In 1970, about 41 Americans a day died on the job when Congressed enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Significant progress has brought that number down now to roughly 13 per day. Yet the rate has has plateaued over the past two decades,  spanning both Republican and Democratic administrations.  Clearly, a different approach to ensuring workplace safety is needed — a fact that occupational safety and health professionals understand.

An estimated 100,000 of us, across industry and government, diligently strive each day to help employers ensure their workers go home safe and to help organizations succeed financially by limiting the operational risks that cause costly injuries, illnesses and deaths among an employer’s greatest asset — its employees. 

Beyond compliance

Too few people know about us or understand the value that safety professionals contribute. The reasons are varied. Unlike first responders, we work in workplaces, not in the public eye. Yet workplace safety risks can impact whole communities, as in 2013 when a fertilizer plant explosion destroyed much of West Texas. We are not licensed like doctors or lawyers, yet employers increasingly look to hire those of us with the most stringent voluntary certifications that demonstrate our capabilities. And, maybe most importantly, most employers have looked to us simply to make sure their workplaces were compliant with OSHA rules.

“Employers have become far more concerned with protecting their organizations from risks that hurt their reputations and bottom lines.”

But as OSHA’s ability to adopt up-to-date standards has fallen further and further behind the profession’s knowledge about how best to protect workers, OSHA rules have become increasingly irrelevant to most successful employers.   

Recognizing risk

Employers have become far more concerned with protecting their organizations from risks that hurt their reputations and bottom lines. As more organization look to achieve sustainability, occupational safety and health professionals increasingly are seen as significant protectors of organizational value. Our technical skills in identifying and managing risks, as well as proven business skills in communicating risk solutions throughout organizations — to workers and management alike — contribute directly to organizations’ success.

Our profession’s biggest challenge is to reach those employers, both large and small, that fail to see safety as both an organizational value and source of competitive advantage. OSHA has taken a significant step forward with their recently released Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs, which tells employers how a safety and health professional identifies workplace risks and then develops a plan to manage those risks.

Safety professionals know safety programs that exceed minimum compliance are the only proven way further reduce the serious and injuries and illnesses that continue to plague our country. We know such programs work. It’s what we do every day, and, as a result, more American workers go home to their families.