How Many Safety Pros Do You Need to Hire?

How Many Safety Pros Do You Need to Hire?

One of the biggest challenges companies face today has to do with staffing. It’s completely natural, then, to wonder how much staffing is required for roles—including Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Professionals. Believe it or not, there are no government mandates that a business must hire a certified safety professional or other degreed EHS Professional, much less an exact number of such professionals. But experience has taught us that there is benefit to having safety professionals on staff, and how many your organization needs is based on a number of factors. Understanding the factors that help determine the number of health and safety professionals to have on staff can be illuminating in a variety of ways, and help leadership to create a safer work environment.

Are There Licensing or Registration Requirements for EHS Professionals?

There are no licensing requirements for practicing EHS professionals. However, many states have licensing requirements for professionals working as loss-control representatives in the insurance industry. Numerous safety and health-related certifications exist, but again, these are not required—they merely signal that a given candidate has received extra, specialized training. OSHA does offer a Safety & Health Fundamentals Certificate Program that health and safety professionals can obtain.

That said, the best candidate for a safety position will typically have some job training in the area (along with typical education requirements, like a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree). The exact amount of training and education companies require can vary quite a bit, depending on the level of the position they are looking to hire (and their particular safety needs, of course). For example, an entry-level position might require minimal training and certification, with the idea that a new hire can earn these while on the job. Safety managers, however, might need to show more years of experience and more credentials.

Is there any Data Showing that it Makes Financial Sense to Hire Full-Time EHS Professionals?

A company might be tempted to “pare down” the number of full-time workplace health and safety professionals and distribute those duties more widely in order to alleviate staffing issues. There is more to the decision, however, than just compliance with OSHA mandates. It turns out that investing in full-time EHS professionals is a sound investment, too.

For example, a Liberty Mutual poll of executives determined that for every $1 companies spent on construction site safety, they saved at least $3. And in a classic study at Lockheed Martin, it was found that developing a safety culture at their Paducah plant increased employee productivity by 24% and reduced the factory’s costs by 20%—and that the major reason for these gains was their focus on reducing errors that lead to job hazards and accidents.

Part of the role of a full-time EHS professional is to instill such a safety culture, as well as to stay up-to-date on regulatory requirements and best practices in the area of occupational safety.

The Appropriate Ratio of EHS Professionals to Employees

Ratios in Occupational Safety and Health staffing models help determine adequate staffing levels for EHS professionals based on the risks present in your organization. The actual formula for the number of health and safety professionals recommended is based on 1) the nature of your workplace 2) the number of full-time and part-time employees, 3) the degree of hazard typically present there and 4) the overall safety culture at your organization and role of leadership.

The formula looks like this:

{Number of qualified EHS professionals} = A x B x C x D x E x F x G + H

Each of these variables is a factor that a company needs to explore when considering the need for safety programs and professionals. Understanding all of the factors in play can shine a light on what takes up a safety professional's time, how programs can be best implemented, and how to ultimately achieve a safe work environment for everyone. The power of this formula is less in the math, but more the process of evaluating various factors that interplay in helping what is the best way to sufficiently staff the safety department at your workplace.

Let’s consider each factor in turn.

A - Number of Employees

The more employees you have, the more EHS professionals you will need, but it is not a linear relationship—there are some efficiencies of scale to be had as a company gets bigger. Find your number of employees here and use the appropriate multiplier for your A-factor.

B - Degree of Hazard

Degree of Hazard is a measure of the average degree of risk for all employees.

Note that different sets of employees will have different degrees of hazard. In this case, multiply the factor by the number of employees with that factor. Add the results, and then divide this total by the number of employees to get the weighted average (see example below).

C - Degree of Dispersion

Dispersion is, roughly, how spread out your workforce is. The idea here is simple: If it takes more than a day of travel to visit a worksite, that travel time will eat up the bandwidth of any safety professionals that need to do inspections, file reports, and so on.

For this factor, determine the rough percentage of your employees that are located far enough away from the main safety office that more than one day is required for a visit (and return):

D - Degree of Responsibility: Operating Level

Degree of Responsibility: Operating Level is a rough indication of how involved your EHS professionals are with the day-to-day execution of your safety programs.

E - Degree of Responsibility: Establishment of Health & Safety Policies and Procedures

Degree of Responsibility: Establishment of Health & Safety Policies and Procedures is a long way of saying the degree to which EHS professionals are involved in establishing your safety policies and procedures to begin with.

F - Degree of Assignment to the Line Organization

To what degree do managers share the burden of ensuring that safety activities are completed? And to what degree do these activities fall solely to the safety professional? This is what the Degree of Assignment factor is meant to capture.

G - Duplication

To what degree is the performance of safety functions duplicated across staff? For example, are all functions fully duplicated across all staff? Or are only half of all functions so duplicated across your staff? Or all functions but for only half of your staff? Choose the option that best matches your organization:

H - Additional Considerations: Measurements of Safety Overstaffing

Sometimes safety professionals pull double duty. To what degree are they involved in other duties that are not directly related to the safety and health of the staff? How often do they need to deal with exceptional health and safety situations? How often do unusual circumstances arise that eat into the safety professionals’ schedule? A good way to answer these questions is to estimate the number of additional managers you would need to hire to pick up these additional duties if they were separated from the EHS role. (In other words, the estimated number of necessary managers to assume those duties is the factor.)

Working out the Formula with an Example

There are a lot of factors that go into calculating the ideal ratio of safety professionals to employees, so it’s good to see how the formula works with a specific example in mind.

Let’s consider a sample facility—an FDA laboratory. What might their factors look like?

Resulting in this computation for required staffing: 0.8 x 1.5 x 1.0 x 1.5 x 0.5 x 0.5 + .5 = 0.95.

…or, 95%. This means that a full-time Safety & Health professional is needed to perform safety duties, or 95% of an FTE.

Setting Them off on the Right Foot

Starting as a new safety officer (or part-time safety professional) can be a bit of a daunting task. This isn’t just a new employee, but a person now tasked with the health and safety of all your other part-time and full-time employees (and contractors)! It is incredibly important not only to find the right candidate(s), but to get those safety pros started in the right way. A few tips:

Remember, this isn’t just about the raw number of people in the safety office. It’s about the shared responsibility for health and safety—and about giving your EHS professionals adequate time to do their jobs effectively. When it comes to hiring, the investment is well worth it.

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