It’s been a long hard slog for the U.S. economy to recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-2008, but many indicators appear favorable heading into 2015 – unemployment is down, manufacturing capacity is up, gross domestic product (GDP) growth is forecast in the 2-3% range. Construction is rebounding and of course the oil and gas sector is exploding.

The EHS profession is on a similar positive path leading into 2015, according to ISHN’s exclusive subscriber survey, conducted by email November 18 – December 2, 2014.


About four in ten (42%) of the ISHN subscribers surveyed say their safety and health resource allocation will increase in 2015; 53% say resource allocation will hold steady with 2014 funding levels; and only 5% say resources will be cut. Most budget increases will be “slight” (45%); with 5% receiving “significant increases” and 8% on the receiving end of “slight decreases.” Only 1% foresees resources “decreasing significantly.”

Job satisfaction & security

Job satisfaction and job security both receive high marks from about two-thirds of respondents – 63% express satisfaction with their current work and 65% feel secure in their jobs. Very few expect job satisfaction to deteriorate in 2015 (4%) or job security to worsen (7%). About 80% expect job satisfaction and job security to remain the same in ’15. This is in line with expectations for overall EHS department headcounts in ’15 – only 5% see headcounts shrinking “slightly” and a scant 1% plan on “significant decreases.”


One factor behind the favorable job satisfaction found in the EHS ranks could come down to the bottom line – salaries. Fifty-five percent of respondents expect “slightly higher” incomes in 2015, and 6% expect “much higher” salaries. Thirty-three percent expect their salaries to remain unchanged. Only 4% anticipate “slightly lower” salaries and 2% are braced for “much lower” salaries. The mean annual gross salary of all respondents stands at $81,296.

Overall, it appears the EHS profession is enjoying a period of organizational support and positive feelings, no doubt bolstered by the stronger U.S. economy.

The paradox of demographics

Demographics could have something to do with the positive vibes. This is a very mature, experienced profession; most individuals are at the point in their careers where respect has been earned, and with it a certain amount of support and security. Almost two-thirds of the survey respondents are between ages 50-69; with 41% in the 50-59 age bracket. Only 12% are between ages 18-39. The mean age of all respondents is 53.


There’s certainly no lack of challenges facing the profession now and in the coming years. Almost four in ten (39%) of ISHN subscribers say contending with an expanding workload is one of the biggest challenges they face on the job. About one-third of respondents (31%) are grappling with increasing job stress.

Other daunting challenges facing the EHS profession: putting safety on equal footing in the organization with environmental protection and business priorities (35%); ensuring safety and health policies, codes and goals are used throughout supply chains (32%);, and applying safety and health practices in work cultures where a shortage of skilled labor is a problem (38%).

Issues under control

More than two-thirds (68%) of respondents do not find OSHA compliance particularly challenging at this point. Only one in five (25%) say PPE compliance is a problem. Somewhat surprisingly, only 24% say compliance with OSHA’s new GHS safety data sheet and labeling requirements will pose problems in 2015. A minority of EHS professionals are involved in corporate sustainability data collection and reporting (18%) or international safety and health management issues (10%).

Age-old challenge

The most pressing issue facing EHS professionals is an age-old challenge that has been reported in ISHN State of the Nation surveys since the 1980s – dealing with the safety and health attitudes and behaviors of line employees. Consider:

• Forty-five percent of pros say employee-related discipline will be one of their biggest challenges in 2015 (this is the top challenge cited among the 14 issues that subscribers could choose from in the survey).

• Safety training of employees is the most-often cited goal of professionals for 2015 (61%).

• Employee safety and health engagement / participation / accountability is a 2015 goal for 54%.

• In contrast, only 36% say a goal in 2015 is senior leadership safety and health engagement / participation / accountability.

Two “soft” tools on the wane

Two traditional tools used to shape employee attitudes and behaviors seem to be on the wane. Only 27% of survey respondents say building / maintaining a behavior-based safety (BBS) program will be a 2015 goal; and only 23% say safety and health incentive programs will be a goal.

Top goals

Much EHS programmatic work in 2015 centers on: 1) building and/or maintaining a safety culture for organizations (54%); 2) finding and fixing workplace hazards (48%); 3) conducting risk assessments and risk prioritization (43%); and 4) tracking safety and health performance measures other than counting injuries and illnesses (38%).

Top hazards

The maturity and evolution of the EHS profession (going beyond the traditional compliance mindset) is evident in the most serious hazards pros say they will contend with in 2015. Ergonomic-related musculoskeletal disorders come in first, cited by 41%. Of course there is no OSHA ergonomics standard to comply with here. Hand and arm injuries, reflecting the most vulnerable and exposed body parts of workers, is the second most frequently-cited hazard (39%). Preventing slips, trip and falls comes in third, cited by 36%.

Beyond compliance

The beyond compliance push is most evident perhaps in this survey finding: about one in three (32%) of EHS pros say employee lifestyle health issues (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diet, obesity, smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, and so forth) demand more aggressive attention in 2015 than common OSHA-related issues such as construction hazards (24%); lockout/tagout (23%); machinery operation hazards (21%); chemical exposures (20%); noise exposures (16%); and confined spaces (13%). Professionals are certainly not ignoring or neglecting these traditional hazards; rather it appears most pros have them under control. Health care costs tied to employee lifestyle health issues are anything but under control for many companies. Even motor vehicle-related crashes, the perennial number one killer of employees on the job, is not cited as often by pros (20%) as one of the most serious risks to the organization compared to employee health issues.

A new emphasis on employee health?

Consider the convergence of these trends: 1) the prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders in workplaces, which OSHA considers an illness; 2) the increasing emphasis placed on lowering employee lifestyle health risks; and 3) signs of “mature” compliance with decades-old OSHA standards. It might well be that we are witnessing something of a paradigm shift in the day-to-day work and priorities of EHS pros, with health concerns getting more risk reduction attention and action.