Safety Awakening – “The 5 Greatest Influences On The Safety Profession In The Last 50 Years”

May 29, 2015 No Comments


I’ve been a safety professional for over forty years, and I first started working in factories and construction sites in the 1960’s.  Today’s workplace and today’s safety professionals are very different then they were 50 years ago.  Below are the five greatest influences I’ve seen on the safety profession in the last 50 years:



I remember what it was like in industry and at construction sites before OSHA. Some employers just didn’t care about workplace safety, and those that did had no safety and health standards to follow.  Working environments  then were more hazardous than they are today.

Recently OSHA celebrated it’s 40 anniversary. They’ve done a good job since they started in 1970. Workplaces would be much more dangerous and unhealthful, and accident and illness rates would be much higher if OSHA had never existed.

There’d be far fewer safety professionals in the USA had OSHA never existed.


2. Computers And The Internet

 In the 1970’s, 1980’s, and most of the 1990’s there were no personal computers or Internet. Back then, safety professionals had their own libraries of reference books. Many of us even cataloged magazine articles.  I can remember shelves full of safety reference books, and large numbers of file cabinets full of safety articles/reports/letters.  We had no PowerPoints or DVDs/online training programs – we used flip charts and chalk boards when making presentations.

Today, a safety profession does not need their own personal safety library or reference files, they’ve got what they need on the Internet.  The Internet contains: safety standards, e-books, email, cloud storage, and online safety training programs.


3. College Occupational Safety & Health Curriculums

Back in the 60’s and 70’s, there were no colleges that offered degrees in Occupational Safety and Health.  Safety professionals back then were largely degreed professional engineers (mostly registered PEs).  With a technical engineering background, these safety professionals took an engineering approach to safety.  They could not only identify the hazard, but they were also fully capable of designing and building the solution to the problem.  Until the late 1960’s, the ASSE (American Society of Safety “ENGINEERS”) allowed only “engineers” into their organization.

Then as employers hired more safety professionals in the 1970’s and 1980’s due to OSHA, many universities developed and offered occupational safety and health majors. These new EHS curriculums usually did not include engineering, or advanced mathematics or chemistry classes.  

With the new, less technically qualified safety professionals, we saw a swing in emphasis from “machine/environment/risk-assessment/hazard-control” to “training/behavioral-safety/culture/compliance”.

A well qualified safety professional should have a strong background in both the “engineering” and the “people/compliance” side of safety.  Unfortunately, many recent safety graduates do not have the strong engineering/mathematics/chemistry background that the old timers had.


4. The Demise Of American Manufacturing

With the advent of global trade, many manufacturing companies moved out of the USA to find cheaper labor abroad.

The factories that remained were under great competitive pressures. They reduced their safety budgets, and eliminated safety positions. Many safety professionals were now unemployed and fighting over the few job openings that existed.  With the high unemployment rate in the safety profession, fewer students are going into safety curriculums, and some colleges have even terminated their occupational safety and health programs.


5.  Influx Of Non-English Speaking Foreign Immigrants

I’ve read that there are now over 35 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. Most do not speak or read English very well, if at all.  

These immigrant workers are largely unskilled.  They often work in either high hazard industries or highly repetitive production line jobs.  

Immigrant employees have unusually high fatality rates because of the high risk jobs they work, and because of the difficulty in properly training them.  

Non-English speaking/reading workers have caused many safety professionals to: learn a foreign language, translate safety policies/procedures/rules into multiple languages, and develop unique workplace accommodations for them. 


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