Strategic planning helps us determine if we are doing the right thing, not just doing things right. This was drilled into me while working in a large corporation, and the concept is even more important now that I’m self-employed.

Strategic planning can be viewed as betting on the future. Or put another way, what is likely to happen and will you be ready for opportunities and threats? I frame my views of the future annually from a variety of sources including white paper surveys, trend reports, emerging issue topics listed in professional development courses and sometimes just gut instincts.

The following are my top ten 2004 topics that I’m betting will affect my business and my profession. Compare and contrast them with your strategic plans. And let me know if you think my bets hold water or if I’ll be all wet in the months and years ahead.

Reproductive & developmental health

  • Top emerging issue in the EHS field.

  • “Priority research area” by the National Occupational Research Agenda.

  • In 2002, “55 percent of children were born to working mothers and 65 percent of working men and women were of reproductive age,” according to NIOSH.

  • More than half the states now legislate fetal rights.

  • Issue poorly addressed in regulations or guidelines. Growing area of litigation.

  • Few employers are prepared to manage concerns.

    EHS integration

  • The value of integrating environmental health and safety into business processes is becoming clear.

  • Programs such as OSHA VPP are building a strong track record for improving safety and health performance.

  • The Conference Board’s January 2004 survey of leading U.S. companies finds integration of safety “into all facility operations and processes” to be highly or extremely effective by 75 percent of survey participants.

  • Growing movement by businesses to integrate ISO 9000, ISO 14000, and VPP into one audit process.

    Risk communication

  • Open sharing of EHS information throughout an organization and put into public view creates the growing need for effective risk communication.

  • Hazard communication simply identifies an EHS aspect that may cause harm. Risk communication defines the probability of harm, which can vary among individuals or environmental systems.

  • The need for effective risk communication is driven primarily by business objectives.

  • “Global harmonization of chemical hazards” and the vast access to online EHS information creates the need to frame technical EHS issues into concepts readily understood by the general public.

    Exposure assessment

  • The complexity of exposure assessments expands along with the growing awareness of EHS hazards.

  • Recommendations for exposure limits expand and change.

  • Many employers are beginning to recognize that their obligation to maintain and provide access to exposure monitoring records for at least 30 years may create significant employee relations, business or legal problems in the future.

    Litigation trends

  • Lawsuits generally precede laws. The explosion of mold litigation followed by legislation is an example.

  • The population of lawyers within the U.S. is at an all-time high and growing. In 2002, more than 133,000 people took the LSAT exam in hopes of being admitted to a law school. And law schools are seeing annual double-digit growth in applications. Where will the business for new lawyers come from?

  • EHS and medical sciences are forging ahead much faster than legislation. Conflict among parties of what substance caused what health problem, when and by whom is certain to arise. Lawyers help settle conflict. EHS pros might be called upon more often to assist lawyers as expert witnesses.

    Special demographics

  • Baby boomers are getting older and working later in life.

  • More people with English as a second language are in the work force.

  • More people with recognized disabilities or sensitivities might be employed.

  • Special talents by EHS pros, such as understanding a second language, might be needed to effectively manage EHS concerns among these special populations. Diversity and sensitivity training might help, too.

    Training effectiveness

  • Choices of training aids and their delivery continue to grow.

  • EHS pros are often called upon first to develop, provide or ensure proper EHS training and learning for employees.

  • Training may be constrained by time, resources or other conditions.

  • Measuring training effectiveness and making continual improvements might complement technical skills.

  • The better you become at training the more able you are to communicate and convince managers of your needs or wants.

    Infectious or communicable diseases

  • New or enhanced infectious or communicable diseases might arise to threaten workers.

  • Many employers have yet to manage this risk within their emergency plans or EHS programs.

    Information technologies

  • Personal data assistants, mobile notebook computers, tablets, cellular phones, and computer projectors are commonplace tools among many EHS pros.

  • Storage and retrieval of company EHS data on Intranet and Internet systems are also common.

  • Keeping pace with information technologies, in understanding and use, might become a necessity for providing efficient EHS work.

    Strengthen the EHS profession

  • EHS should be practiced following established rules, such as ethics.

  • Groups are necessary to develop and promote ethics as well as common views and interests. A group only works when individuals support them. National groups sprout and grow from local involvement.