Challenges & trends for 2014
Building EHS bench strength and ensuring a steady supply of safety "talent" going forward is going to be challenge, given safety staff cutbacks, reliance on consultants and contractors, and not much interest among U.S. students in careers in safety. Expect to see more traditional safety work (training, audits, accident investigations, recognition activities, communication services and goal-setting) being assumed by line workers).
Technology will finally have a significant impact on safety work. That’s not to say technology in many ways has not been making inroads into safety and health work for years. But safety, due to its non-profit status, is often a laggard in securing the resources to adopt new technologies. GPS tracking, multiple safety apps, smartphone cameras, portable tablet devices for use in the field, wireless sensor networks, and new ways to analyze safety performance inputs will put safety departments in a more proactive position than ever. This promises to finally open the door to widespread acceptance of leading indicators.
Much work needs to be done regarding BST CEO Colin Duncan’s idea of “staying safe.” This is safety sustainability. Still far too many mid-size and even large companies look at safety issues and think of one-off fixes, or short-term safety campaigns or contests, which are easier on the budget than sustained safety expenditures. And easier on safety trainers and educators than developing the employee attitudes and behaviors necessary to “stay safe” not only while working, but on the road traveling, at home doing DIY projects, and perhaps engaging in adventuresome lifestyle pursuits.
Will wellness ever get traction? It’s been written about it for 30-40 years. It is heartening to learn of research out of the UK that many employees in their 50s and 60s are healtheir, exercising more, eating better, with better health outcomes, than employees in their 30s and 40s who are tied up with aging parents and young kids and hustling to get promotions at work. Baby boomers never want to age. Perhaps that's the notion upon which to get “buy in” for wellness efforts.
Much of what consultants call “calibrating of leaders” still needs to be done in small to mid-size companies around safety values and contributions. In 2014 we have a good bit of balking about safety being a drag on struggling businesses in this economy. A little less adverse legal counsel regarding safety might help in C-Suites, but really, fewer attorneys giving advice? No way. The fact no U.S. company is willing to put money into improving safety conditions in Bangladesh clothing factories, although European counterparts have made commitments, was perhaps the pathetic safety story of 2013. Fear of litigation – not OSHA penalties or the slim odds of jail time for egregious safety derelicts in industry – trips up many possible safety advances and is an overall drag on greater safety gains in the U.S.