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Drivers and Stakeholders of the Health & Safety Industry (United States)



In the United States, the growth of the health and safety (H&S) industry has paralleled the industrial growth of the nation.  Starting with the post-Revolution agrarian society through the early industrial period of the post-Civil War era, safety in practice and as an industry was essentially non-existent. 


From the turn of the century when the US entered into the early industrialization period, and continuing into the industrial expansion of the World War I era, the industrial economy advanced and so did H&S. In 1888 Congress first established the Bureau of Labor- the precursor to the Department of Labor. In 1893 the first federal safety statute was passed- the Safety Appliance Act. Unions, such as the American Federation of Labor, were becoming more powerful and began to utilize collective bargaining to improve upon dangerous workplaces. But the foundation for greater federal regulation of workplace conditions was put in place when Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was published in 1906. This exposed the public to the poor working conditions and processes of the meat industry, and eventually led to the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration. In 1910 the Bureau of Mines was established. Also, many states were putting Workers Compensation programs into place.


During the Depression era, the industrialized US economy, as well as the H&S industry, suffered serious setbacks. Jobs were scarce as the unemployment rate rose to as high as 25%. The manufacturing sector was retreating and as a result, there were no major advancements in the H&S industry during this time. However, with the rapid return to heavy industrialization in post World War II times, injuries soared. By the 1960’s, death and injury rates from workplace incidents were at all time high, and still increasing. Additionally, the rapid expansion of chemical development and usage was creating unknown current and future hazards to workers and the environment. The conditions were right for government to provide regulatory controls, and in 1970 the Occupational Safety and Health Act was signed into law. This Act formed both OSHA and NIOSH, and the H&S industry entered into the modern age.


The initial years of OSHA were spent defining and educating on scope of coverage, the propagation of standards, performing audits, implementing reporting requirements, and enforcing compliance. At the same time EPA was addressing environmental concerns. In 1977 MSHA was formed to address H&S hazards in the mining industry. The safety culture of the workplace quickly improved- as did the injury and fatality statistics. But it came at the cost of an adversarial relationship between business and government.


In the 1980’s there was pressure to improve the relationship of OSHA and the workplace. Although the fundamental role of the agency remained intact, OSHA was asked to serve in a more consultative role, and to become more of a partner in reducing injuries. One development of this initiative is the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). This program forms a cooperative relationship at worksites between OSHA, management, and employees. In 1982 the first VPP site was approved, and now the success of this program is used as an example of how OSHA can positively operate within the workplace. Currently, OSHA has focused on providing positive publicity and statistics on top performers as a means of incentive. Additionally, OSHA has implemented programs that make it easier to understand the laws and regulations, and has tools available to assist a company in encouraging compliance.


As compliance has increased and injury and fatality rates have dropped, the role of OSHA has evolved. Better use of limited resources has been required, and as a result the propagation of standards has been somewhat delegated. ANSI, for one, has become a more valuable resource in overseeing the development of H&S standards. One benefit is that standards are now being researched and created by those closer and/or within the specific industry being addressed by the standard. The result is a better process that generates applicable standards that should be met with industry acceptance.


As far as management of company H&S programs, much has changed. The position of a company H&S professional grew out of the creation of OSHA. A company often needed a staff of professionals to get into compliance, and progress was quickly made. But today it is not uncommon to see these functions being outsourced to a professional H&S consultant or agency. Cost savings and technology improvements have had an important role in bringing about this outsourcing, and these factors will continue to drive the ongoing success. But whether outsourcing creates a positive or negative effect on both the safety culture and overall H&S programs is still being determined. By outsourcing the “safety” function there will be benefits, but also concerns. Companies are still required to identify hazards, educate/train/communicate to protect from these hazards, and provide reporting as a result of these hazards being present. And with an aging workforce, illegal worker concerns, outsourced/contracted workers, multiple worksites, an increasingly complex work environment, an array of regulatory concerns, and an ever-increasing pressure to contain costs, the challenges on the H&S function are as strong as ever- whether it is done with an in-house staff or as an outsource. In order to increase worker willingness to accept a strong safety culture, the H&S industry has researched and implemented innovative methods. These include utilizing positive safety performance statistics and recognition, safety incentive programs, and behavior-based management methods- each being used to varying degrees of success.


In terms of drivers of the worker H&S, OSHA is no longer the “big stick”. Pressures for OSHA to be more cooperative have allowed for more broad and far-reaching entities to arise helping to ensure H&S in the workplace. Below is a categorical listing of current H&S drivers.


Driving Forces of the Health and Safety Industry



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