The future of safety

How will the COVID-19 pandemic change the field of occupational safety and health?

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Foulke

Edwin Foulke Jr.

Attorney and former OSHA administrator


One thing that has happened – and something I’ve been preaching to the choir for a long time about – is getting the safety professionals before the C-suite. Because of this, there have been a lot more CEOs, company presidents, COOs and CFOs … looking toward the safety profession for answers on how to safely protect the employees. That’s been a positive thing that has occurred. There’s much more visibility of the safety profession to the C-suite people. Is that going to translate to the long term? I’m hoping it will. [Companies] won’t be saying, “Well this is over, now we can forget about it.” I think you’re going to see companies allocating resources through the safety department to ensure they’re never caught flat-footed again.

In the future, there’s going to be much more focus on handling any type of event like [the one] we’ve just gone through, even if it’s not a pandemic. The safety professionals in a company will be the ones charged to do that, and they should be trying to lead. I’ve always said that one of the failings we’ve had as a safety profession is that we have not gotten into the C-suite and we’ve not been able to articulate how a safety program is actually saving a company money and protecting employees. Now we’ve had the opportunity to get our foot in the door. I’m hoping we can articulate how things they are doing are impacting the bottom line.

One of the things the pandemic has laid bare is the problem with the supply chain. The safety profession should step up and be involved in ensuring the company’s vendors and suppliers have safety programs in place that will ensure they’ll be able to supply them if we have anything like this again.

 

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