Contemporary Issues Affecting Safety

Contemporary Issues Affecting Safety Program Operations

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Join Bob Emery in a discussion of contemporary topic affecting safety program operations.  

Safety is actually the convergence of a variety of professional disciplines, thus changes and developments that affect the field can emerge from various sources. This professional development course is designed to address four contemporary issues confronting safety program operations:

  1. Safety’s role in mitigating insider security risks
  2. Ethical decision making and the link to safety culture
  3. Anticipating and adapting to change within your organization
  4. And the promise and peril of “citizen science”

Detailed descriptions of each presentation are listed below. Ample time will be allotted for participant questions and discussion. 

Safety’s Role in Mitigating the “Insider Threat” Security Risk

While organizations maintain many layers of controls to prevent outsiders from gaining unauthorized access to cause loss or harm, persons who have been granted legitimate access can become an “insider threat”, and because they are very difficult to detect, cause over $100 billon is losses annually. Although the typical insider targets assets or data, in some cases their actions can also have significant impacts on workplace and environmental health and safety. Because much of an organization’s safety program activities are carried out with the workers in their workplace, this represents a unique opportunity to assist in the possible detection of insider threats. This presentation will discuss the threats represented by insiders and will detail their recognized traits so that biosafety professionals can enhance their situational awareness and report suspicions to the appropriate authorities. 

Ethical Decision-Making Tools for Enhancing Organizational Safety Culture 

Recent investigations of several tragic events have repeatedly identified the absence of a culture of safety as a common contributing factor.  An organization’s safety culture is a collective reflection of individual decisions made by its workforce, each carrying with them ethical implications. Safety culture, good or bad, is the sum product of many individual ethical decisions, yet the notion of ethical safety decision-making is not often discussed. This presentation will describe ethical dilemmas safety professionals can encounter, and how the decisions that are made can impact an organization’s overall safety culture. A set of ethical decision-making tools will be presented, along with a suggested path forward for actually improving safety culture within an organization. 

Strategies for Keeping Your Safety Program on Course in a Sea of Constant Change 

The University of Texas School of Public Health recently conducted a straw poll of approximately fifty very experienced health & safety professionals and the results were astonishing: 80% had reported to the person they current report to for a period of less than 5 years, and 25% for a period of less than 1 year!  These striking results underscore the old adage that “change is constant”. But adapting to change is not something that is traditionally addressed in academic health & safety programs. Interestingly, although change is indeed constant, the underlying data that drives biosafety programs doesn’t change. What does change is the framing of the delivery of this important information to ensure continued program support. This presentation will discuss the dilemma of constant change and provide some tips on the personal management of change and will present options to consider for communicating essential information to the ever-changing environment. 

The Promise and Peril of “Citizen Science” – and Why This Matters to Safety 

The proliferation of personal electronic devices has resulted in an exponential expansion in the ability to rapidly gather and disseminate information – some accurate, some not so accurate, and some downright wrong. With virtually every member of the workforce and community now equipped with this technology, the notion of “citizen science” has expanded, wherein citizens and employees can collect and instantly transmit data and information about exposures and situations. While this technique holds great promise as a “force multiplier” to address various concerns, the technique is largely unfiltered and can result in the dissemination of misinformation, apprehension, and confusion. This presentation will discuss the evolution of “citizen science” and how it has changed with recent technological developments and then will provide a series of suggested steps for biosafety programs to take to proactively address the challenge.


Dr. Robert Emery is Vice President for Safety, Health, Environment & Risk Management for The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and Professor of Occupational Health at the University of Texas School of Public Health. Bob has over 30 years of experience in health & safety and holds master’s degrees in health physics and environmental sciences, and a doctorate in occupational health. Bob is unique in that he possesses national board certification and registration in all of the main areas of health & safety;

  • health physics [Certified Health Physicist, CHP],
  • industrial hygiene [Certified Industrial Hygienist, CIH],
  • biological safety [Certified Biological Safety Professional, CBSP],
  • occupational safety [Certified Safety Professional, CSP],
  • hazardous materials management [Certified Hazardous Materials Manager, CHMM],
  • security [Certified Protection Professional, CPP],
  • and risk management [Associate in Risk Management, ARM].

Bob is the author of over 50 peer-reviewed articles on practical health and safety topics and makes frequent presentations on such issues at the local, national, and international level.