Are You Ready for
the New Normal?
New research shows passion and experience
serve pros well amid angst and uncertainty
BY DAVE JOHNSON
Economists call it the new normal: slow economic growth, projected to be much more sluggish in 2011 than forecasted earlier (the Interna- tional Monetary Fund predicts the
U.S. gross domestic product to expand 2.3 percent this year). High
unemployment, in the 10-percent
range. Insecure consumers, worried
about jobs and falling home prices,
reigning in their spending. Fragile
financial and real estate markets.
Manufacturers muddling through.
Particularly for the baby boomer generation, who enjoyed a long ride of economic good times during their peak
earning years, the uncertainty since the
recession of 2007–2008 has been sobering. So how are occupational and environmental health professionals, a work
force dominated by boomers, coping
with the new normal?
This annual “state of the nation” article is based on two surveys: a joint
American Industrial Hygiene Associa-tion®-Industrial Safety & Hygiene News
Industry Expert Survey of 646 AIHA®
members conducted by AIHA in October
2010; and ISHN’s 27th annual White
Paper reader research survey of 363
magazine subscribers conducted by
ISHN in September 2010.
Baby Boomers Are the Backbone
Make no mistake: baby boomers are the
backbone of both surveys. Almost three
out of four AIHA members surveyed are
45 years of age or older. More than half
(58 percent) are 50 or older. ISHN’s
White Paper survey, with 63 percent of
respondents possessing occupational
safety jobs, presents a similar picture of
a “graying” profession: 63 percent are 50
years or older, with 47 percent between
50 and 59.
For the sake of comparison, this article characterizes AIHA survey respondents as occupational and environmental
health pros (OEHPs), while ISHN White
Paper respondents have a more singular
occupational safety focus.
year. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) say
the employment picture in their city or
region is not improving. About the same
number (65 percent) emphasize that the
most pressing issues currently confronting safety pros are the economic
difficulties at home and at work, frozen
staffing, and the inability of companies
to invest in worker safety.
The Age of Angst
Not surprisingly, the new normal brings
with it job distress and longer work
hours. More than half (52 percent) of
OEHPs and 50 percent of occupational
safety professionals say levels of job-related distress will increase in 2011. An
identical percentage of both groups (44
percent) anticipate work hours to increase this year.
The uncertainty that underpins the
new normal, not surprisingly, affects
feelings of job security. About one in
five occupational safety pros responding
to ISHN’s White Paper survey report
they are worried about job security this
Shoot the Messenger?
One particular threat exists to worker
safety and health due to the climate of
uncertainty. It is directly expressed in
the ISHN survey: 52 percent agree with
the statement, “The majority of safety
and health pros lack the courage of their
convictions to put their current jobs and
future career aspirations at risk by
standing up and speaking out about
problems due to economic conditions
and corporate politics.”
Two-thirds (66 percent) of AIHA sur-
vey respondents agree that “external fac-
tors, such as economic conditions and
corporate politics, affect safety and
health professionals’ willingness to ac-
knowledge problems or concerns.”
Fear of Reporting?
If professionals hesitate to speak up
about risks, what effect is economic insecurity having on employees’ willingness to report problems, or even minor
injuries? OSHA chief David Michaels