Safety Professionals on the Interwebs

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I’m pretty active in social media and participate in a few safety groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. Although I prefer LinkedIn due to the quality of posts and the value of the discussions, I do spend time in some Facebook groups dedicated to safety “professionals.” I use the term lightly because some of the conversations and opinions I see being shared are anything but professional some are downright scary.

Don’t get me wrong: I love good discussions or debates. But I have a few problems with how purported “professionals” conduct themselves online. The conversations usually fall into one of a few categories:

  • Find the “violation”: someone shares a picture of what they saw and asking people to spot what is wrong.
  • What would you do?: Someone shares a story of a situation/event at work and asks others how they would respond.
  • “Can you share your policy/procedure/template for XXXX?”
  • And then my favorite: please send me electronic copies of your certification prep materials.


The find the “violation” posts rub me the wrong way because they start from the perspective that our job as safety professionals is to go out and find what people are doing wrong: Let’s see if we can catch them in the act or find what regulation they aren’t complying with. I would also argue that we should focus less on regulatory compliance and more on identifying hazards and controlling risk. Your company might be fully compliant with every OSHA regulation found in 29 CFR, and you might not ever get an OSHA citation, but this does not mean that your employees are safe. All too often these posts show something that might be a de minimis violation (where no actual risk of harm exists) or where the context of the photo doesn’t include all of the information needed to determine whether or not a compliance issue actually exists. And then there is always the philosophical debate: if you had enough time to stop and take a picture of the unsafe act, why didn’t you do anything about it?

The "what would you do” discussions are often quite interesting. The responses tend to come from one of two camps: fake safety “professionals” and true safety professionals. The fake safety “professionals” tend to make the focus of their response “more training and/or write-up the employee” while the real safety professionals tend to take more reasoned and comprehensive approaches. Although I don’t disagree that discipline may be a valid response to a workplace situation, I strongly believe that safety should not be in any way involved with providing or recommending disciplinary action. I’m flabbergasted when I read of people in the safety field who actually go out and have the ability to write up employees for doing the wrong thing. This is lazy management trying to shirk their responsibility to enforce safety policies among their workers, and it creates an “us” vs. “them” mentality between the workers and the safety professional. I find the responses from the true safety professionals to typically be enlightening and focused on identifying the true root cause or causes of the event. I do try to engage the other side in some thoughtful debate on why safety should not be involved in disciplining employees. However, most of these discussions devolve into an argument as those entrained in the “safety police” mentality either don’t want to give up that power, or they lack the formal training and education necessary to be open to a change of perspective.

The sharing of policies and procedures is actually something I find useful in these groups. It’s great to be able to benchmark and compare what you’re doing against how other organizations are facing the same challenge. I also prefer the adage “work smarter, not harder,” so if I can develop a policy or procedure without having to re-invent the wheel, then this is a great thing for me. I am hopeful that those people who are receiving these shared policies and procedures actually take the time to review them and customize them to meet their organization’s own unique needs; find and replace all to change the company’s name in the document is not enough.

Finally, nothing annoys me more than requests on Facebook groups to share exam preparation materials electronically. Let me start by saying that I am a strong supporter of professional development and encourage people to work to achieve certifications if that is something that interests them. I am also more than happy to provide guidance, mentoring, and recommend study references and resources if someone has decided they want to become a CSP, CIH, or any of the other numerous credentials out there. But all too often someone will share a legitimate post asking for recommendations on how to study for an exam, and when someone gives their experience or a recommendation for a study textbook or a review course, another person chimes in asking to get a “soft copy” emailed to them. To me, “soft copy” is code for copyright infringement. No, I’m not going to send you an electronic copy of the textbook I recommended. I do understand that these requests may be coming from people working in countries with lower socioeconomic status who may not have access to the same resources we may take for granted. But this does not excuse a blatant attempt to violate someone else’s intellectual property, and I definitely would not want anyone requesting a “soft copy” to become certified.

William J. Pate, DrPH, MBA, CHP, CIH, CSP, CHMM

Senior Instructor

Dr. Pate has over 10 years of environmental health and safety experience in academic, research and healthcare settings in both the public and private sectors. Dr. Pate's EHS experience has ranged from collection and management of radioactive, chemical, and biologic waste streams for a major research university to management of a comprehensive EHS program for a large multi-facility health system. Dr. Pate has been responsible for the development and delivery of a variety of EHS training topics, and his goal is to assist Bowen EHS clients in achieving their professional development goals. Outside of work, Dr. Pate enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters.

Read more from Dr. Pate on his blog: Unsafe Musings of a Safety Professional

 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Bowen EHS.
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