As we prepare to jump into the new year, EHS Daily Advisor reached out to professionals throughout the industry to get their predictions for what will happen in EHS and workplace safety in 2024. Here’s what they had to say.
What are some of the biggest challenges for EHS leaders in 2024?
Langdon Dement, Global EHS Specialist at Evotix
1. One of the biggest challenges would be the continual, ever-changing landscape of EHS. Meaning, how can EHS professionals manage the typical/usual EHS needs, while beginning to consider, and potentially manage, other aspects of “Total Worker Health™”? An example being mental health and well-being and ensuring the worker is truly prepared for work that day. Additionally, EHS teams will have to collaborate/work with HR more than ever to ensure workers are “ready for work” in the safest, healthiest manner possible, and even be able to recognize when a worker might not be at their best.
2. How to think differently about EHS and being more focused on serious injuries and fatalities (SIF). This is an ever-expanding focus and will continue to be so. The importance of human and organizational performance and how that ties in with SIFs is paramount for organizations to continue growing.
3. Incorporating ESG and sustainability into typical EHS programs, and what that actually looks like.
Rachel Walla-Housman, CSP, CIH, founder and principal consultant, Ally Safety
Staffing. We likely will continue to struggle to find people to fill the roles left behind by retiring Baby Boomers. Additionally, training and upskilling newer workers who generally stay in jobs less than four years will challenge organizations to find new approaches to training.
Scott DeBow, CSP/ARM, Principal of Health/Safety & Environment, Avetta
1. . Serious Injury/Fatality intervention strategy: The U.S. has been stuck at close to 5,000 fatalities per year for over a decade. Our compliance-era approach to injury prevention continues to reveal that while compliance is necessary and important, it is limited in achieving the outcomes we expect from the standpoint of value/human life. Couple this with the emerging workforce continuing to leverage third-party employees (temporary workers, contractors, gig workers) where “compliance-based strategies” have ruled the day in terms of safety expectations, and the modern day safety professional finds themselves in a position to not only “level up” SIF Intervention within their workforce, but to do so in a way that sets new expectations for organizational safety in joint-employer environments, invites third party contribution for risk-based strategies and integrates safety practices/observations and reporting in a meaningful manner.
2. Relationship with data at C-Level/Board Level: While lagging is understood to be limited within the EHS community, C-Level and Board expectations are still overly reliant on seeing a “metric” in place that tells us “Are we doing well in safety?” The challenge for EHS leaders is to “lead up” in “New View” understanding, while providing meaningful metrics that don’t replace lagging metrics, but contribute context to “Are we good? Or are we lucky?”
3. Navigating the ESG opportunity: Within the “S” of ESG, safety leaders have a great opportunity to leverage new understanding and capability in terms of care for human capital (the workforce), while simultaneously leveraging “leading indicator” activities that demonstrate actionable, measure controls that are both accepted and expected at the C-Level/Board level of the organization in terms of “this is what we do/report on to show how we care for the workforce.” The challenges are buried in both the position of safety within the organization as it relates to the ESG discussion, as well as the maturity of the organization to allow for New View principles to level the discussion among all disciplines involved.
Karen Hamel, regulatory expert, trainer, and technical writer, HalenHardy
As business continues to face worker shortages and the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation, EHS leaders are going to continue to face the need to train new employees.
Training will continue to be a challenge because too often, new employee safety trainings are still relegated to a token hour or two as part of the company’s onboarding process. Also, new employees who are young or new to a field do not arrive with the knowledge that comes from years of experience in a given field or trade.
Following up those initial safety trainings with “just in time” training, shadowing programs, micro-trainings, and other hands-on learning that happens after the newness of the job has died down, but before the new worker can unknowing put themselves in harm’s way is no easy task. But rethinking how we entwine training and other safety behaviors to safeguard our new hires is going to be a challenge for some time to come.
What are some strategies to improve employee engagement in safety for 2024?
Get out of your office. Be present. Be available. Listen. Ask questions.
Even the best plans will fail if they aren’t realistic for the people who have to follow and use them every day. Go do their job for a week. I promise you: it is sometimes very humbling, and you will learn so much—even if you’ve been at the same company for a decade.
I worked with a manufacturing team for a week and quickly learned that I couldn’t even tape a shipping box to meet the established quality standard at their facility, let alone produce a product that met their quality standards. I asked, “Why?” so many times that week that toddlers would have asked me to be quiet.
Being present and available in this way means so much more than having a door-is-always-open policy. It gives your workforce the opportunity to actually show you (not just tell you) what’s working and what isn’t. You’ll never learn this sitting in an office or looking at incident reports.
And after you’ve been there and seen what’s working and what isn’t, have the people doing the job help with plan and policy revisions. It’s no secret that when something makes sense to them and they’ve been involved in creating it, they’re going to be more engaged.
Establish a proactive process of discussing all things EHS openly. When we begin to embed EHS into organizational processes, we see a more proactive approach to health and safety in general. This Gallup poll is great for engagement and the benefits: How to Improve Employee Engagement in the Workplace – Gallup
Modernizing the way you communicate to and foster the workforce to meet the expectations of Millennials and Gen Z. You can do this by understanding their priorities, learning styles, and needs.
1. Leverage a Safety Management Systems approach: Consensus standards (ISO 45001, ANSI Z-10). Consensus standards are not only known to be effective, but are increasing in their adoption/reference by the regulators in terms of expected best practices, and continue to be “incorporated by reference” when the regulations are silent, unclear, or outdated.
2. New View Practice and Understanding: Learn about Human & Organizational Performance. In my experience, no other approach has both leveled the discussion while promoting cross-functional engagement among legal, procurement, operations, sales, HR, and other stakeholders who all hold a view of safety near and dear to their operational hearts, yet from different perspectives.
3. Drive Calibration through End-to-End Engagement: In my book Safety Management Systems in Joint-Employer Environments, I help to visualized understanding and strategy from an “end-to-end” perspective, from the corporate end through operations, to the working end and back up the chain. This not only allows us to answer “Is working happening like we think it is?” but also answers the question “Is risk at acceptable levels?” Answers to this question allow the organization to both identify and respond to risk prior to it culminating in a loss, but to prime organizational learning to occur where all employees are invited and engaged. Icing on the cake for this approach is there are STRONG signals and connections from a Human Capital standpoint (ESG) as well as from a HOP/New View perspective.
What EHS issue keeps you up at night?
1. Are we moving fast enough? To me, the answer is no alongside the question “How do we move faster?” Moving faster to me means we make headway into many of the issues described above, and begin to see progress measured in terms of a decreasing fatality rate in the U.S.
2. Self-interest competing for the “best” idea within the safety community creates confusion outside of the safety community, thus decreasing confidence and acceptance at C-level/Board levels. The past few decades have brought new understanding, ideas, and practices from a technology standpoint, practices such as Behavior-Based Safety to today’s interest in the New View of safety. The challenge is that many of these ideas have become commoditized to the point where we must guard against the bias of “sunk cost” and make it difficult to clearly evaluate effectiveness or promote a new idea in the face of diminishing performance or holding on to methods that clearly work for the workforce in the face of the latest/greatest “shiny new safety thing.”
How can we better train the new workforce that stays in jobs for shorter amounts of time and has less industrial experience so they can work safely?
This one is tough. I’m in a different world now than I used to be, since I’m more consulting than anything. I would say some of the challenges we mentioned above are pretty accurate for this as well. Additionally, how to actually get and keep employees involved and actively reporting/talking about EHS. That’s the crucial element. We have to ensure employees are focusing on EHS, so they are aware and know what they should report on and feel comfortable doing so.
Two things. First, state legalization and decriminalization of marijuana. I have read every article, listened to every webinar and read every article that I can find on the topic. I’ve even talked to lawyers.
In my state, medical use has been legalized. Understanding medical use and what constitutes impairment and finding balance when creating plans and policies for accommodation, drug testing, and privacy while ensuring that you can still safeguard everyone else at the worksite is an ongoing challenge.
Second, workplace violence. When you consider everything from bullying to active shooter events, and you add in mental health issues; it feels like you could conduct a different safety training on these topics every week and still worry that everyone isn’t completely prepared.
What’s an emerging safety issue that EHS managers should start thinking about?
I’m not sure if it’s so much an emerging topic as one that is evolving: opioid use and overdoses in the workplace. Having a token “drug-free” policy in your workplace doesn’t cut it anymore.
It’s so much more than just recognizing the warning signs of opioid use. There are a lot of great resources out there to help EHS managers and leaders learn about this issue. If you haven’t already, block out some time to learn about this topic. Get your HR team involved in planning and prevention efforts.
If you don’t feel like you’re ready to conduct a training or you need help getting started, check out your local community’s drug and alcohol partnerships. They’re often a county or regional resource and are available at no cost. Your local hospital and police force are two additional resources.
The benefits and pitfalls of AI and how it can be used in safety. How can you utilize AI to save time and effort while also cushioning against its shortcomings when it comes to technical information?
Honestly, I think what we hit on earlier is pretty crucial. Those are going to be massive challenges, yet also emerging needs for organizations to be able to harness.
1. SIF intervention: Understand the theory of Energy Controls alongside work tasks and prime a new definition for success where SIF events do not occur due to the confirmed presence of a direct control to prevent them. This is especially important in a joint-employer workforce!
2. Measuring safety: Traditional safety metrics/lagging metrics lack context. The ASTM E-2920 Standard prioritizes “severity-based lagging metrics,” which are known to be more predictive in nature, that allows an organization to gain richer context of “SIF exposure” alongside lack of controls to prevent them. End result: Using severity-based lagging metrics creates the opportunity to better understand the precursors for serious injury, and begin planning/implementing the organizational response, resources, and controls for improvement.
3. Understand the importance of addressing psychosocial risk in the workplace. While psychological safety has become quite the hot topic of discussion, what is important is for organizations to better understand how areas such as role or task ambiguity, vague or conflicting work instructions, lack of communication mechanisms, and others can increase interpersonal friction between the employees doing the work (and are closest to the risk) and those tasked with supervising and leading the completion of work. When considering what we’re learning from neuroscience about how employees perceive and often assume more risk when interpersonal friction is high, organizations should better understand how increased friction is also associated with cognitive error, impacting everything from safety to quality and efficiency. The opportunity is for employers to better manage these psychosocial risks through consensus guidance such as ISO 45003-2021: Guidelines for Managing Psychosocial Risk to better manage these risks, as well as better promote well-being at work as part of the OHS Management System.