In 2018, we’ll be approaching 10 years since the trough of the Great Recession in 2007-2009. The U.S. economy has been on a fairly stable positive run ever since, though predictions for 2018 inevitably vary from bullish to bearish. You should know that your customers – buyers of PPE, gas detection, facility safety products and other safety and health-related goods and services – are in a healthy, stable position to spend on safety products entering the new year, according to reader research conducted by ISHN magazine in October, 2017.

Safety and health department budgets will increase slightly in ’18 for 41 percent of survey respondents, and remain the same for 43 percent. Significant budget increases or decreases are rare: only three percent expect large funding increases, and only three percent expect large fall-offs. Budgets will decrease slightly for 11 percent.

The same dynamic holds true for safety and health department staffing. Here, 28 percent expect staff levels to increase slightly (mostly in large corporations with more than 5,000 employees) and 63 percent expect staffing to hold the line. Only one percent anticipate severe staff cutbacks, and six percent expect slight staff reductions. Two percent expect significant staff additions.

Biggest challenges

If you’re trying to support and service safety customers, you should know that in 2018 the biggest challenge safety and health pros face is getting all company personnel onboard with safety processes and procedures – engagement and buy-in – and building a sustainable safety culture that involves all levels of the organization.

Your customers continue to need help in making the business case for safety to upper management. This is the second biggest challenge facing professionals in ’18, and it’s especially true in smaller companies.

There are several positive signs that should bode well for safety and health product and service sales in ’18, according to the survey. According to 58 percent of respondents, senior executives spend more time on safety activities than 10-15 years ago. And 58 percent also say employees today exhibit more consistently safe work behaviors than 10-15 years ago.

Safety and health pros in mid-size and large corporations are more likely to signal these positive changes. In smaller companies without full-time safety and health pros on staff, getting employer and employee support for safety is more of a challenge. Still, less than 20 percent of all survey respondents report that senior leaders and line employees have not improved their safety awareness and involvement since 2000-2005.

Whither OSHA?

Not surprisingly, given the change in administrations and the Trump White House’s deregulatory emphasis, almost half (48 percent) of those surveyed say OSHA is no longer the driving force motivating companies to protect workers. Smaller companies tend to see things differently. Almost one-third (29 percent) of respondents, and in this case most are with small firms, still say OSHA compliance is job one. Again, in small companies without full-time safety and health professionals and with limited safety and health budgets and knowledge, OSHA compliance is often the only safety objective.

Technology is rocking the safety world as never before, according to the survey. Paradigms and traditions are changing. Sure it’s incremental, but it’s happening and there’s no turning back. Technology, coaching, and various engagement activities have made employees more responsible for their own safety, according to 55 percent of readers. Most of those readers are in mid-size to large companies.

Still, the overwhelming majority of professionals (75 percent) assert that technology such as smartphones, tablets, mobile apps, drones, robotics, smart factories and automation will not reduce the future need for safety and health pros.

The tech train rolls on

These forms of technology are gaining traction in the safety world, but still have a way to go, except in the largest corporations. Right now 35 percent of all pros use mobile devices to record and report inspections, and 37 percent plan to use these devices in the next 1-3 years. The other area where technology is making inroads is with predictive analytics. Currently, 30 percent of all pros use predictive analytics to identify accident patterns and accident potential, and 40 percent plan to use predictive analytics in the next 1-3 years.

Wearable technology for exposure monitoring is more apt to be used by large corporations. According to the survey, 25 percent of all pros (most in large firms) currently make use of wearables to monitor exposures. In the next 1-3 years, 23 percent plan to purchase and deploy wearables for exposure detection.

Purchasing wearables to provide worker health information is less likely to occur, according to the survey. Currently, only 15 percent have employees equipped with wearables that provide personal health information, and 13 percent plan on acquiring and deploying health-related wearables in the next 1-3 years. The vast majority, 72 percent, have no plans to use this wearable technology in the next three years.

Likewise, most safety and health pros (77 percent) have no plans in the next three years to use PPE embedded with sensors to determine usage compliance, location, and the ability of individuals to communicate. About one-quarter (23 percent) do plan on purchasing “smart” PPE in the next three years. Professionals may not realize that developments in “smart” PPE are becoming the norm and the market will be chock full of sensor- or RFID tag-embedded PPE in coming years, as well as software systems that will connect workers to databases to track training, permitting, PPE usage, PPE maintenance, exposures, incidents and near-misses. The era of the “connected worker” is here.

Sustainability grows as a safety function

Again, if you’re in the business of supporting and servicing safety and health departments and staff, you should know that most pros today are taking on more sustainability-related jobs. Sixty percent of those surveyed are currently involved in their company’s sustainability strategies and goals; 19 percent plan to be more involved in the next three years, and only 21 percent do not plan on being involved in sustainability activities in the next three years.

What specific sustainability activities are safety and health pros engaged in? Here are popular activities: participate in programs to reduce process waste (59 percent); participate in programs to reduce energy/waste/natural resources consumption (53 percent); participate in programs to reduce chemical emissions (53 percent); and conduct sustainability training for employees (45 percent).

Profile of a pro: 2018

A few words about demographics – who your customers are in 2018. The safety and health profession is gradually but surely becoming more comprised of women (currently 23 percent, almost one-quarter). The field is still remarkably dominated by baby boomers – 73 percent are age 50 or older. More specifically, 40 percent are between ages 50-59 and 33 percent are older than age 60. The mean age of those surveyed is 55.

Very few ISHN readers have no involvement in product and services purchasing – only three percent. One-quarter approve or authorize expenditures; 32 percent select/specify purchases; and 35 percent recommend products to buy.

Income levels for safety and health pros are, well, healthy. The median current annual gross salary of those surveyed is $88,250. And 74 percent of respondents indicated that their 2017 annual gross salary was slightly or much higher than the previous year. This is another sign of the overall stability and prosperity in safety and health departments. Keep in mind the U.S. median household income in 2016 was $59,039, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s almost $30,000 less than the average income of safety and health pros.

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