the consensus organizations.

First and foremost, all agree the I2P2 injury and illness prevention programs standard will be enacted soon. "It is a top priority of OSHA," said Jim Johnson, group vice president, Workplace Safety Initiatives at NSC. "The National Safety Council has issued a policy encouraging all organizations to have a safety management system. We believe that a rule would be helpful if well organized and presented, but we do support the need for all companies to have an effective safety management system."

2010-2011 ASSE President Darryl C. Hill, Ph.D, CSP, said his organization supports the standard because it provides a good starting point for businesses. "It's not very prescriptive, it doesn't tell a company how to go about having an I2P2 program in place," he said. "But we feel that at least it provides a framework for small to medium companies that may not necessarily have injury and illness prevention programs to at least have a framework in place."

Harmonized Standards and Demand for Training
Perhaps the biggest catalyst for progress and change is the ever-shrinking global stage. As more industries become multinational, current AIHA President Elizabeth Pullen, CIH, foresees a greater push for global harmonization in the regulatory field.

"I think it will kind of be hand in hand," she said. "Some have already embraced it. Companies that have European bases, they may have already made these changes. Companies that are strictly U.S.-based, it may take them a little longer. But almost everybody sells to somebody. There's very few companies, I would imagine, that are strictly U.S.-based, that don't bring in any raw materials from other countries or their materials don't eventually get sent to other countries."

Hill said the push for global harmonization will cause many employers to turn to consensus standards for answers. "We always know we're going to have to abide by the law of the regulations, such as OSHA's, and there's still going to be a need for that. But I think the leading organizations, especially those that are global, are going to look to these consensus standards," he said. "These will probably be viewed in a more favorable light than a law or regulation because it will be, by nature of the process for any consensus standard to be developed, just that: a consensus by organizations across a wide variety of industries."

Ultimately, growing pressure from global companies as they incorporate more consensus or best practice standards will push OSHA to follow suit, he said. "What I would see occurring -- and OSHA is doing some of this now, but I think even more so in the future -- is that they will basically just adopt or include that standard into their law."

Along with the harmonization trend will emerge a growing need for universal training. The NSC's Johnson pointed out the popularity of blended training courses, which pair online study with traditional classroom instruction. "There is definitely more online training taking place that supplements the more traditional classroom, instructor-led training," he said. "We're seeing more virtual opportunities for symposiums and conferences, where you can bring together large groups of people and have multiple topics and sessions that are being presented that do not require the individuals to travel or to sit in a conference room or classroom."

He said early indications are that OSHA will continue to embrace the benefits of online training. "Through their institute, they have approved OSHA training providers that are predominately in classrooms, but they do have a number of companies that are approved for online OSHA 10-hour and 30-hour courses for general industry and construction," he said.

Pullen said AIHA will look to expand its training to include changes brought to the industrial hygiene industry by automation technology -- specifically, the growing pool of EHS professionals. "I think that's something that we need to learn more about and basically embrace and train our members, as well as other people that maybe aren't traditional members of AIHA," she said. "There's an opportunity for us to help train the larger population of EHS professionals on these direct-reading instruments and the various more highly technical pieces of equipment, because it's still data. We can help people gather good data and make intelligent decisions based on the data that they get."

Hill predicted the expanding EHS profession and globalization will push the issue of sustainability further to the forefront. "Sustainability is important because in many global organizations and international companies, and even companies that are just U.S.-based, sustainability is a topic that many senior managers and organizations are really addressing, or is actually a core value within their organization," he said.

Johnson agreed, adding that NSC has seen global industry begin to adopt a people-planet-profit point of view. "It's what takes place inside the business: the impact on the environment and the communities in which they work and, ultimately, the viability of the business from a financial perspective and what it takes for a company to sustain improvement in all of those areas," he explained.

Emerging Hazards and Solutions
The aging workforce is an important, near-term challenge for employers. Although more and more baby boomers have reached retirement age, economic distress forced many to keep working. This situation presents many unique health and wellness issues for employers to address, Johnson said. "Broadly speaking and thinking from an ergonomics point of view, you have this workforce that is in many cases aging and staying in the workforce longer," he said. "How do you make sure that as the workplace changes, new technologies and new products are introduced where the design is such that you are minimizing the level of risk to these workers?"

Both the I2P2 standard and prevention through design could play a large role in addressing this challenge. Hill said ASSE is positioning itself to address the growing need to eliminate hazards through design. "There's actually an ANSI/ASSE standard that is in the drafting stage, G590, to look at this area of prevention through design or eliminating the hazard," he said. "So I would anticipate that ASSE will develop workshops and courses and seminars in the area of prevention through design."

Noise, while certainly not a new hazard, will continue to be a challenge for OSHA in the future, Pullen said. "That's still pretty prolific in our world because it is difficult to control and expensive at times," she said. "Now, there are good solutions, and OSHA's explained that in some of their communications. There are simple and inexpensive ways to control noise, but I just know that it can be a little more challenging for industry to get all of it, to get it down below 85 dBA."

Hill cited driver safety as another old hazard that may present new challenges. "Even though the Department of Transportation and other organizations actually provide standards or guidelines for driver safety, there really isn't an OSHA standard per se," he said. As driving fatalities continue to be the leading cause of fatalities in the workplace, he said he expects OSHA to explore the possibility of creating such a standard.

Non-Partisan Safety
Forty years down the road, no matter where OSHA comes down on a safety and health issue, AIHA and similar organizations will continue to be a valuable tool to maintain balance, Pullen said. "We look at legislation, and we give input based on the science. I don't think that's going to change," she said. "Some years, the politics are probably more favorable to OSHA making changes and other years they're less favorable, but that really doesn't affect what we do at AIHA."

Founded in 1911, ASSE is the nation's oldest safety professional association. Hill said the society will continue to lend its support in the decades ahead. "We will continue to provide guidance or recommendations to OSHA on an ongoing basis because we do look at OSHA as an important entity in terms of workplace safety and health," he said.

Johnson predicted that, as the world continues to shrink, the involvement of NSC and other safety organizations will continue to grow. "Our primary focus is, first of all, safety for business within the United States, but we do have associations with organizations outside the U.S., and we're definitely interested in continuing to participate in activities and events that will further the safety cause throughout the world," he said.

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Marc Barrera, former e-news editor of Occupational Health & Safety, is Content Manager at Generations Federal Credit Union in San Antonio, Texas.

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