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March 13 , 2006

Direction for NORA's Second Decade
NORA National Town Hall Meeting
Washington, District of Columbia

My name is Michael Thompson. I am a Certified Safety Professional in Comprehensive Practice, and I work for BP America as the Health, Safety, Security, Environment Training Advisor in Houston, Texas. Today, however, I have the privilege of appearing in my volunteer capacity as the Senior Vice President and member of the Board of the Directors of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) representing ASSE’s 30,000 member safety, health and environmental professionals.

On behalf of those members, I want to express to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) ASSE’s thanks as well as the thanks of the ASSE Foundation and its Research Committee for the opportunity to be included in this unprecedented effort to reach out to stakeholders like our members for their perspective on the future of occupational safety and health research. We commend Dr. Howard for his creative leadership and all those involved in the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) for this proactive approach in advancing the research our members rely on daily to fulfill their responsibilities in preventing deaths, injuries and illnesses in this nation’s workplaces. Our members know that, without an aggressive research agenda to addresses the risks workers face in a quickly changing workplace, their responsibilities will become increasingly difficult to fulfill.

Today is the third time ASSE has testified at these town meetings. We provided an overview of our support and involvement in NIOSH’s Research to Practice (r2p) effort in Maryland in December. In January, ASSE’s Construction Practice Specialty offered suggestions for the construction sector in the meeting held in Chicago. Following encouragement from ASSE national leadership, we believe that ASSE members have attended and provided feedback in each of the Town Meetings held across the country.

For example, ASSE member Fred Drennan, a member of ASSE’s Wellness Task Force, testified in Los Angeles about the need for research addressing the effectiveness of behavior-based methodologies so that SH&E professionals, from a consumer prospective, can make better informed decisions about their investments in this approach.

ASSE member Lawrence Schulze and a member of our Ergonomics Task Force attended the Houston town meeting and suggested research needs in three different areas – addressing the aging workforce in the petrochemical processing industry and the need to identify the petrochemical process industry as its own research focus area; the concern that anthropometric data being used to design tools, equipment, and workplaces does not accurately reflect the changes in US demographics; and the relatively low number of NIOSH-supported safety programs at the graduate level, including a request that funding be allowed for programs that may have only one full-time faculty member supplemented with adjunct professors.

ASSE member Alan Davis reports that various ASSE members testified in Seattle, including those who suggested research on stability calculations for small boats in response to new Coast Guard rules for small fishing boat stability and research on man-overboard accidents since they cause about half of the deaths in the fishing industry but are not well understood.

The time and effort our members have taken to share these wide-ranging views come as no surprise, given their commitment to safety and health as well as their expertise and experience in virtually every industry. NIOSH’s effort in holding these town meetings is a living example of the promise that cooperation in the r2p effort holds.

Today, I would like to talk about several issues ASSE has not touched on in previous opportunities. One is the need for research that will help determine the future of SH&E professionalism into the future. The second is the need for NIOSH to interact aggressively with the standards development community. The third is the need to examine more comprehensively the role of broad safety and health management in the corporate and program structures of organizations

Professionalism in SH&E Practice

One area of occupational safety and health research that ASSE believes has been wholly overlooked is the role the SH&E professional plays in advancing safety and health. No doubt the NORA team is examining a great many suggestions for research meant to determine the best science for addressing specific risks. ASSE suggest that the time has come to provide support for research that will give both the safety and health community and business a better understanding of the professional preparation and accreditation needed for SH&E professionals to function appropriately as a manger of workplace risks. However much we know about addressing specific risks, if employers do not have properly trained and assigned SH&E professionals in the workplace, a key component of achieving safer healthier workplaces may very well be missing.

There are numerous opportunities for research related to this issue. A key area may be to help define SH&E practice at various levels. This requires job analysis research to help define functions, tasks, knowledge and skills of the SH&E professional by level of expertise and responsibility, whether professional, technician/technologist, supervisor/manager, or worker. Accreditation standards governing SH&E professional certifications require such studies so quality certifications like the Certified Safety Professional (CSP), the Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM) are already providing such research. ASSE urges NIOSH to work with the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, the American Board of Industrial Hygiene and the Institute of Hazardous Material Management to help determine how to apply what is known to encompass the realities of SH&E practice so that a comprehensive understanding of tasks and capabilities throughout industry can be achieved.

This same research can provide a basis to help examine other professional issues. Appropriateness of levels of SH&E education and training can be examined as well as how individuals enter and advance in the SH&E profession. Determining to what extent different SH&E professional segments have converged across traditional job roles is an issue both employers and our members would find helpful, as would the impact of change on roles and practitioner needs at each level. The role of technology on SH&E practice has not been examined but may provide some of the best opportunities to advance effectiveness of SH&E management. Finally, such research can help examine the effectiveness of SH&E involvement with others in the workplace, including their management of safety committees.

Also useful would be determining the distribution of practitioners and help target needs for the future. Some have concern that areas of practice are graying and declining in the number of practitioners. How can this be monitored effectively? How can the demand for practitioners be met? What are ways to attract the best possible candidates to the SH&E profession?

A related area calling for more focused research is the impact that SH&E professionalism has on health and safety performance. Employers especially deserve to understand fully the impact of who they decide has responsibility for SH&E management in their workplaces. A variety of related questions are on the safety and health community’s mind that deserve consideration through adequate research: What are leading and trailing indicators for safety and health and how are the measured? Can safety and health practice impact the bottom line for business and in what ways? What elements of professionalism – education, training, SH&E knowledge, business capability, knowledge of specific industry, certification, leadership skills, to name some – are likely to impact safety and health performance and to what extent? What are characteristics of effective safety and health practitioners and how have they or are they changing?

Still another related issue is the need to develop future academic leadership in safety. Like many industries, the safety community is faced with a retirement challenge among those who achieved PhDs in safety when, in the 1970s, educational facilities were quick to meet the challenge of educating those who could prepare safety professionals. With only one pure PhD program in safety, the circumstances for the future of safety education may be dire. If the safety profession is to continue to advance and meet the challenges of the future, finding ways to encourage more individuals to achieve the highest level of safety education will be necessary. Research to help determine how to achieve that encouragement as well as to help formulate PhD programs that challenge individuals to meet the future is needed.

No shortage of worthy technical SH&E research opportunities exists. Nevertheless, perhaps the most important element needed to achieve technical advances in safety and health -- those who manage safety and health risks – should not be overlooked in future research.

Involving the Standards Community

The leader in ASSE’s research capabilities is the ASSE Foundation’s Research Committee. ASSE and the Committee share the view that, in order for NIOSH-led research to help in achieving our shared r2p goals, NIOSH must better involve the standards development community in its efforts. Cooperation and involvement in the national consensus standards process will help ensure that NORA applied research findings become operational in the field. However, achieving this end will require a number of actions by NIOSH:

  • Bringing the research entities ASTM, ANSI, NFPA into the various NORA functions, including specifically membership on the Cross Sector Research Council.
  • Appointing standards committee officers to serve as co-chairs of the Sector Councils. ASSE volunteers the committee officers of the eight standards under the ASSE Secretariat for such service on the various NORA sector research councils. Each of the chairmen would be an excellent source to guide the research needs of a sector.
  • Securing NIOSH representation on the affected standards committees as active participants in liaison non-voting capacities.
  • Structuring research proposals and projects that will provide one or two application deliverables for standards committee action.
  • Setting aside and opening a portion of the proposed NORA recast initiatives to the needs of the standards development community, its Foundations, and standards committees.
  • Funding a portion of the research work of these standards related Foundations and affected committees by NIOSH needs to be set aside for those standards activities best able to impact the r2p NORA initiatives. In this context NORA should identify this body of work, align its studies with it to implement, or simply piggyback upon it avoiding duplication, obtaining greater efficiencies, and being able to move to the level of needed research in these subject areas.

These are overarching areas that the proposed recasting of the NORA agenda does not contemplate but which should be a vital part of the agenda.

Safety and Health Management

ASSE, again following the lead of the ASSE Foundation Research Committee, is also concerned that not enough research is being conducted to examine the role of broad safety and health management in the corporate and program structures of organizations that our members believe impact reductions in injury, illness and fatalities. We urge that NIOSH-led research studies be factored to include the broad subjects of how the components of successful safety and health programs and the organizations that produce them can be evaluated.

Almost all of the literature in this area is anecdotal. Only NIOSH’s leadership can bring forth definitive data-driven studies that will help set a value on making a case for the safety and health imperative. Whether one broad Hawthorne Works-like study or multiple studies can provide answers and application formulas, the need still exists and should be addressed by NORA in some way.


Again, ASSE commends NIOSH and all those whose hard work has made this NORA effort to engage those of us committed to advancing occupational safety and health the success that it has been. ASSE, the ASSE Foundation Research Committee, and all our members look forward to working with you in whatever way we can to make sure these ideas for the future of safety and health research become a reality, and the passageway between research and practice becomes shorter and shorter.


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