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Pulse of the EHS, OM, LC/P and RM Professions
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Project Abstract

This applied research project is designed to determine the nature of the current state of the professions within environmental, occupational health, industrial hygiene, safety, occupational medicine, loss control/prevention and risk management (EHS, OM , LC/P and RM). Additionally, it will identify the sources for and solutions to issues now being encountered in these professions. The focus of this research project will be on the corporate and government employees who are on the front lines promoting EHS, OM , LC/P and RM agendas. The project will examine whether or not the current EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professional population is adequately trained, motivated and prepared to undertake their organization’s EHS, OM , LC/P and RM needs going into the 21 st century. The project will also identify the cause of the tensions these professionals are facing and whether these stresses are affecting the speed at which global environmental, heath, and safety concerns are addressed.

A two-phased approach will be employed, using the following data-gathering techniques: (1) literature review; (2) focus group sessions; (3) Internet surveys using linkages from the project’s website and collaborating professional organizations’ websites; and (4) face-to-face and telephone interviews.

Phase One will include an extensive literature review, including a review of unpublished information by the supporting professional societies. To construct a valid survey instrument, we will conduct focus group sessions with EHS, OM , LC/P and RM practitioners. The focus group input will be used to create a stratified sample plan and a questionnaire that will be posted on the Internet. The Internet survey results will be used to provide insight into: (1) the underlying hypothesis that the EHS, OM, LC/P and RM professions may be in a difficult position to adequately deal with emerging issues; (2) possible sources of these tensions; and (3) avenues to explore in order to improve the effectiveness of the various professions.

Phase Two will involve interviewing EHS, OM , LC/P and RM leaders within professional organizations and business and government managers to gain insight into their understanding of: (1) the current state of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions and (2) the practices these organizations employ to develop EHS, OM , LC/P and RM functional competency and effectiveness. Through an understanding of the current state of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions and the reasons for this existing state (Phase One results) we will identify ways to strengthen the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions. Finally, Phase Two will attempt to clarify the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM profession’s expectations of business and the value perceived of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM function by companies and government agency organizations.

Please click here to view a list of the sponsors that have joined the Center for Environmental Innovation, the Wharton School and Tulane University Center for Applied Environmental Public Health effort. Discussions are underway with numerous other organizations.

Research Plan

Background

The modern-day versions of the various EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions have been around since the early 1970s. The ‘70s were marked with the creation of the EPA and the initial surge of laws and regulations to address the societal problems that had been building since World War II. The ‘80s saw major environmental, health and safety disasters and massive site contamination, which raised both the awareness and stature of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions in organizations. This decade also saw a continuation of the dramatic growth of regulatory initiatives that had begun in the ‘70s. While businesses faced significant economic downturns, EHS, OM , LC/P and RM activities continued to ramp up. Regulatory interventions began to level off in the early ‘90s and by the mid-‘90s all the EHS, OM, LC/P and RM professions were caught up in the same significant downsizing and corporate restructurings that other professions faced.

The growth in the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions during the ’70s and ‘80s encouraged a wave of new enrollments in both public health schools with curricula for safety and occupational health and in universities offering environmental engineering and sciences degrees. This growth phenomenon began to level off toward the late ‘80s and enrollments began to decline by the early ‘90s. This trend has accelerated over the past five years. Many of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals that entered the field in the early ‘70s have either reached retirement, are close to retiring, or have been swept up in one of the many downsizings, which were characteristic of the late ‘90s. In addition, many mid-career EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals are seeking non-EHS, OM , LC/P and RM positions that offer great chances for advancement or growth opportunities.

In summary, the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions over the past decade have undergone a tumultuous era of change. Anecdotal information, the direct experience, and initial research by the Project Investigators suggest that some of the possible consequences may be a:

  • Lessening of the ability of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions to affect change in their organizations;
  • Growing willingness to accept the status quo and not push for substantive innovation;
  • Loss of key leadership essential to mentoring future EHS, OM , LC/P and RM leadership; and
  • Gap in the supply vs. demand for the next generation of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM Professions.

The obvious result from the combination of these four consequences is the inability of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions to meet future societal needs for a clean, safe, healthy environment.

In order to fully examine this hypothesis, a physical and psychological exam of the state of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions is needed. In essence, we are examining the health of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions – taking its "pulse," so to speak. Are EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals frustrated? If so, how are they coping? Are there unique career issues facing EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals? Given the downsizing in the ‘90s and reduced current hiring in the EHS, OM, LC/P and RM professions, what is industry and government doing to prepare for the coming wave of EHS, OM, LC/P and RM professionals who are retiring or electing early retirement options? What are the reasons for the apparent reduction in job prospects for the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions? Will there be a market response to the reduction in force of EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals? What are managements’ expectations of EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals and the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM function and conversely, what expectations do EHS, OM , LC/P amd RM professionals have of business people? Until we understand these perceptions and strive to overcome the differences, it will remain increasingly difficult for the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM function to excel in providing value necessary to meet emerging issues.

Research Approach

The Center for Environmental Innovation (CEI), in partnership with the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Tulane University Center for Applied Environmental Public Health, is undertaking this research project to gain a broad understanding of the current state of EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals within corporations and government. The project is intended to be a real-life examination of the individuals who are currently practicing in one or more of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions. In addition to gathering information from EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals, management will be surveyed and interviewed to obtain their perspectives on and expectations of the professions.

Literature Review

The initial stage of the project will include a thorough review of the existing literature. A preliminary review of the literature reveals that very little has been published on this subject. A graduate student will conduct the literature review with oversight from the Project Investigators. The review will consist of preparing an abstract of the references and a brief discussion on the relationship of the reference to the research. At this stage, the Project Investigators have assembled a considerable amount of anecdotal information based on scores of personal discussions with EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals and discussions with the executive directors and board members of the country’s leading EHS, OM , LC/P and RM-related professional societies.

Annual and biannual member surveys conducted by the above collaborating professional organizations have been made available to the Project Investigators. In addition, there is a wealth of literature available on the difficulties EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals have in implementing new and innovative programs within companies. The classic summary of these issues is by Robert Sheldon, who coined the phrase "Green Wall."

Additionally, there is information that describes the general frustration that EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals face with systems that appear stalled. The old way of doing things – the country's policies, laws and regulations – cannot meet future needs. Numerous prestigious study groups have reached this conclusion over the past decade. Even defenders of the current systems admit that the current system is misdirected, fragmented, inflexible, costly, shortsighted, and inefficient.

Study Design

Following the literature review, the activities performed during the next phase of this project will include focus group sessions (up to ten) to be held at the Wharton School and other locations in the U.S. Planning the focus group occurred between the Wharton staff and EHS, OM, LC/P and RM representatives from several major corporations in the greater Philadelphia area.

Follow-up focus group discussions will be held at Arizona State University , Tulane University , and other universities, allowing this project to provide a geographical outreach. These groups will consist of individuals currently practicing in one or more of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions.

The purpose of this phase is to design a valid survey instrument that will meet the statistical rigor of a stratified sample. Wharton School specialists will conduct the initial focus group sessions to insure that sample size meets qualitative data analyses parameters. The criteria for determining acceptable data quality from the focus group sessions will be based on the experience levels of the individuals and the diversity of their work environments (i.e., industry, government, and consulting).

Once the survey instrument has been designed, it will be posted on the Internet at the project’s website hosted by Tulane University Center for Applied Environmental Public Health and the websites of the project’s collaborating professional organizations. The survey instrument will consist of a core set of questions asked of all participants followed by a series of questions that trigger branching to other sections. This branching logic structure provides efficiency to the survey instrument and will be structured on factors such as area of EHS, OM , LC/P and RM expertise, experience/responsibility level, and membership(s) in collaborating professional societies. These last questions will allow the professional societies to seek information on issues unique to their membership needs.

The deliverables of the survey instrument will include a robust understanding of the report on the:

  • Current state-of-the-health of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions,
  • Causes and sources for the reasons this current state exists today,
  • Steps being taken by EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals to maintain their positions,
  • Current status of students in EHS, OM , LC/P and RM curricula, and
  • Key areas for further investigation.

The data from the Internet survey instrument will also support the development of a questionnaire to capture the information required to prepare a report on best practices to attract, develop, and utilize EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals. This second phase will focus on the development of guidelines and best practices for organizations to utilize in maintaining and sustaining their EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professional workforce, for example:

  • Steps being taken by management to address the coming wave of EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professional retirements,
  • The market response to these EHS, OM , LC/P and RM retirements,
  • Current practices to develop an EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professional workforce, and
  • Management’s perspectives, expectations, and value for the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM function.

The interviews for this best practice report will be conducted with key EHS, OM , LC/P and RM leaders in industry, government, and professional EHS, OM , LC/P and RM organizations. In addition, business and government managers will be interviewed, again using the standardized questionnaire approach. The questionnaire will also be posted on the project website and the Tulane University Center for Environmental Public Health and collaborating professional societies’ websites for a pre-determined period of time and individuals will be solicited to complete the questionnaire on-line.

Data Management

Comments made during the focus group sessions and interviews will be captured through manual note taking, audio recording and transcription. Prior to and/or during the focus group sessions, background information will be presented and will be included with the data gathered at each session. Although individuals in each focus group session will be aware of who made which statements, it will be essential to ensure confidentiality among all participants in the resulting documents in order to obtain the participants’ candid insights. The same level of confidentiality will be ensured during and after the interviewing phase.

Procedures for Calibration and Methods of Analysis

The composition of the focus group will be based on the homogeneity of group members (i.e., EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals) that have been selected using the following criteria:

  • Currently employed in one or more of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions,
  • Experience in one or more of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions for at least 15 years,
  • Experience in the line organization,
  • Recently retired, within the past 3 years, from one of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions, and
  • Currently or previously employed in industry, government or consulting services organization.

A trained moderator, skilled in maintaining group dynamics, will facilitate the focus group sessions. The questions will be designed to simulate group discussion. The size of each focus group will be between eight and twelve individuals. Participation in the focus group sessions will be strictly voluntary and confidential.

Potential candidates for the interview phase will be drawn from suggestions made by participants in the focus group sessions and from the researchers’ database of contacts representing EHS, OM , LC/P and RM leaders and business and government managers. Interviewers will be skilled in conducting qualitative interviewing. The questionnaire will be designed to ensure that the interviewer covers all the topics in the same order with each participant and to allow for open-ended discussion.

The number of participants that will be interviewed will be based on the work done in the initial focus group phase. In addition, the data captured from the interviews will be supplemented by the Internet survey. Participation in the interviews and the Internet survey will be strictly voluntary and confidential.

Procedures for Data Reduction and Reporting

The focus group analysis will be qualitative in nature. The Project Investigators will analyze the participants’ answers and create questions for the survey instrument. The moderator will document each focus group session in a brief report shortly after each session. The intermediary reports will address the focus group questions and include suggestions and conclusions made by the participants.

The researchers will analyze the results of survey responses using the SPSS web-based statistical package. This package is capable of data collection, analysis an report generation.

The interviews will be qualitative in nature. The researchers will be looking for patterns of interrelationships between many categories of EHS, OM , LC/P and RM topics and issues. Using the principle "less is more," the interviewers will strive to spend a longer time with each interviewee to extract a deeper understanding of the interviewee’s understanding of the current state of the EHS, OM, LC/P and RM professions and the practices to sustain the EHS, OM, LC/P and RM workforce. The researchers will synthesize the data from these interviews and report the results.

Major reports will be prepared for the each phase of this two-phase project. The first will present the description, analysis and interpretation of the interview questions. Care will be taken to identify the interrelating themes that course through the interviews. In addition, the results from the Internet survey will be incorporated into this report. The second report will be a compilation of the best practices being used by organizations to address EHS, OM , LC/P and RM issues.

Procedures to Evaluate the Success of the Project

Articles will be published in a variety of peer-reviewed journals, professional trade magazines, and the popular press to reach the various stakeholders who can affect, and are affected by, the revitalization of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professions. In addition, the Project Investigators will hold workshops targeted at private and public organizations that are currently addressing the issues raised by this research and searching for ways to sustain their EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professional workforce. The bottom line question to be addressed in these sessions is, "How can EHS, OM , LC/P and RM professionals add greater value and resolve the emerging global EHS, OM , LC/P and RM issues society faces?"

At the conclusion of the last phase, the results will be shared with educational institutions and professional organizations outside the United States to determine if the findings are consistent with these organizations’ experiences. If they are not, what are the differences and can non-US best practices translate to the culture within the United States ? If non-US issues are similar to those observed inside the United States , how might we learn from one another’s best practices?

Expected Results or Benefits

By more thoroughly understanding the current state and realities of the EHS, OM, LC/P and RM professions, practices can be developed and reported that can sustain a vigorous and dynamic professional workforce. The results of this research will also help to clarify the expectations towards and the value of the EHS, OM , LC/P and RM function within organizations. This research will provide non-EHS, OM, LC/P and RM decision makers in corporations a higher level of understanding of the value EHS, OM, LC/P and RM professionals bring to the organization and how these EHS, OM, LC/P and RM professionals can address current and new issues using a "beyond compliance" model.

General Project Information

The project will be managed by the Center for Environmental Innovation, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization and staffed by senior executives and academics with extensive practical experience. The Wharton School ’s business leadership and contacts will provide support by drawing on its relationships with corporations, professional associations and organizations to work towards the common goal of improving the profession. The Tulane University Center for Applied Environmental Public Health will provide support by hosting the survey website.

 

 

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This page last updated December 23, 2013