commentThe 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, according to ISHN’s 2015 EHS State of the Nation subscriber survey. 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%.

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.

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.

ISHN’s exclusive subscriber survey was conducted by email November 18 – December 2, 2014. We heard from safety pros, executive managers, plant engineers, environmental specialists and industrial hygienists working in mostly mid-size 100-499 employee companies (22%) and companies with more than 5,000 employees (28%). Forty percent of the surveyed firms have annual revenues of more than $1 billion, and 48% have been in business for more than 50 years. Fifty-one percent of respondents come from either the petro refining / oil and gas sector; utilities; fabricated metal products manufacturing; construction; and transportation equipment manufacturing.