There are no hard statistics confirming a shortage of safety and health professionals, but there is a lot of circumstantial data.
An October 2011 study prepared for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), for example, concluded that the need for health and safety engineers in 2011 and over the next five years “is substantially higher than the number estimated to be produced from … training programs.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 11 percent growth in the number of health and safety engineers between 2012 and 2022.
In addition, a survey of members by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) found about 1 percent unemployment, and the 30 or so annual graduates of the University of Michigan Center for Occupational Health and Safety Engineering usually get hired before they graduate.
Some experts, however, say the shortage is not so much a lack of entry-level talent as it is of experienced safety and health professionals. They said that what organizations are missing are competent professionals who are knowledgeable about both the industry in question, and the resources and tools that professionals can offer.
As Skip Smith, senior director of risk management and insurance at HOA Inc. (Hooters of America) said in a recent Risk Insider article, “But these days, if you’re charged with overseeing a corporate risk management department, it is very difficult to fill a safety position. There are a limited number of qualified candidates with the required educational background, experience and unique set of skills.”
It takes time, obviously, to gain the credentials, experience and even the terminology necessary to make an impact on a worksite. But the clock may be ticking on the profession as baby boomers get ready to retire and the influx of professionals is lower than necessary to fill the gap.
One problem is the low visibility of the profession to most young people, said Stuart Batterman, director, University of Michigan Center for Occupational Health and Safety Engineering.
“Typically, they don’t recognize the opportunities that are available in this field,” he said. “It’s also not the kind of field that most people have prior exposure to.”
For some industries, such as construction, manufacturing, and oil and gas, the need may be greater than others. Obviously, that’s because such industries are more hazardous than some, but it’s also because these sectors are more likely to have the increased risk of ramping up or ramping down operations. When that happens, the danger increases.
New employees, round-the-clock operations, different locales — all of them add uncertainty and potential risk to organizations. The continuing increase of Spanish-speaking workers as well as those native in other languages also makes it harder to educate and train employees.
As the difficulty mounts in finding experienced environmental, health and safety (known both as EHS or HSE) professionals, the number of consultants and service providers to fill that void is growing. Insurance companies and brokerages as well provide risk control services to their clients.
But consultants are generally not on the jobsite every day and have less insight into the daily demands of an organization.
The age issue is not one that will go away anytime soon.
“We have got a graying population,” said Carl W. Heinlein, senior safety consultant, American Contractors Insurance Group, a captive owned by 41 contractors around the country. “I can probably think of seven great safety jobs that are currently available right now. They can’t find quality, experienced people to fill them.”
The 2011 NIOSH study, prepared by Westat, projected that about 10 percent of safety professionals would retire within the next year, and estimated that a “large number” of such professionals are over the age of 50.
It forecast that employers would hire more than 25,000 more over the next five years, but that colleges were expected to graduate fewer than 13,000 HSE professionals. And the report noted that enrollment was projected to slightly decline over a five year period.
Leaders in construction, oil and gas, and other industries, Heinlein said, “have been begging for quality safety folks.”
Those industries, in particular, are dangerous ones to be in. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction fatalities, while down 36 percent since 2006, still account for the highest number of fatal work injuries of any industry sector in 2013, the latest year for which results are available.
It’s more difficult to pin down the fatalities in the oil and gas industry as it is covered by several different BLS categories. Overall, construction and extraction occupations accounted for 818 fatalities in 2013, or 18 percent of all workplace fatal injuries. Transportation fatalities numbered 1,184 or 27 percent of all workplace deaths.
BLS indicates that organizations involved in oil and gas extraction have the highest percentage of EHS employment in the private sector, at nearly 1 percent of all positions. Another six-tenths of 1 percent are employed in petroleum and coal products manufacturing.
To be effective, health and safety professionals need hands-on experience in troubleshooting problems, said Scott Harris, director of EHS advisory services at UL Workplace Health & Safety.
“We really haven’t seen a shortage,” he said.
“When I am out talking to folks, they have never said to us, ‘We can’t find someone.’ I have heard often, ‘It’s hard to find a good one,’ meaning they are looking for certain key skills and the young people just don’t have them.”
The ability to research and “textbook knowledge” are what college graduates can bring to a job, he said, but they often lack industry experience, the ability to solve problems, people skills and presentation skills, so they can command attention during meetings.
It’s also important to understand the value of redesigning a process or engineering out the risk instead of focusing just on training and education, said Matt Kupiec, assistant vice president of construction risk engineering at ACE Group.
And, he noted, it’s not always necessary to re-invent the wheel. There are vendors and service providers that have created products to meet many safety demands.
It takes about two years for an entry-level person to become “well versed as a generalist.” — Brion Callori, senior vice president, engineering and research, FM Global
At FM Global, which focuses a lot of attention on commercial property risk, Brion Callori, senior vice president, engineering and research, noted that it takes time for property risk engineers to become fully proficient.
FM Global hires between 100 and 150 property risk engineers yearly.
There are two levels to proficiency, he said.
“We expect someone out of engineering school to think like an engineer. We have to give them cross-discipline training and have developed a hands-on training approach to expedite the process.”
It takes about two years for an entry-level person to become “well versed as a generalist,” he said, and then the carrier moves the focus to specific natural hazards, such as windstorms, power generation, chemicals, etc.
“It probably takes another three years of that to become top flight and really specialized in something,” Callori said.
One issue with the energy industry in particular, said Jay Doherty, partner, workforce sciences institute, Mercer, is the tremendous number of contractors on major projects, with investment levels ranging from $100 million to several billion dollars.
“You have less control and more variation in the skills, compliance and knowledge of safety [with contractors],” he said.
“The industry has, unfortunately, had incidents, serious incidents, more often with the subcontractors than with the prime contractor or operator.”
BLS statistics bear that out — for all industry sectors.
Fatal injuries of contractors accounted for 17 percent of all workplace deaths in 2013, and half of all contractors who were fatally injured were working in construction and extraction occupations.
The importance of experience when it comes to HSE professionals is not so much on the increasing compliance requirements but on problem-solving and prevention, Doherty said.
The career structure and the time to competence is complex for HSE, he said, because “the discipline is not simply defined by hierarchy or level. Often the best HSE experts don’t begin in that role.” Development requires broad knowledge not only of OSHA and other governmental regulations, but also knowing the protocols of companies and specific industries.
It also depends on the span of control, Doherty said. It takes more than HSE professionals to look after safety. Supervisors often perform a compliance role and when cost pressures reduce spans or there is simply a lack of experience in the workforce, there is greater likelihood of safety incidents, he said.
“Companies need to examine the career paths for their HSE professionals,” he said, “to make sure top talent is rewarded commensurate with other critical skills. That sends a clear signal of the priority placed on safety and the environment.”
But, some companies just don’t value the position enough. When times are tight, occupational health and safety professionals are often near the top of the chopping block, and many organizations continue to look at the profession as an expense instead of a way to improve production and margin.
“This is a margin-making opportunity. It’s an opportunity for a company to look at it more as a business asset than as a cost or expense of the operation.” — James Merendino, vice president and general manager, commercial insurance risk control services, Liberty Mutual
As UL’s Harris noted, the profession has its own gallows humor: It’s always safety first … unless it interferes with production or “gets in the way of something else.”
But, said James Merendino, vice president and general manager, commercial insurance risk control services, Liberty Mutual, effective safety and risk management strategies affect both the top and bottom lines of a company.
“This is a margin-making opportunity,” Merendino said.
“It’s an opportunity for a company to look at it more as a business asset than as a cost or expense of the operation.”
It’s more than ensuring regulations are complied with, he said. It’s making safety a strategic priority of the organization, which may result not only in fewer and less severe injuries, but also in lower insurance premiums, and better terms and conditions.
It also is less disruptive of production deadlines, and more protective of an organization’s brand and an industry’s reputation.
“Safety has to be elevated to the position that production is,” said George Cesarini, vice president of construction risk engineering, ACE.
“Organizations need to elevate safety from, ‘Insurance wants this’ or ‘OSHA wants this’ to elevating it to the same level as production, to making it a core value within the organization.”
Finding the experienced professionals to fill that role, however, may continue to be a problem.
Risks of Hearing Loss Remain Flat, With Exceptions
The prevalence of hearing loss among U.S. workers has remained at 20 percent for the last 30 years. Researchers say there have been improvements in most areas, but certain sectors continue to put workers at risk.
Occupational hearing loss is permanent and potentially debilitating but preventable, according to government experts. They looked at audiograms for 1.8 million workers between 1981 and 2010 to estimate hearing loss trends in various industries.
“The adjusted risk for incident hearing loss decreased over time when all industry sectors were combined,” according to their report, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. “However, the risk remained high for workers in healthcare and social assistance, and the prevalence was consistently high for mining and construction workers.”
Some 22 million workers are exposed to noise hazards at work. Hazardous noise, a single instantaneous high noise exposure, or exposure to chemicals that damage hearing can result in occupational hearing loss. The study from researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is said to be the first to offer a broad look at hearing loss risks to workers over a 30-year period.
The construction industry had the highest number of new hearing loss cases during the study period, possibly due to less stringent hearing conservation requirements compared with other industries. Also, the seasonal nature of work involving independent contractors makes it difficult to implement preventive measures.
Mining has the highest percentage of noise exposed workers than any other industry, the report said. A small fraction of workers in the health care and social assistance sector are exposed to hearing risks. However, the vast majority report not wearing protection.
“There is no industry where workers can be considered ‘safe’ from hearing loss.”
Healthcare: The Hardest Job in Risk Management
Radically changing cost and reimbursement models.
Rapidly evolving service delivery approaches.
It is difficult to imagine an industry more complex and uncertain than healthcare. Providers are being forced to lower costs and improve efficiencies on a scale that is almost beyond imagination. At the same time, quality of care must remain high.
After all, this is more than just a business.
The pressure on risk managers, brokers and CFOs is intense. If navigating these challenges wasn’t stress inducing enough, these professionals also need to ensure continued profitability.
“Healthcare companies don’t hide the fact that they’re looking to reduce costs and improve efficiencies in practically every facet of their business. Insurance purchasing and financing are high on that list,” said Leo Carroll, who heads the healthcare professional liability underwriting unit for Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.
But it’s about a lot more than just price. The complexity of the healthcare system and unique footprint of each provider requires customized solutions that can reduce risk, minimize losses and improve efficiencies.
“Each provider is faced with a different set of challenges. Therefore, our approach is to carefully listen to the needs of each client and respond with a creative proposal that often requires great flexibility on the part of our team,” explained Carroll.
Creativity? Flexibility? Those are not terms often used to describe an insurance carrier. But BHSI Healthcare is a new type of insurer.
The Foundation: Financial Strength
Berkshire Hathaway is synonymous with financial strength. Leveraging the company’s well-capitalized balance sheet provides BHSI with unmatched capabilities to take on substantial risks in a sustainable way.
For one, BHSI is the highest rated paper available to healthcare providers. Given the severity of risks faced by the industry, this is a very important attribute.
But BHSI operationalizes its balance sheet in many ways beyond just strong financial ratings.
For example, BHSI has never relied on reinsurance. Without the need to manage those relationships, BHSI is able to eliminate a significant amount of overhead. The result is an industry leading expense ratio and the ability to pass on savings to clients.
“The impact of operationalizing our balance sheet is remarkable. We don’t impose our business needs on our clients. Our financial strength provides us the freedom to genuinely listen to our clients and propose unique, creative solutions,” Carroll said.
Keeping Things Simple
Healthcare professional liability policy language is often bloated and difficult to decipher. Insurers are attempting to tackle complex, evolving issues and account for a broad range of scenarios and contingencies. The result often confuses and contradicts.
Carroll said BHSI strives to be as simple and straightforward as possible with policy language across all lines of business. It comes down to making it easy and transparent to do business with BHSI.
“Our goal is to be as straightforward as we can and at the same time provide coverage that’s meaningful and addresses the exposures our customers need addressed,” Carroll said.
Claims: More Than an After Thought
Complex litigation is an unfortunate fact of life for large healthcare customers. Carroll, who began his insurance career in medical claims management, understands how important complex claims management is to the BHSI value proposition.
In fact, “claims management is so critical to customers, that BHSI Claims contributes to all aspects of its operations – from product development through risk analysis, servicing and claims resolution,” said Robert Romeo, head of Healthcare and Casualty Claims.
And as part of the focus on building long-term relationships, BHSI has made it a priority to introduce customers to the claims team as early as possible and before a claim is made on a policy.
“Being so closely aligned automatically delivers efficiency and simplicity in the way we work,” explained Carroll. “We have a common understanding of our forms, endorsements and coverage, so there is less opportunity for disagreement or misunderstanding between what our underwriters wrote and how our claims professionals interpret it.”
Responding To Ebola: Creativity + Flexibility
The recent Ebola outbreak provided a prime example of BHSI Healthcare’s customer-centric approach in action.
Almost immediately, many healthcare systems recognized the need to improve their infectious disease management protocols. The urgency intensified after several nurses who treated Ebola patients were themselves infected.
BHSI Healthcare was uniquely positioned to rapidly respond. Carroll and his team approached several of their clients who were widely recognized as the leading infectious disease management institutions. With the help of these institutions, BHSI was able to compile tools, checklists, libraries and other materials.
These best practices were immediately made available to all BHSI Healthcare clients who leveraged the information to improve their operations.
At the same time, healthcare providers were at risk of multiple exposures associated with the evolving Ebola situation. Carroll and his Healthcare team worked with clients from a professional liability and general liability perspective. Concurrently, other BHSI groups worked with the same clients on offerings for business interruption, disinfection and cleaning costs.
Ever vigilant, the BHSI chief underwriting officer, David Fields, created a point of central command to monitor the situation, field client requests and execute the company’s response. The results were highly customized packages designed specifically for several clients. On some programs, net limits exceeded $100 million and covered many exposures underwritten by multiple BHSI groups.
“At the height of the outbreak, there was a lot of fear and panic in the healthcare industry. Our team responded not by pulling back but by leaning in. We demonstrated that we are risk seekers and as an organization we can deploy our substantial resources in times of crisis. The results were creative solutions and very substantial coverage options for our clients,” said Carroll.
It turns out that creativity and flexibly requires both significant financial resources and passionate professionals. That is why no other insurer can match Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.
To learn more about BHSI Healthcare, please visit www.bhspecialty.com.
Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance (www.bhspecialty.com) provides commercial property, casualty, healthcare professional liability, executive and professional lines, surety, travel, programs, and homeowners insurance. It underwrites on the paper of Berkshire Hathaway’s National Indemnity group of insurance companies, which hold financial strength ratings of A++ from AM Best and AA+ from Standard & Poor’s. Based in Boston, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance has regional underwriting offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information contained herein is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy any product or service. Any description set forth herein does not include all policy terms, conditions and exclusions. Please refer to the actual policy for complete details of coverage and exclusions.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.