As 2015 gets under way, I can’t resist the temptation to make some predictions about the prospects for environment, occupational health and safety (EH&S) professionals who toil in the proverbial trenches of business and industry.
There are some positive signs that critically important EH&S functions are gaining traction.
One sign is increasing senior management interest in the value propostion associated with integrating EH&S programs that have traditionally resided in silos. As EH&S initiatives become more intertwined, so should risk management, insurance, human resources and benefits functions. Colloboration is being viewed as a way to protect business enterprises, brand and image, and the health and safety of valued workers.
Another sign is the expanding use of communications technology to support EH&S activities, including time-of-need training, workplace audits and medical interventions. Experts forecast continued advances in online and mobile technology, and in parts of the world where connectivity is unreliable, the use of comprehensive offline solutions to support the collection, consolidation and management of data from disparate sources. (LNS Research has published information on this trend.)
A third sign is mounting scientific evidence and real-life case studies demonstrating the effectiveness of a one-two punch that combines health protection (safety) with health promotion (well-being). As a result, EH&S interventions are more likely to be viewed by senior executives as major contributors to an organization’s sustainability rather than as a cost of doing business. (Refer to NIOSH’s Total Worker Health program)
Finally, I’d like to mention the list of regulatory priorities released in November by the U.S. Department of Labor as a sign that insights from EH&S and allied professionals will be in demand this year. The regulatory agenda places a strong emphasis on protecting the safety and health of workers “so they don’t have to risk their lives for a paycheck.”
Notable examples include proposed regulatory action to:
- reduce workplace exposures to respirable crystalline silica, which is linked to lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.
- address infectious diseases exposure risks in health care and other high-risk settings. The agency says it is particularly concerned about exposure risk with the “movement of health care delivery from the traditional hospital setting into more diverse and smaller workplace settings.”
- control occupational exposures to beryllium.
- tighten enforcement of whistleblower regulations.
- encourage safe use of machinery in mines.
From a regulatory perspective, a major change for employers is already under way. Effective Jan. 1 under a revised recordkeeping rule, employers are now required to notify OSHA of all work-related fatalities within eight hours and work-related in-patient hospitalizations, amputations or losses of an eye within 24 hours. This rule change is expected to heighten the agency’s focus on prevention, enhance public knowledge about the importance of workforce safety and health, and improve employers’ ability to identify and abate serious hazards.