Home Safety Professionals and Respect – Part 2 – Homer Simpson Ergonomics Done Right®

Written by: Kent Hatcher on September 19th, 2008

Homer_simpson A recent post at the OSHA Underground blog relates that Safety Engineers feel that they get little respect, and we agree that the frustration many professionals feel is real and a burden to success, not only in construction, as was indicated, but in all industries.

In our last post on this topic, we suggested that a safety professional’s inability to equate safety initiatives with business value led to these efforts not being valued by their colleagues. A focus on ROI is potentially the antidote.

In this post, we’d like to address the second major cause of this frustration. In this case, the problem is not with the safety professional, but with their employers.

Anyone can be labeled a "safety professional", but not everyone can BE a "safety professional". Remember the Simpson’s episode when Homer was made the Safety Officer because he caused most of the accidents at the nuclear power plant? Many well meaning employers (guided or not by HR) will title and enable people as the "safety professional" without fully understanding the profession, qualifications, or implications. This is not limited to just safety. I know of one global microchip manufacturer who titled their maintenance technicians "engineers" giving a false sense of security and knowing to those individuals, the rest of the plant, and the outside world.

Most HR executives I’ve talked with do not know what makes a person a qualified safety professional. Nor are they aware of the valid certifications that help identify qualified professionals. Would you select your personal health care physician because they were called Doctor or would you insist that they were board certified? BCSP, ABIH, and BCPE are a few of the organizations that provide board certification for safety, industrial hygiene, and ergonomic professionals.

Many organizations and businesses offer "certifications" in safety and ergonomics, and they are correct; if you complete their courses, they will provide you with a certificate (i.e. piece of paper) indicating you completed the class. However, "board certified" is another thing. It indicates the bearer has the academic background and work experience, has completed an examination demonstrating their competency, and maintains that level of competency through ongoing professional development and work experience. Looking for certification by a recognized board is a quick and reliable way to screen for qualified candidates for a safety/environmental/ergonomics professional role.

As safety and ergonomic professionals, we need to continue to inform and educate business leaders, hiring managers, and staffing personnel of what a true professional is. This is the only way to get ahead of the Homer Simpson perception that some hold of our profession.

2 responses to “Safety Professionals and Respect – Part 2 – Homer Simpson”

  1. Howard Miller says:

    Thanks, what little bit of respect we had just got stomped on. There are others out there that care about safety. Just because we don’t meet your standards, doesn’t mean we don’t care and try extremely hard.

  2. Thanks for commenting and I’m sorry if you felt disrespected in any way. That wasn’t our intent. Our blog post was meant to illustrate one end of the broad and varied range of understanding employers have of safety professionals, and how that contributes to the lack of respect reported by people within the safety profession.
    I completely agree that there are caring and hard working people working as Safety Professionals. In fact, a majority of the profession is comprised of them. Our point is that some employers have antiquated or limited understanding of the role and capabilities of safety professionals, and as a result their programs’ results are limited and the respect of the safety professional is compromised. For example; we encounter many organizations still operating under the belief that a “Safety Officer” is needed to reinforce safe practices and conditions. This is far from the current Safety Management System for establishing and sustaining a safe workplace.
    Let’s make sure we are working from the same definition. BCSP defines a Safety Professional as “…a person engaged in the prevention of accidents, incidents, and events that harm people, property, or the environment. They use qualitative and quantitative analysis of simple and complex products, systems, operations, and activities to identify hazards. They evaluate the hazards to identify what events can occur and the likelihood of occurrence, severity of results, risk (a combination of probability and severity), and cost. They identify what controls are appropriate and their cost and effectiveness. Safety professionals make recommendations to managers, designers, employers, government agencies, and others. Controls may involve administrative controls (such as plans, policies, procedures, training, etc.) and engineering controls (such as safety features and systems, fail-safe features, barriers, and other forms of protection). Safety professionals may manage and implement controls.
    Beside knowledge of a wide range of hazards, controls, and safety assessment methods, safety professionals must have knowledge of physical, chemical, biological and behavioral sciences, mathematics, business, training and educational techniques, engineering concepts, and particular kinds of operations (construction, manufacturing, transportation, etc.)”
    The level of program or professional standards reflected in our blog is based on the level of expectation of ASSE, AIHA, BCSP and ABIH. In fact the ASSE just changed their criteria for membership (http://www.asse.org/membership/).
    My point is this, if your organization has seen fit to give you the title of Safety Professional, it is their duty to give you the tools and education necessary to do the job to a level that caring and hard working people like you demands of yourself. This also ensures that the role is given the organizational respect that it deserves.

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