These 38 trends will be making waves in the future:

Aging workers

With the aging of the post-WWII baby boom generation, those aged 55 and over are expected to make up a larger share of the labor force than in the past. From 1992 to 2002, the share of the labor force for those aged 55 and over increased from 11.8 percent to 14.3 percent. In 2012, their share of the labor force increased to 20.9 percent and is now projected to increase to 25.6 percent by 2022. By 2015, older workers aged 65+ outnumbered teenage workers for the first time since 1948.

The new accounting

You should become familiar with the acronym ESG — environmental, social and governance reporting. It’s a broad method of accounting for how a company creates and loses — value. Think about the implications: Safety and health is a social issue shared norms, values, behaviors, trust, the ability to enhance individual’s well-being are influenced by safety and health performance. Safety and health is a governance issue — compliance, management oversight and accountability. Safety and health is a human capital issue.

Active shooters

AKA mass shootings, new FBI statistics show the highest average of incidents ever in a two-year period. According to the FBI, 2014 and 2015 each saw 20 active shooter incidents. That’s more than any two-year average in the past 16 years, and nearly six times as many as the period between 2000 and 2001. Several high-profile incidents occurred last year alone — from the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, which killed 14, to the assault at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon, where seven were killed.

Artificial intelligence

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates recently called artificial intelligence “the holy grail that anyone in computer science has been thinking about.” Gates discussed the rapid progress of speech recognition and computer vision technologies over the past five years, and noted that “the dream is finally arriving.”

A recent study found that 80% of executives believed that AI solutions boosted worker performance and created new jobs. Thirty-two percent said voice recognition technologies were the most widely used AI technology in their businesses.


As of June 2016, Android users were able to choose between 2.2 million apps. Apple’s App Store remained the second-largest app store with 2 million available apps. Somewhere in there is an ever-growing array of worker safety and health apps produced by OSHA, NIOSH, professional societies, non- profits, and mobile device vendors.


According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, employee dishonesty and time theft costs American businesses in excess of $50 billion annually. Relying on security cameras, barcode swipe cards, or PINs for inventory management and transactions has loopholes. Conversely, biometric technology can ensure loss control by providing a concrete audit trail and accurate tracking of every employee. Biometrics allow for facial recognition, photo “tagging,” finger or palm prints, and other trackers — even including DNA.


Most workplace head trauma is caused by falling objects, slip and falls,  malfunctioning  and broken equipment, and driving accidents. A brain concussion can cause  loss of consciousness, or there may be no obvious  symptoms at all. Common effects of a concussion are abnormal behavior, loss of equilibrium, blurred vision, nausea  and  confusion. Occupations with the highest risk for head injuries are: construction workers, firefighters, police officers, loading dock workers, delivery personnel  and professional athletes


As data continue to grow at a faster rate than either the population or economic activity, so do organizations’ efforts to deal with the data deluge, and use it to capture value. Terms include predictive analytics, predictive modeling, business intelligence, data mining, text mining, Big Data, machine learning, and network analytics. There are concerns that EHS pros could be overwhelmed by exposure analytics, observation analytics, near- miss and auditing analytics.


Tech Pro Research shows the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement is booming, with 74 percent of organizations either already using or planning to allow employees to bring their own devices to work. Potentially, every employee armed with their personal smartphone can become a safety video investigator and hazard identification agent.

Climate change

In 2014, the earth’s surface temperature was around 0.74 Celsius degrees warmer than the 20th century average. The global anomaly in surface temperature might be the cause of an increase in sea level, a decrease in Arctic ice and the growing number of weather-related catastrophes, including storms, floods and droughts. This has implications for business continuity planning, extreme weather PPE, lone worker safety, and disaster recovery and emergency response capacity of businesses.

Citizen safety observers

A cousin to citizen scientists, citizen safety observers voluntarily contribute their time, effort and resources toward observing and documenting safety practices — in collaboration with safety professionals or alone. These individuals, working both on and off the job, don’t usually have a formal safety background. Their focus could be construction sites, residential roofers, highway work zones, commercial vehicle safety, landscaping safety, etc.


Drones will be increasingly used for aerial safety auditing of remote locations and large worksites, including construction sites and wind power farms. BP now uses drones to monitor offshore oil wells. 300,000 drones have been registered with the FAA. By 2025 the value of the drone industry is expected to be $90 billion. As of 2015, there had been 300 “close encounters” between drones and manned aircraft in the U.S.

Blended learning

Blended learning describes the way e-learning is being combined with traditional classroom methods and independent study. The training format is taking off in EHS programs.

Cyber safety

Starting in 2017, firms should exclude employee names from their electronic data submittals of the OSHA 300 and OSHA 301 logs. Firms should also exclude employee address, name of physician or other healthcare professional, treatment facility name, and treatment facility address. As a precaution, OSHA intends to scrub electronically submitted recordkeeping data using software that will search for, and de-identify, personally identifiable information before the data are posted.

Gig economy

OSHA is concerned about the safety of temp workers, freelancers and independent contractors. Who’s responsible for their safety and health: the staffing agencies or the host employers? Both have roles to play, but miscommunication and neglect are problems.

Annual temp and contracting employment in the U.S. totaled 11 million in 2013. Every day about 2.9 million temps were at work. Average employment lasts about 14 weeks.

Driverless vehicles

Driverless vehicles have racked up a crash rate double that of those with human drivers. There will be 12 million self-driving cars sold annually by 2035, but autonomous car ubiquity won’t happen until sometime after 2050. Self-driving cars could reduce traffic fatalities by 90% by 2050, saving about 30,000 lives each year.


This relatively new approach to safety called Human and Organizational Performance (HOP) is gaining in popularity. It is based on the work of Sidney Dekker and James Reason and focuses on the human element of safety. It assumes human error is inevitable and that error is a symptom of problems within organizational systems. The solution: use leading indicators, minimize negative consequences (blame and disci- pline) and other strategiesthat drive underreporting of incidents and near misses; include the people who do the work in identifying safety solutions.

Just-in-time learning

Employees are now habituated to on-demand, instant access to knowledge. This will challenge safety trainers. Workers don’t want to wait around for safety courses; they want to be able to find lessons, tips, and cheat sheets just when they need them.

They don’t want to be yanked out of their desks to attend a training session; they want to sync the learning with their busy schedules. 57% of employees expect learning to be more “just in time,” or as needed, than it was three years  ago.

Job stress / mental health

The ILO looked at a study from Japan that found 32.4 percent of workers reported suffering from strong anxiety, worry and stress from work in the previous year. In Chile, 2011 data shows 27.9 percent of workers and 13.8 percent of employers reported that stress and depression were present in their enterprises. Similar figures were found in practically every country considered for the report. About 4 out of every 10 cases of employees using an employee assistance program in a three-year period studied were related to personal emotional health issues (42 percent in 2012; 38 percent in 2013; 42 percent in 2014).


Safety and health pros need to grasp the new vocabulary of executives: materiality, value creation, social or environmental impact investing, integrated financial and non-financial reporting, human capital, social relationships and governance. Increasingly, safety and health performance is seen as being material — integral— to a company’s reputation, value, and profitability.

ISO 45001

ISO 45001 is one of the most anticipated standards in years for occupational health and safety systems. It aligns with ISO 9001 (Quality Management), ISO 14001 (Environment Management) and builds on OHSAS 18001, which is a framework aimed at controlling risks. 45001 is designed to work for any firm, large or small. It is the product of collaboration between more than 70 countries. The standard identifies and controls health and safety risks, reduces potential accidents, aids legislative compliance and improves overall performance. The final standard is now expected in the second half of 2017.

OSHA rules  

With a change in OSHA leadership coming after the presidential election, it’s anyone’s guess what the agency’s new agenda will be. Right now, standards are in the works for beryllium, infectious diseases, cell towers and chemical risks.

Internet of Things  

The Internet of Things, which connects cars, homes, wearables, and everyday objects to the cloud, is a hot tech topic these days. Cisco estimates that the number of connected devices worldwide will rise from 15 billion today to 50 billion by 2020. Intel claims that over 200 billion devices will be connected by then. Safety and health smart sensors will be embedded in PPE and machinery to check worker physiological conditions and revolutionize chemical exposure monitoring.

Legal marijuana

Another challenge for safety and health pros. Though states may legalize marijuana, employers can still test for it and discipline abusers, because marijuana use is still a federal crime. In 2005, 242,200 emergency room visits in the United States involved marijuana. Next to alcohol, marijuana is the second most frequently found substance in the bodies of drivers involved in fatal automobile accidents.


Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) will represent 78% of the workforce by 2030, and will pose new challenges to safety and health pros. As a demographic cohort, they want coaches, not bosses, and strongly desire feedback. They are strong proponents of work-life balance and expect their employers to be, too. They desire flexible hours, enjoy team projects, and detest wasting time.

Prescription meds

It’s estimated 2.1 million people in the U.S. suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012, and an estimated 467,000 were addicted to heroin. Commonly abused sedative medications such as alprazolam (Xanax®), clonazepam (Klonopin®), and diazepam (Valium®), and the antipsychotic medication quetiapine (Seroquel*) can produce sedation and euphoria (“high”). Hypnotic medications that help with insomnia can also be abused, such as zolpidem (Ambien®). In 2010, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 1.1 million people abused stimulants.


Whether it’s used informally or as part of a structured learning experience, micro-learning consists of brevity: learning events are short; granularity: learning focuses on a narrow topic, concept or idea; and variety: content can be in the form of a presentation, activity, game, discussion, video, quiz, book chapter, or a TEDx talk. All these characteristics lend themselves to safety training, which is always subject to time pressures.


Mindfulness in the workplace is becoming a subject of great interest to employers. Rising stress is driving up health care expenditures and lowering productivity. Industry is finding mindfulness training may be a competitive advantage and deliver growth shareholders expect. Mindfulness, a form of meditation,learning to focus and pay attention, has been around for 2,500 years. About 18 million U.S. adults practice meditation.


Risks affecting organizations can have consequences in terms  of economic performance and professional reputation, as well as environmental, safety and societal outcomes. Executives often don’t understand safety concepts, but they understand risk. That’s why more safety and health pros are talking in terms of risk-rating data and rankings based on audits, incidents, near misses, findings, exposure hours, probability and severity. ISO 31000:2009, Risk management – Principles and guidelines, provides principles, framework and a process for managing risk.

Social media

The number of worldwide social media users is expected to reach some 2.95 billion by 2020. Social media has pros and cons when it comes to safety and health programs. It can be a tool for identifying and communicating information about hazards, and a way of disseminating emergency alerts. But it can also be used to circulate unconfirmed reports and rumors of accidents, arousing employee concerns and anxiety, and can also be a source of distraction while used on the job.


For at least a quarter century sustainability has been weighed down with baggage. More than a few safety pros believe it is a total waste of time. It’s corporate propaganda or "greenwashing.” But one corporate safety and health consultant says: “I don’t believe that holds true anymore. In the past four or five years facilities I work with have metrics for energy conservation, water use, recycling  and safety and health performance. It’s all tied together.”


According to NIOSH, workers in nanotechnology-related industries might be exposed to uniquely engineered materials with novel sizes, shapes, and physical and chemical properties.

Occupational health risks associated with manufacturing and using nanomaterials are not yet clearly understood. Studies indicate that low solubility nanoparticles are more toxic than larger particles on a mass for mass basis.

Serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs)

Many firms have seen overall injury rates decrease in recent years, but are troubled by continuing serious, life-altering injuries and fatalities. The causes of minor injuries may not be the same precursors of SIFs. Collaborative research among major corporations aims to better understand the nature of SIFs and how to prevent them.

Supply chain management

Major supply chain risks include environmental risks; the threat of terrorism; regulatory compliance; disruptions of internal operations or processes; inadequate assessment and planning; mitigation and contingency risks - caused by not putting contingencies (or alternative solutions) in place in case something goes wrong; and cultural risks - caused by a business’s cultural tendency to hide or delay negative information.


In a report called “Workplace Preparedness for Terrorism,” Dr. Robert Ursano wrote, “Because most acts of terrorism in the U.S. have occurred where and when people work, and because corporations and the workplace are identified as high value targets of international terrorism, it is essential that interventions for preparedness, response and recovery occur in occupational settings.”


OSHA plans to make employers’ annual injury data readily available to the public in standard open formats on Interested parties will be able to search and download the data. OSHA’s goals for posting this data include encouraging employers to increase their efforts to prevent worker injuries and illnesses, and enabling researchers (and other groups) to examine these data in innovative ways that may help employers make their workplaces safer and healthier. The data will also enable OSHA to use its enforcement and compliance assistance resources more efficiently.


Robots have caused at least 33 workplace deaths and injuries in the United States in the last 30 years, according to OSHA data. Unlike today’s robots, which generally work in cages, the next generation will have much more autonomy and freedom to move on their own. Are safety pros prepared for robots coming out of their cages?


OSHA plans to make employers’ annual injury data readily available to the public in standard open formats on Interested parties will be able to search and download the data. OSHA’s goals for posting this data include encouraging employers to increase their efforts to prevent worker injuries and illnesses, and enabling researchers (and other groups) to examine these data in innovative ways that may help employers make their workplaces safer and healthier. The data will also enable OSHA to use its enforcement and compliance assistance resources more efficiently.