Making 2021 the Year of the Safety Hero

A CEO challenge to recognize safety professionals

Lorraine M. Martin
January 11, 2021

Safety professionals were the unsung heroes in 2020. 

While medical professionals and first responders rightfully received public praise and support, safety professionals have toiled out of the spotlight since the onset of the pandemic. Whether updating emergency plans, sourcing PPE for workers, or becoming well versed in virus transmission, contact tracing, and cleaning protocols — among countless other duties — safety pros stepped up, learned on the fly, and responded to the challenge of keeping their colleagues safe from a seemingly endless parade of threats.

Through a difficult and unrelenting year, they stepped up to lead with heart, empathy, and compassion for others, all while worrying about the health of their own families and the financial strength of their businesses. Safety workers across the globe became not just essential, but indispensable, seemingly overnight. As we enter a new and more promising year, it’s time to give safety workers a proper and heartfelt thank you for everything they’ve done, and continue to do, to help us all focus on the recovery ahead. 

As part of Member Appreciation Month in January, the National Safety Council is recognizing the vital support that the safety professional community provided to every industry, in every region, at every turn. I call on every business leader, especially CEOs, to do the same, because there was no shortage of safety hazards in 2020. To name just a few: 

  • Millions of workers left their traditional workplaces to continue working remotely, often without ergonomic support or equipment. Many workers also remained in workplaces that could not operate remotely. All workplaces faced significant changes in operations. 
  • The Black Lives Matter movement galvanized action throughout our society, emphasizing the urgency for organizations to comprehensively address diversity, equity and inclusion. Business leaders started to recognize that psychological safety and ensuring people feel safe, respected and valued at work is a critical dimension to overall workplace safety. 
  • Risky behavior on the roads increased even as traffic ebbed, making our roads even deadlier than before due to higher speeds, continued distraction and impairment. 
  • Substance misuse and mental health issues, hidden hazards in the best of times, were made even more dangerous during the pandemic given cuts to treatment and support services while millions faced greater stress and upheaval. 
  • Fatigue and complacency around traditional workplace hazards, such as roadway safety and slips, trips and falls became more commonplace as organizations found their recordable rates of injuries and fatalities creep upward. 
  • Public health measures meant to curb the virus received unprecedented pushback. 

Throughout it all, safety professionals calmly addressed each crisis. They implemented new technologies to respond to the changing nature of risk at work. They asked the tough questions, spoke truth to power when necessary and shared lessons learned openly to safeguard others, as demonstrated by the SAFER taskforce

Safety pros did their part in putting their workplaces on a path to recovery by working with public health experts. As we welcome the new year and face the future of work, they deserve our heartfelt thanks for helping us all weather the storm. Let’s recognize them by declaring 2021 the year of the safety hero and sharing your thanks along with the #SafetyHero hashtag.

It’s the very least we can do to honor these unsung heroes.

Lorraine M. Martin

Lorraine M. Martin is president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

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