Feature Article 6

How to Enlist the Real World of Occupational Safety, Health and Environment to Enhanced Academic Preparation

By Lawrence A. Mauerman

Author Biography

Lawrence A. Mauerman has been a safety professional for more than 35 years, having worked in the construction, nuclear power and chemical industries. He has been a full-time faculty member at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana, for the past 11 years, where he teaches and is the Coordinator of OSH&E degree programs. In addition, he is President of his own consulting company, Industrial Hygiene, Environment and Loss Prevention (I HELP Inc.). He has a Masters degree from Johns Hopkins University, is a registered Professional Engineer, and is a Certified Safety Professional. He has been an active member of the ASSE for more than 30 years, and has served in most chapter positions, and as Area Director for the State of Louisiana.

Abstract

An Industrial Advisory Council that provides input and support for safety, health and environment degree programs is essential for the success of those programs. This paper describes the creation of such a council at Southeastern Louisiana University and explains the involvement of the council. The council has assisted Southeastern’s administration and faculty in the following areas: curriculum content; providing qualified adjunct instructors; and the acquisition of needed equipment. In addition, through the local chapter of the ASSE, it has provided financial support for students participating in industrial and professional activities.

Introduction

OSH&E degree programs as Southeastern Louisiana University are a relatively new experience, having begun as a 2-year Associate of Applied Science Degree, first offered in 1996. Several years earlier a group known as the Greater Baton Rouge Industrial Managers’ Association (GBRIMA) approached the Department of Industrial Technology at Southeastern with a proposal. They had recognized that the traditional method of acquiring safety professionals, i.e., promoting them from with the ranks of company employees, was not producing the results they wanted as managers of major area industries. Although their safety professionals had the background they needed to operate within the plant climate, they lacked the technical and managerial skills to do their jobs effectively, and they we not able to catch up in the rapidly evolving industrial climate. They felt that safety professionals needed the kind of preparation that could only be obtained through a university education and certification as professionals. University administration welcomed the opportunity to serve the community through the creation of the new program, but they admitted they had little knowledge of the requirements for a safety, industrial hygiene and environmental curriculum. Once the curriculum was formulated, however, they would provide qualified instruction and provide a program that would be recognized at all levels of academia and industry. A permanent industrial advisory committee was formed and serious work was begun. Thus, was born a fortuitous alliance between regional industry and the university to educate safety professionals for the future. The fruits of this alliance have been both two-year and four-year OSH&E degree programs, plus an expansion of the industry/university alliance to include similar cooperation in many other aspects of the community.

Advisory Committee Composition

Initially, Southeastern’s industrial advisory committee was an informal arrangement, to say the least. The GBRIMA plant managers looked within their own organizations to find the persons most-qualified to serve in this capacity. Quite naturally, they tapped experienced safety personnel from their own plants to serve. For the most part, these men and women, were college-educated, often in technical fields, but their collective qualifications fell in two areas: long period of industry safety experience; and unusually high levels of activity in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA).

On the university side, advisory committee membership fell to the faculty of the industrial technology department. First meetings were tentative as both sides tested the waters and learned of the qualifications and contributions that could be made by each of the committee members. It was soon discovered that some action was needed to fill some obvious gaps in the original committee make-up. As work progressed, the committee solidified and real progress was made. The committee has functioned for more than fifteen years now, and the following recommendations are made, based on its experience:

Meetings

Ideally, meetings would be held on a regular basis, say quarterly. In reality, they have been held on an as-needed basis. This schedule has been determined by the workload of the committee. On some projects they amounted to weekly get-togethers, especially in the finalizing stages of a project. A primary concern was to avoid unnecessary intrusion into the already busy schedules of the committee members.

Input regarding meeting content can come from any source. More will be said on this topic in the section of the report on “Areas of Assistance.”

Much of the real work is accomplished through ad hoc subcommittees. As a need is identified, a subcommittee is formed to deal with it. Of course, all of the protocols of effective meetings such as agendas, recommendations and target dates are employed. To avoid potential areas of conflict during meeting sessions, the advisory committee should be established with a set of by-laws which govern its actions. The by-laws should cover the following: the scope on (and any limitations on) the committee’s activities; the selection of its leaders (officers); voting methods; committee composition; and documentation of its activities.

Telephones and e-mails are also used extensively for communication and status checking.

Once a year, however, the University hosts a half-day conference of the advisory committee for the purpose of reporting progress to the body as a whole, and recognizing the contributions of members and the accomplishments of the whole. The conference ends with a luncheon hosed by the University.

Areas of Assistance

The Industrial Advisory Committee provides its valuable support primarily in two areas: program development and program support.

Program Development
The first area within program development is that of curriculum content. This is usually treated as courses offered, and the content of each course. There is a body of knowledge that is generally considered to be the base for the practicing safety professional. This is the knowledge that will be acquired during the student’s academic preparation. Where does it come from? Who defines it? There are at least four sources. The first two are obvious to safety practitioners: the requirements for professional certification; and the requirements for academic accreditation. These will be the primary determinants for curriculum subject matter. The third evolves from the needs of local industries, those who are represented on the advisory committee. Quite often these are highly specialized courses, and fall into the category of program electives. Finally, the University will have its own requirements for students enrolled in any of its academic programs. These will include such things as general education requirements, and limitations on the number of credit hours required for a degree program. It is in this area that the committee members affiliated with the University will prove valuable. Representatives from industry are not accustomed to working with the types of restrictions, or limitations, that govern institutions of higher education. It is essential that these parameters be understood from the beginning to eliminate the potential for misunderstanding later on.

Program Support
In addition to assisting with the curriculum content of the program, the IAC also supports in several other important ways. One of the first is to help provide qualified instruction. Many OSH&E programs are supported through the use of adjunct faculty. This help may vary from finding someone to teach an entire course, to bringing in an individual to treat a specific topic on a limited basis. It may set up tours of appropriate industrial facilities and demonstrations of equipment or techniques common in the field.

Another area of inestimable support is the attainment of equipment and materials needed for instructional purposes. As we all know, funding for purchases can be very limited, at times. Many companies have community-support programs that enable them to make donations to institutions. Close communication with company representatives allows them to make these contributions and areas where they have maximum impact. We have had companies who have participated in the IAC come to us and request a “shopping list” of things we could use to augment the degree programs. It seem that having worked with us on the IAC has made them aware of the limitations under which we actually operate.

In addition many plants often replace older but serviceable equipment with new models and are more than willing to see the items being replaced go to a university where it can still be used for teaching purposes. Incidentally, we have actually found some of the older equipment to have greater teaching value because it is not as automated ass newer items and requires students to master the principles behind its operation. There also seems to be a kind of “mystique” associated with equipment that has actually been used in a plant environment. It’s the “real” thing.

IAC member companies are also a wonderful source of internships and cooperative education opportunities. They understand, better than a noninvolved company, the value of actual workplace experience as part of a student’s education. Also, as an integral part of the education process, they understand the requirements and parameters that must be part of an internship. What has always impressed me is their willingness to become involved directly with the students.

Finally, IAC members provide an intangible benefit in the form of publicity for the OSH&E degree program. Committee members share their experiences with fellow employees who then pass the information along to others. Often this information reaches people who know family members who would be interested in safety and health as a career path. An increasingly common experience for me has been the new student who is entering our program based on encouragement from a relative who hear about our program “in the plant.” Plant employees are impressed by the safety professionals they see at work, and realized that this would be a great profession for their son or daughter, grandchild or even a nephew or niece.

Some Cautions

I cannot say enough about the value we have received from our participation in the IAC. It has become a model for other such efforts on our own campus and has been used as an example by the Louisiana Board of Regents for other campuses within the system. I should like to mention, however, that there are some pitfalls to be avoided.

Most of these obstacles involve the differing ways that universities and companies conduct their business. My own thirty-plus years’ experiences in an industrial setting, and my associations on the IAC tell me that, generally, a company is accustomed to operating much faster than an academic institution. A university, on the other hand, is slower (plodding is probably the word that someone from industry would use) but is extremely thorough. This is due to the enormous number of constraints under which a university must operate, and happens for good reasons. It is not, a topic to be covered in the scope of this brief paper. The caution that must be offered, is the following. Often, industry will perceive a need for a program to meet an immediate need or a short term need. These are often referred to as the “hot buttons” of the moment. The topic matter for a course covering the hot, new material may not fit into the curriculum as required for accreditation and should not be added to the required courses. At the same time, however, it may be a genuine need for IAC industries. It is at this point that other options, such as professional electives, or continuing education offerings, can be explored to meet the need. It is important to resist the pressure or temptation to add them to the established curriculum.

Perhaps the best thing to remember is that an Industrial Advisory Committee must learn to operate with the “long view” in mind. Paraphrasing someone else, let me conclude: “The wheels of academia grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.”