Safety and Health Professional

The safety and health professional may range from the safety director of a company with responsibility for safety and health at a company, facility, or jobsite to an individual with specific expertise. This is why in general terms, an occupational safety and health (OSH) professional is there to protect workers from harm and prevent damage to equipment, property, the environment, and the public. This is accomplished by analysis, design, and implementation of programs to prevent occupationally related injuries and illnesses. Many safety and health professional specialize in specific areas, with expertise in engineering, industrial hygiene, system safety, loss control, and ergonomics, while others handle all facets of OSH. These professionals may work for the public sector, private sector, or government, or as consultants. They are found in a host of industry sectors such as mining, military, service industries, construction, hazardous waste, chemical handling and processing, manufacturing, insurance, transportation, longshoring, agriculture, energy source production, research and development, and a multitude of other domains.

Why are safety and health professionals needed? The first and foremost are the following:

  • 1. To have someone that is responsible for safety and health
  • 2. To have expertise in safety and health
  • 3. To develop needed safety and health and prevention programs
  • 4. To implement all the components of the safety and health initiative
  • 5. To train others and assure all workers are trained in compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the company's requirements
  • 6. To conduct and supervise safety and health inspections and audits
  • 7. To have a voice or advocate for safety and health

Safety and health requires leadership, and a safety and health professional must be a qualified, knowledgeable individual who fills that role in a company or business. Such a person comes with many titles based upon his/her responsibilities and areas of expertise, such as the following:

  • • Corporate safety and health manager
  • • Environmental engineer
  • • Environmental, health, and safety manager
  • • Ergonomist
  • • Hazard control specialist
  • • Hazardous materials manager
  • • Health physicist
  • • Fire protection engineer
  • • Industrial engineer
  • • Industrial hygienist
  • • Industrial psychologist
  • • Injury prevention specialist
  • • Loss-control specialist
  • • Occupational health specialist
  • • Occupational nurse
  • • Occupational physician
  • • Plant safety and health manager
  • • Risk manager
  • • Safety director
  • • Safety engineer
  • • Safety and health compliance officer
  • • Safety and health manager
  • • Safety and health specialist
  • • Safety inspector
  • • Safety training specialist
  • • Security professional

In 1996, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) published a pamphlet entitled Scope and Functions of the Professional Safety Position. This pamphlet provides a superb presentation of why a safety and health professional is important to the arena of OSH by explaining why the safety and health professional must anticipate, recognize, evaluate, control, and communicate safety and health as their main function.

Why is it important to anticipate? The safety and health professional needs to develop methods for anticipating and predicting hazards based upon his/her experience, historical data, and other pertinent sources of information. This will allow for identifying and recognizing hazards in existing and future systems, equipment, products, software, facilities, processes, operations, and procedures during the life expectancy of these various facets of the workplace.

As part of this, he/she must evaluate and assess the probability and severity of loss events and accidents/incidents that may result from the actual or potential hazards.

This requires applying these methods and conducting hazard analyses and interpreting results.

The analysis and interpretation is accomplished by reviewing, with the assistance of specialists where needed, entire systems, processes, and operations, and any subsystems or components, for failure modes, causes, and effects, due to the following:

  • • System, subsystem, or component failures.
  • • Human error.
  • • Incomplete or faulty decision making, judgments, or administrative actions.
  • • Weaknesses in proposed or existing policies, directives, objectives, or practices.

It is important to review, compile, analyze, and interpret data from accident and loss- event reports and other sources regarding injuries, illnesses, property damage, environmental effects, or public impacts. This is why a safety and health professional must identify causes, trends, and relationships to ensure completeness, accuracy and validity of required information; evaluate the effectiveness of classification schemes and data collection methods; and initiate investigations.

The duty of the safety and health professional is to provide advice and counsel about compliance with safety, health, and environmental laws, codes, regulations, and standards, including conducting research studies of existing or potential safety and health problems and issues.

It is also expected that he/she will determine the need for surveys and appraisals that help identify conditions or practices affecting safety and health, including those that require the services of specialists, such as physicians, health physicists, industrial hygienists, fire protection engineers, design and process engineers, ergonomists, risk managers, environmental professionals, psychologists, and others while assessing environments, tasks, and other elements to ensure that physiological and psychological capabilities, capacities, and limits of humans are not exceeded.

Development of hazard control designs, methods, procedures, and programs is another reason why a safety and health professional is needed. They must formulate and prescribe engineering or administrative controls, preferably before exposures, accidents, and loss events occur; eliminate hazards and causes of exposures, accidents, and loss events; and reduce the probability or severity of injuries, illnesses, losses, or environmental damage from potential exposures, accidents, and loss events when hazards cannot be eliminated.

Such a mandate entails developing methods that integrate safety performance into the goals, operations, and productivity of organizations and their management and into systems, processes, and operations or their components. This also includes the development of safety, health, and environmental policies, procedures, codes, and standards for integration into operational policies of organizations, unit operations, purchasing, and contracting.

The safety and health professional needs to consult with and advise individuals and participate on teams while engaged in planning, design, development, and installation or implementation of systems or programs involving hazard controls. This should encompass engaging in planning, design, development, fabrication, testing, packaging, and distribution of products or services related to safety requirements and application of safety principles that will maximize product safety.

The safety and health professional should use behavior-based safety techniques by advising and assisting human resources specialists when applying hazard analysis results or dealing with the capabilities and limitations of personnel.

If the previous paragraphs do not justify why there is need for a safety and health professional, the following duties indicate why not everyone or anyone can be expected to fill this position. They are expected to stay current with technological developments, laws, regulations, standards, codes, products, methods, and practices related to hazard controls. They implement, administer, and advise others on hazard controls and hazard control programs, preparing reports that communicate valid and comprehensive recommendations for hazard controls that are based on analysis and interpretation of accident, exposure, loss-event, and other data. The must also use written and graphic materials, presentations, and other communication media to recommend hazard controls and hazard control policies, procedures, and programs to decision-making personnel.

Other responsibilities include directing or assisting in planning and developing educational and training materials or courses; conducting or assisting with courses related to designs, policies, procedures, and programs involving hazard recognition and control; advising others about hazards, hazard controls, relative risk, and related safety matters when they are communicating with the media, community, and public; and finally, managing and implementing hazard controls and hazard control programs that are within the duties of their profession in the safety and health position.

In order to evaluate the effectiveness of the safety and health professional, one will need to measure, audit, and evaluate the effectiveness of hazard controls and hazard control programs. The safety and health professional will always be pressed to justify the impact and effectiveness of OSH. He/she will need to establish and implement techniques that involve risk analysis, cost, cost-benefit analysis, work sampling, loss rate, and similar methodologies for periodic and systematic evaluation of hazard control and hazard control program effectiveness. He/she also needs to develop methods to evaluate the costs and effectiveness of hazard controls and programs and measure the contribution of components of systems, organizations, processes, and operations toward the overall effectiveness.

With the above responsibilities, the safety and health professional will be charged with providing results of evaluation assessments, including recommended adjustments and changes to hazard controls or hazard control programs, to individuals or organizations responsible for their management and implementation. This is to be accomplished by directing, developing, or helping to develop management accountability and audit programs that assess safety performance of entire systems, organizations, processes, and operations or their components and involve both deterrents and incentives.

The safety and health professional is the purveyor of safety and health. Thus, he/she must develop and utilize communication techniques that facilitate the company's or business's message regarding safety and health within their workplace. This may be accomplished in a myriad of ways including, but not limited to, direct contact, message display, e-mails, training, safety and health talks, and other creative approaches.

If the safety and health professionals perform their expected functions, they will have the data and justification to develop, implement, and secure the budget needed to support the safety and health effort. Facts, concrete data, and the savings accomplished by the safety and health initiative will always be more supportive of safety and health than assumptions and vague guesses.

Further Readings

American Society of Safety Engineers (1996). Scope and Functions of the Professional Safety Position. Des Plaines, IL: American Society of Safety Engineers.

Petersen, Dan, Techniques of Safety Management: A Systems Approach (Third Edition). Goshen, NY: Aloray Inc., 1989.

Reese, C.D. Occupational Health and Safety Management: A Practical Approach (Second Edition). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, 2009.

Reese, C.D. Accident/Incident Prevention Techniques (Second Edition). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press/ Taylor & Francis, 2011.

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