EHS Management

Focus on 2022: Leadership Challenges

This week, EHS Daily Advisor (EHSDA) is examining four key issues that will impact EHS professionals in the new year. Today, we asked three industry experts to provide their insights on what EHS leadership challenges will look like in 2022.

Earlier this year, EHSDA and Avetta conducted The State of Safety and Beyond survey, which gathered insights from 314 EHS professionals about how their organizations are dealing with current safety challenges and what they’re expecting in the future. Safety leaders have many concerns to deal with on a daily basis. Asked about their biggest concern, 31% of survey respondents said lack of employee engagement in safety, 28% said workforce morale and retention, 19% said lack of management support, 12% said the dangers of infectious diseases such as COVID-19, 2% said cybersecurity attacks, and 1% said workplace violence.

Other concerns listed included systematic failures and loss of interest; serious injury; miscommunication; making time for safety training; fire safety/evacuating a high-rise building; language barriers; lack of recognition for employees’ efforts to reduce incidents; inability to create lasting or widespread change in workplace culture and practices; lack of internal standards; enforcement by supervisors; and OSHA inspectors who “have to cite something no matter the efforts made to correct unsafe environments.”

Asked about management’s main safety concern, 33% of respondents said workforce morale and retention, 25% said lack of employee engagement, 20% said infectious diseases such as COVID-19, 6% said cybersecurity attacks, and 1% said workplace violence. Other concerns listed included tracking metrics; lack of production; increased costs in workers’ comp expense and recent law changes; serious injury; governmental mandates; ergonomics; and OSHA citations.

What are some of the biggest challenges for EHS leaders in 2022?

Kevin Shoemaker, senior product manager, EHS Hero:

Improving the safety culture from the board room to the lowest employee—sharing that safety is for everyone. Continuing to deal with the logistics of the COVID pandemic and preventing spread of this illness. Continuous improvement in training techniques and methods to increase retention and effectiveness. Eliminating time wasting and frustrating activities to allow EHS leaders to apply their expertise to prevent injuries, improve safety, and increase profit and workforce satisfaction. 

Claire Beich, president and owner of Ascend Consulting Environmental Health & Safety:

EHS leaders today and in the coming years are going to really want to embrace the MANY hats they wear as it keeps growing. It is one of the rare professions that must be both pragmatic and empathetic. To have the company’s back at all times but keep the employee first in their tasks and updates. The blend of leader, friend, professional, project manager, counselor, researcher, and computer wiz. The role of the EHS leader is nothing short of a challenge in of itself. The biggest challenge to an EHS leader could be finding the organization which is best aligned with their goals and expectations because luckily, there is no longer a shortage of positions and locations to choose from in the EHS career. The challenges can be found in simply realizing there are many opportunities for an EHS leader and that we can now find an organization best suited to us. In addition to recognizing the open market for EHS leaders there is also a paradigm shift for the general retention and recruitment of employees. This is a challenge to the EHS professionals out there trying to motivate and engage people from afar or those employees with short term retention goals. People are now realizing they would rather take less money, work from home, and improve their home life to being on site working long hours. This new shift can limit the ability for EHS managers to reach all employees and have a ‘united group’ feeling which can truly engage and unite employees. The impacts can be endless and full of challenges.  

Rachel Walla, principal consultant with Ally Safety:

Safety professionals have had a very trying past two years and this year will likely not provide much respite. I highly recommend safety professionals take their own burnout into consideration and find a way to get rested and re-energized this year. This could be through a course that provides new ideas to implement at work, new solutions that may help their operations to run more smoothly, a vacation, or trying to get a break from phones and devices more often at the very least. We can’t be highly functional and burned out at the same time so make it a serious priority to find a way to recharge your batteries this year.