EHS Career Trends/Certification

Finding Someone to “Talk Shop” with, in a Safety Department of One

Occupational safety can be a lonely profession. Many safety professionals are a department of one, laboring alone in an area many other professionals don’t really understand. So, outside the occasional conference or lunch with your counterpart from a different company, where does an EHS professional find someone to “talk shop” with?

You may not find another safety pro to team up with, but you might have other professionals connected to your workplace who can “talk shop,” providing feedback and ideas you can use. When you’re a safety shop of one, your colleagues might include:

Industrial Hygienists

Some large companies have a safety professional at each facility but a centralized department for industrial hygiene. Industrial hygienists focus on health risks, like chemical and biological exposures. When your best expertise is in forklifts and punch presses, an industrial hygienist can help you deal with associated hazards like exhaust fume exposures or metalworking lubricants. Get to know the industrial hygienists who are available to you.

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Occupational Medicine Professionals

Overlapping somewhat with industrial hygienists are the physicians, physicians’ assistants, and nurses who specialize in occupational medicine. Their expertise ranges from the health effects of occupational hazards, to treatment options and care for sick or injured employees, to overall employee wellness.

  • Occupational health nurses may be in the workplace, helping to develop safety and wellness programs and identify trends in employee health. They may also work in the community, in public and private clinics.
  • Occupational health physicians and physicians’ assistants. These medical professionals are most often found in dedicated occupational medicine clinics, treating workers who have become ill or been injured at work.

Getting to know your nearby occupational medicine professionals can help you keep up with the treatment and recovery of injured workers, and design return-to-work programs that get workers back on the job smoothly, minimizing workplace disruption and workers’ compensation expenditures.

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Human Resource Professionals

Human resources might not appear at first glance to be closely connected to safety, but your human resources professional can be a terrific resource for your safety program. Together, you can navigate the worker-specific areas where regulatory compliance becomes difficult—areas where workers’ privacy rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accessibility Act (HIPAA) might make it more difficult to identify and address worker factors that affect occupational hazards. You can work together to craft job descriptions that enhance safety at the point of hire, for example, by identifying health conditions that would make a job unsafe for some workers. Take your HR people to lunch sometime, and find out how working together with them can make your workplace safer.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at a few more connections you can make that will enhance your career.