SLC 2016: The Big Switch: Why You Need to Shift Your Organization from Compliance to Risk

July 28, 2016

Pam Walaski, CSP, CHMM, in her Safety and Risk Management Track Session “The Big Switch: Why You Need to Shift Your Organization from Compliance to Risk,” claims an introspective look at the EHS profession has led to a significant transformation away from injury-based/compliance-based programs to the development of safety management systems that provide for continuous improvement and focus on risk reduction. Walski, who is the director of health and safety for GAI Consultants Inc., is speaking at the 2016 Safety Leadership Conference in Pittsburgh from Sept. 19-21.

She answered a few questions from EHS Today about her topic and presentation:

EHS Today: Can you offer us a description of your topic and how it relates to safety leadership? 

Pam Walaski: The OSH profession and its practitioners have been undergoing an introspective review for nearly 10 years, initiated, in part, because of the growing recognition that fatalities and serious injuries continued to occur, even in organizations with “best-in-class” OSH programs. If we are to move forward as a profession, a stronger reliance on risk-based approaches and safety management systems thinking is critical.

OSH professionals will need to take the lead on making this shift in their organizations. Before taking on this challenge they need to understand why it has occurred and why it is important. This session will provide historical context as well as strategies that attendees can take back to their organizations after the conference.

EHS Today: Why is that topic of interest to you and why is it important to SLC attendees? Please share an example of a personal or professional experience you’ve had related to the topic.

Pam Walaski: I’ve been practicing OSH for many years and still remember the overheads that I used to train my workforce about basic workplace safety. I am discovering that some of what I believed to be true and essential concepts then are neither true nor essential.

As I have shifted away from the way I used to practice safety, I have felt compelled to share my journey with my fellow OSH professionals. I am always energized after I do because someone (or several) attendees inevitably come up to me and say they are in the same place or that they have been thinking the same things and just didn’t know how to put their thoughts together. It’s gratifying to share the journey with others and I believe that as more and more of us talk about this transformation, it will become more ingrained in what we do.

EHS Today: What are the takeaways you hope to leave with attendees?

Pam Walaski: At the risk of sounding snippy, I hope that attendees take away an application of the adage that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. As a profession, I believe we have to move forward and evolve. A risk-based approach to practicing OSH is that evolution. I also hope attendees will find some support and ideas that will provide an understanding of how they can take the lead to assist their organizations shift towards risk management and away from the expectation that complying with regulations will create a “safe” workplace.

EHS Today: What do you think are some of the most pressing EHS and risk management issues facing corporate leaders and safety professionals in 2016 and beyond?

Pam Walaski: The most pressing issue is how OSH professionals explain to senior management why the approaches to developing and implementing OSH programs that we have been advocating for years are not likely to get us where we want to be. We will have to find ways to explain why a record-breaking lagging indicator doesn’t necessarily mean our workforce is safe (they may just be lucky). This conundrum will be challenging for many and will require careful consideration on how to craft messages that will lead the shift away from a focus on compliance and towards a focus on risk.

Beyond that, OSH professionals need to understand that they need to become experts on risk. Some of us are, most of us are not. Getting to where we need to be will require a willingness to engage in a process to acquire new skills and develop expertise and then be able to transfer that learning to our workforce and the management of the organization.

EHS Today: How will this session help attendees be a better resource for their employers?

Pam Walaski: Most organizations already know about risk and risk management because the concepts and processes are used regularly to assess financial risk, supply chain risk, and other enterprise threats and opportunities.  OSH professionals who are better able to understand risk management and how to implement it to assess OSH risks will be better able to engage with senior management and be better positioned to support their organization’s overall growth and prosperity.  The common ground many OSH professionals have been looking for rests with risk management.

The Safety Leadership Conference offers a full agenda of plant and construction site safety tours, four tracks of educational sessions, keynote speakers, a celebration of America's Safest Companies and networking opportunities.

About the Author

Sandy Smith | Editor-in-Chief

Sandy Smith is editor-in-chief of EHS Today, a Penton publication. She has been writing about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990. She has been interviewed about occupational safety and health for documentaries and television programs, has served as a panelist on roundtables, has provided the keynote address for occupational safety and health conferences and has won national and international awards for her articles.

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