EHSToday.com recently touched base with Michael Belcher, CSP, president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), to learn about that organization’s plans for the future and to hear what Belcher had to say about his past year as president.

EHSToday.com: What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment as president of ASSE?

Michael Belcher (MB): Moving the society forward through a period of organizational change, which included replacing the executive director of ASSE. But the society year isn’t over yet and I’m not planning to sit on the sidelines anytime soon.

EHSToday.com: When you became president, what were your personal goals or goals for the organization? Did you achieve them? 

MB: First and foremost, I wanted to ensure an effective transition into ASSE’s new governance structure by developing a cohesive board, then solidifying our strategic areas of focus and aligning operational staff efforts with our mission. We did this in a short period of time, all while promoting our global strategy, advancing the concept of professionalism, opening the doors to our young professionals and leveraging our educational and certificate offerings.

On a personal level, my goals were to set a good leadership example, earn the respect of my colleagues and represent ASSE in a positive light. I hope I’ve accomplished that.

EHSToday.com: In your opinion, what has been the most important event to occur in EHS in the past year?

MB: We now have a draft international standard for ISO 45001. While still being developed, we anticipate a final version being published in 2017. Once finalized, this will be the world’s first international consensus standard on occupational health and safety management standards and will provide organizations with a framework for linking safety and health strategy to organizational strategy and managing an effective safety and health process. It looks to be a game changer.

EHSToday.com: What are the most pressing issues facing ASSE as a professional organization? 

MB: As a membership organization, we have to be responsive to our members’ needs and wants. When it comes to needs, ASSE is a thought leader that works diligently to be on top of its game with respect to articulating and advancing our profession. We have to continue making safety part of the sustainability discussion with business leaders, advancing evidence-based approaches such as risk assessment and prevention through design and creating occupational closure so that only competent professionals are performing EHS duties.

When it comes to wants, it’s all about value. So from a membership standpoint, creating meaningful networking and professional development experiences for both new and experienced members ranks high on my list.

EHSToday.com: Where should safety professionals be directing their resources/energy to get the most “bang for the buck?” 

MB: First of all safety professionals should be purposeful about educational development, mentoring and volunteering with organizations like ASSE so they can successfully navigate organizational EHS challenges. At work, safety professionals should devote their resources towards connecting occupational safety and health to business success and helping key stakeholders see the wisdom of considering safety in the decision making process. Before you make a proposal, take the time to understand how business leaders think and act and be prepared to demonstrate a return on investment.

EHSToday.com: Can you think of emerging safety challenges that could impact the profession in coming years?

MB: Our future is bright as the demand for safety professionals remains high. But we are also vulnerable to competition from other disciplines that wish to place stakes in our territory. Our profession also faces a serious risk of not having enough qualified professionals down the road. This leaves the door wide open for EHS roles to be filled by unqualified individuals.

Tasking an HR Manager with EHS responsibilities could prove disastrous if that individual does not possess the core competencies required to assess risk and provide sound advice on how to manage safety to an acceptable level.

EHSToday.com: I saw that the ASSE Foundation was awarding $275,000 in scholarships in 2016, setting a new record. It seems obvious, but can you share with my audience why it is so important to support students who are in EHS-related fields and why mentoring is important for the profession?

MB: It’s very simple, really. We support the students and young professionals of today because they will be the leaders of our profession tomorrow. It is an investment we make because 1) we need more qualified safety professionals, and 2) we believe in the value of our profession. A key part of being a safety professional is not only having the vision to see potential risks coming down the road, but also coming up with a plan to avoid or mitigate those risks.

The ASSE Safety 2016 Professional Development Conference & Exposition kicks off in Atlanta at the Georgia World Congress Center on June 26-29. The conference is targeted at EHS professionals who want to achieve exceptional safety results. Distinguished keynoters and speakers will offer attendees the opportunity to engage in strategic sessions covering emerging topics and trends. Networking opportunities with over 4,000 peers is a highlight of the conference every year. For more information, visit http://safety.asse.org.