In this age of streamlining business processes, people are asked to work in more areas than ever before. This is true in both the public and private sectors, and the safety field is not immune. More and more safety professionals are being asked to address questions about the environment issues, and they are expected to know the answers to continue advancing. Also, the "customers" that these professionals serve often see the fields as one in the same. This natural overlap has been recognized by organizations that were traditionally involved primarily with safety and health issues. The American Society for Safety Engineers now has an active Environmental Practice Specialty. Also, divisions within the National Safety Council address environmental issues, for instance, the Business and Industry Environmental Affairs Standing committee developed the 2004 Environmental Regulations Resource Guide.

As someone who faced this challenge years ago, the author shares insights from his own evolution into how to make this transition, including strategies to quickly learn the basics of environmental issues. Also, he explores ways to adapt the strategies used to address safety issues so they can be applied to environmental problems.

Common Scenario

A common scenario that occurs in organizations is that someone will start out as a safety professional. Eventually, however, due to reorganization, downsizing, and normal attrition, the safety professional finds him/herself answering questions related to environmental issues. Oftentimes, this evolution happens formally and people are reassigned into a different role or acquire a different title. Other times, it is just assumed that the fields are so interrelated that the person will naturally be a good environmental fit.

When this happens, the safety professional can react in one of four ways: Accept the new duties enthusiastically; accept the new duties begrudgingly; avoid the new duties; and actively resist. While it is natural to avoid change, it can also limit the professional's future opportunities and perception of value. So whichever strategy a safety professional chooses, it is important to understand the potential upside to such opportunities is that the professional can grow and become even more valuable to an organization.

Similarities Between Environmental and Safety Issues

One of the keys to removing anxiety about change is to understand the similarities that exist with the current situation. There are numerous similarities between approaches to addressing safety and environmental problems. First, it is important to note that the basics of both environmental and safety issues are memorialized in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), and a proper reading of regulations is essential for appropriate implementation. The safety professional already has a strong background identifying, reading, and understanding regulations, and this is a critical skill for environmental compliance. The safety professional already understands that it is important not only to read regulations, but to read them in context, and seek additional resources such as interpretation letters.

Once the basics are covered, the safety professional further understands continuous improvement and the importance going beyond compliance.

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