As the pandemic ushers in a new era for the EHS industry, ASSP’s Deborah Roy steps up to lead.
The role of an occupational health and safety professional is evolving. The emergence of the novel coronavirus has catapulted illness prevention into the daily discussions of every American household and workplace. EHS leaders are now no longer seen as “safety cops” or rule enforcers, but they are seen as leaders who hold the keys to information to stop the spread of COVID-19. The value of the profession is realized.
Outgoing President Diana Stegall discusses how the American Society of Safety Professionals is viewing this unprecedented time. Deborah Roy, ASSP’s incoming president, also spoke with EHS Today about continued efforts to ensure safety professionals have the best information available throughout the next year and 2021 to ensure workers feel safe at work and at home.
Stegall: I think that with the pandemic, it’s an indication that this is an area that we need to be involved with because it is about taking a look at risk. I think it’s meant more of our members have had to look at risk than some had been doing in the past. I’m sure it’s been challenging for some, but we’re trying to be sure that we have information out there to help them as they’re going through the process. I still am a firm believer that risk assessment is the way we need to go. I think that’s very important now with some of what we’re seeing with the pandemic.
When you’re looking at the hierarchy of controls, it’s kind of interesting the way different outlets are talking about the hierarchy of controls, but not always in the right way. They don’t always get it right. But at least there’s a better understanding of it.
The thing that concerns me is that people will start to think that facial coverings are the same as personal protective equipment (PPE), and of course they’re not.
And even then personal protective equipment is lowest on the hierarchy of controls. You want to be doing the other things first—the elimination, the substitution, the engineering controls, the administrative controls and then you get into the PPE. It’s kind of interesting watching how that is all been evolving throughout the year.
Stegall: I think the big thing there is recognizing what face masks are for—what they are and what they aren’t. They’re not to protect the wearer. They are to protect the people around you. If you’re symptomatic, hopefully you’re staying home. But if you’re asymptomatic, you could still be spreading the disease, through coughs, or just naturally even clearing your throat, or just different bodily functions that we have that can create air droplets. If we’re asymptomatic, we don’t know that we’re spreading the disease. And that’s something that we need to be sure that as safety professionals we’re communicating as people are coming into the workplace.
Let’s talk pre-COVID-19. If you do a hazard assessment and you determine that there is not a hazard from airborne particles in the workplace, but you have employees who say, “Because of the environment, or because of the dust or the coloring, I want to wear something.” There are guidance documents that are out there if people choose to wear masks.EHS Today