We humans are always anxious about the future. We spend billions trying to predict the future. The industry that employs clairvoyants, psychics, tarot card readers, crystal ball gazers is enormous. We want to know the unknowable. Let me aid you on a journey: I am going to discuss some of the trends that are happening in the Health and Safety profession and guide you into a future..a very different future from today.
Some of the trends are huge: flattening out of organizations, right-sizing or reengineering, business ethics, the rise of corporate standards. As a worker, you are in the forefront of some very interesting times which is both a benefit and a curse. Indeed the Chinese recognized the duality of change and flux and cursed, “May you live in interesting times!” Well, we do.
These movements are sculpting the future of Health and Safety along with the interplay of government, industry and labour and the rise of certification and standards for Health and Safety professionals. The population is aging and Health and Safety professionals are getting older. The internet and e-learning are powerful forces shaping the future for Health and Safety professionals as well. Moreover, this is played out against a change in cultural diversity in Canada and the United States of America. The role of women and minorities in the Health and Safety profession is growing at an enormous rate.
The earth is shrinking.next day delivery is a fact. E-mail and cell phones are a reality and nano-technology, biotechnology, and computer sciences are moving into the forefront of the new twenty-first century reality. But lets get down to brass tacks.
The Health and Safety professional in the early twenty-first century is primarily male, and employed in industries like trucking, the municipal sector, the oilfield, food processing, mining, forestry, manufacturing, and construction. These are high risk industries and the need to reduce losses is paramount. Women are beginning to play more of a role in these industries as the march into these industries by women continues, there are more women welders, truck drivers, and trades people than ever before. They have shaped the personal protective equipment that manufacturers supply. Products must fit both women and men so the sizes, shapes, and style of these products have become broader and more diverse. Design, and good design of these products is more of an issue both from a functional and aesthetic point of view. As well, industrial hygiene equipment needs to fit women: personally, for example the Dragher bellows pump is very difficult to use as a woman because the grip strength required is strong and it built for a man’s grip.
As the third world industrializes, the emergence of safety into these areas is occurring and the safety profession is making enormous strides in India, China, Korea, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Russia. These countries want our technology and want it bad. Health and Safety professionals are lured overseas by big salaries and are training workers in these countries in the Health and Safety profession and how to work in the most efficient , productive, and safe manner. The Safety professional as the knowledge practitioner is reality and this trend will only continue as manufacturing and jobs move overseas. Eventually, these countries will export their Health and Safety expertise and practitioners to us in ever increasing numbers. Diversity will aid the tremendous increase in knowledge in the Health and Safety field. It will ferment ideas that we can only dream about.
The role of the Health and Safety practitioner in Canada is changing as the flattening out of organizations occurs. Organizations are lean and mean, doing more with less staff. The Health and Safety professional must know more areas than ever. Twenty first century businesses want a safety professional who is a human resource practitioner, or a security professional. They want a multi-talented individual.
Stress is becoming a very large workplace issue. In fact, mental illness will become the biggest cause of workplace illness and absenteeism by 2010. Safety professionals need to be educated as to the signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression, burnout, marital stress and the cascading effects they have on workplace morale and efficiency. Psychological issues like bullying, harassment, and workplace violence are growing issue, too. In Quebec, a law has been written against workplace bullying and Safety professionals must strive to prevent it. Harassment in its many forms often rears its ugly head and must be dealt with, is it sexual, racial or ageism? Policies and programs must be developed to deal with these issues.
Working alone and workplace violence are other emerging issues. Working alone requires a hazard assessment to be conducted to ensure the lone worker is safe and they, if travelling or working at isolated locations must check in to ensure that they are ok Policies must be in place to deal with these issues. Corporate standards will become increasing important as the legislation places greater and greater emphasis on Corporate responsibility and Due Diligence. The laws will get stricter.
Workplace diseases are a concern. Hospital workers will be dealing with more and more exotic and dangerous illnesses. Uncommon diseases are becoming more common: tuberculosis is rearing its head and has drug resistant strains. Health care workers must be protected and society must be protected from these effects. Diseases can spread with great rapidity and must be contained. Measures and procedures must be in place to ensure that this happens. Health care safety professionals are at forefront of this frontier.
Drug and alcohol abuse are issues now and will become greater as the century marches on. Drugs are more available than ever, and more and more people are self medicating either through prescription drugs that affect alertness, alcohol, or illicit drugs. Drug and alcohol prevention and education will become a greater issue with Health and Safety professionals as they seek to deal with their effects and the rise of zero tolerance by major contractors as to their use. Drug testing versus human rights is being determined in Canada and the USA as you read this and is a leading frontier in law. The rules are being written, the ink is barely dry. New cases will set precedents, and will determine the boundaries between protecting society and the individual.
After 911 security is more an issue, and tracking people and products is becoming more sophisticated. Privacy issues are being thrust into the limelight as security intrudes into areas that were once impossible to determine. Customs will soon have the capability to track the flow of people and their identities. Is Big Brother upon us?
Security issues dealing with the flow of information are a concern.what are employees downloading from the internet, what are they sending via e-mail, what sites are they visiting? These can all be tracked and monitored by modern technology and these systems will only get more sophisticated over time. Nano-technology can now enable individuals to be read much like a bar code and their wants catered to. As the technology gets more advanced, will the ideal worker be selected much like merchandise in a store? What will the new hire orientation programs be like for these workers .what will testing retention of material be like? Will the ideal worker be bred for his or her position through genetic engineering and biotechnology?
Hiring practices are huge: psychological tests are often used to select individuals and as our knowledge of brain and behaviour increases so does the accuracy of these tests. Attitude towards safety and risk taking may be parameters that become increasing important and can be selected for and against. Will certain industries be characterized by certain types of behaviour and workers selected for these ideal behaviours ? Will an underclass develop of workers that represent an unacceptable risk factor to corporations? Will genetics determine an individuals’ status in society?
Behavioural based safety will become increasing more sophisticated but more simple to implement. It will become a powerful incident prevention tool as the knowledge about human behaviour increases and can be implemented in the workplaces. Safety practitioners will become coaches and motivators of personnel. The interplay between safety and psychology will increase and become a core subject for any safety practitioner.
The rise of e-learning and communication devices like video-conferencing, the web-cam and the blackberry and wireless computers will impact safety. Products can be developed that provide residual incomes to Health and Safety consulting companies and training can take place over great distances. Health and Safety professionals can be accessed anywhere, anytime and are always “on”. What effect will this have for their family life?
Training, new hire orientations, accident investigations, and safety meetings can all be enhanced by these new technologies. Computers are getting easier to use and are extremely patient: testing until the worker understands a concept completely; never tiring of repetitive information and always being consistent.
New hire orientations can occur over the computer or with the latest DVD or MP3 music in the background. Universal orientations will grow as the demand for one, universal orientation customized to the needs of individual workers grows. Individual course certificates and cards will be a thing of the past as the electronic information will be stored and disseminated to the applicable parties.
Accident investigations will have digitally enhanced photographs and videos as evidence or to establish the root cause. Video tapes can be examined to determine the chronological order of how and when an accident occurred (if under surveillance). Investigators can be contacted at any time and incident causes and trends tracked on very sophisticated computers. The times that are the most risky for accidents can be determined and workers warned to be careful or measures taken to reduce risk and losses.
Safety meetings will become a media event with technology enhancing the flow of information: DVD’s on Health and Safety topics, new screens and viewing mediums decreasing boredom and enhancing information flow. Safety meetings for workers who travel, like truckers, will become a reality as GPS positioning links the workers in a virtual meeting. Communication will become universal and complete.
The rise of safety as a value rather than a priority is already underfoot. Corporations are recognizing that to show they care and are ethical…safety must never be compromised for production. Priorities change, safety does not. Basic business ethics will have a health and safety component and companies will stress their health and safety programs as a competitive advantage and sell safety as a reason to pick them as a supplier or manufacturer of a product.
Reengineering or right sizing is having effects in countries that have undergone recessions like the USA. Safety practitioners are often the last hired and the first fired. Their expertise can be bought. The rise of consultants is huge. Consultants can be hired when the demand is great and released with the demand decreases. Companies do not have to pay benefits and have a very well trained and flexible workforce. As well expertise in certain areas can be bought: talented and expert safety professionals will be sought out and used to their maximum. Professionals fluent in certain languages or laws can be brought in on a project by project basis.
As Health and Safety as an occupation matures, professional standards are being established. Health and Safety professionals are better educated and must take and learn the theory of Occupational Health and Safety which, each year becomes broader in scope. Health and Safety professionals need to know about organizational behaviour, statistics, basic engineering, physics and math. Sometimes knowledge about radiation, fire safety, security, human resources, psychology, industrial hygiene, ergonomics, first aid, are required too and are often the basics New fields are emerging like human error reduction techniques, and the use of technology to enhance safety endeavours Professional memberships in the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering or the American Society of Safety Engineers or the Association of Canadian Registered Safety Professionals is a must now. Informed Human Resource Practitioners select safety professionals on their academic, professional and industry specific skill levels. As safety becomes broader so will the rise of specialists occur. The field of Health and Safety is simply too large for one person to know it all but one person can know a lot about a little. Generalists who pull it “all together” will rise in importance too.
All Health and Safety professionals are aging.they must embark on a life time of learning and, as they age, special challenges emerge. Their workforce is aging and special adaptations to controls and lighting must occur to accommodate the aging worker that may have poorer eyesight and less dexterity in manipulating (and viewing) controls. Their needs must be accommodated as must the needs of the aging Health and Safety practitioner.
So it has been quite a journey.we have gazed into the crystal ball and attempted to determine trends in the field of Occupational Health and Safety. As the work environment changes in response to the many challenges of the 21st century so must the Health and Safety professional. May you live in interesting times..and welcome the opportunity and challenges this represents!
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