Let’s Promote Our Value

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By Jim Smith, M.S., CSP, 2017-18 ASSE President

In the past few years, most ASSE members have heard the phrase value of the safety profession many times. It refers to the Society’s efforts to advocate for the profession, promote our professional abilities, and demonstrate to key stakeholders who we are and how we contribute to organizational performance. It also encompasses ASSE’s efforts to constantly assess how safety professionals must adapt, change and improve to deliver greater value.

To increase our value, grow our profession and protect more workers, we must pursue three key goals:

  1. Raise the competency of safety professionals around the globe.
  2. Influence our business leaders to adopt safety management systems that improve organizational performance in key areas such as human capital and productivity.
  3. Measure the benefits of safety and identify the best ways to communicate those results.

For context, consider that Deloitte’s 2017 “Global Human Capital Trends” report says that business productivity lags technological progress, and that gross national product per hour worked is the lowest since the 1970s. This means that companies are being disrupted more quickly than ever. For example, only 12% of the Fortune 500 companies from 1955 are still in business; in 2016, 26% fell off the list. Deloitte attributes much of this to an inability to adapt and concludes that “the problem comes down to human capital strategies—how businesses organize, manage, develop and align people at work.” 

Now, consider current U.S. injury data. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,836 workers died in 2015, about 2.9 million serious recordable injuries occurred, and 902,200 lost workday cases were reported. Businesses paid nearly $1.2 billion per week for workers’ compensation costs, wage placement, medical and related expenses. With respect to these numbers, I think we can all agree on two key points: 1) the numbers are unacceptable; and 2) the safety profession plays a key role in improving these results.

To that end, ASSE is undertaking several initiatives. For example, as part of the International Network of Safety Practitioner Organizations, we have created a professional competency framework that establishes the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities for professional practice. As a maturing profession, we must establish occupational barriers to prevent unqualified individuals from practicing in OSH. Failure to do so will ultimately create a negative view of our profession and may leave workers unprotected.

In addition, ASSE partners in the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability (CSHS). One of CSHS’s goals is to encourage companies to be more transparent and consistent in reporting on OSH issues, particularly those related to human capital. CSHS and researchers at Harvard are completing a study to benchmark human capital issues. ASSE brought together representatives from major financial institutions, reporting bureaus, and the investment and business communities to discuss the preliminary results earlier this year. Final results are expected this fall.

Using such information, we can advance our profession and more clearly demonstrate our value by showing how preventing worker injuries contributes to business success. The OSH profession fits nicely with many of the business productivity changes the Deloitte report highlights, such as improving the employee experience, acquiring talent and caring for employees. Through our work with various teams to prevent worker injuries, we are in an ideal position to foster these productivity changes, too.

Finally, we must develop metrics that clearly demonstrate the link between safety and business outcomes. As a leading voice of the OSH profession, ASSE formed a standards committee (ANSI/ASSE Z16.1) to assess how to best measure safety performance and determine whether a safety intervention truly reduces worker injuries. The original ANSI Z16 standards, developed in the 1950s, led to current-day OSHA incident rates that are often misunderstood and misused.

Rather than rely on this dated approach, we must adapt to the rapidly changing world of business. We must create metrics that reflect our risk-based approaches and help us apply limited resources for the greatest return in injury prevention. Without question, ASSE members have the expertise to develop a standard for metrics that demonstrate the business value of workplace safety and enable us to effectively communicate that value to our business leaders.

By advancing these and other professional issues, we can ensure that more workers safely return home to their families at the end of each work day. I welcome all who want to support or join the effort.


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