As the EHS Professional, What Are Your Greatest Concerns?

A change in Administrations typically results in a degree of uncertainty and a cloudier “crystal ball” than usual, when trying to predict what an EHS Professional’s main focus needs to be for the coming year. Now, with only a couple of months of President Trump’s highest priorities on which to judge any likely changes in the EPA and OSHA agendas, much is left to supposition and guessing on what the pre-debate positioning really means (see related blog article at Yet, many of the EHS Professional’s priorities and concerns remain unchanged, even if the compliance details may need to be “tweaked” later.  According to a recent survey by Industrial Safety & Hygiene News (ISHN), here’s a benchmark with which to compare.

First, what do resource allocations look like for EHS departments? Almost half (43 percent) of the ISHN reader respondents to the 2017 forecast survey say their safety and health budgets will remain flat in the coming year. About an equal percentage (42 percent) anticipates a slight bump up in budget funds. More than one in ten (12 percent) are looking at a slight decrease in spending. That is not surprising since the EPA and OSHA are not likely to go away soon, regardless of the House Bill #861 to abolish the EPA!

The ISHN survey then asked professionals about the most serious hazards they confront on their work-sites. The top hazards (ranked in order, and respondents could name multiple hazards):

  • Ergonomics (cited by 44 percent of respondents)
  • Falls (38 percent)
  • Hand and arm injuries (38 percent)
  • Lifestyle health issues (36 percent)
  • Lockout-tagout (32 percent)
  • Motor vehicle safety (32 percent)
  • Eye and face injuries (27 percent)
  • Electrical safety (27 percent)
  • Stress and mental health (26 percent)
  • Chemical exposures (23 percent)
  • Respiratory protection (21 percent)
  • Noise (20 percent)

One note of interest: Combustible dust is considered a widespread facility housekeeping hazard. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board conducted an in-depth study that identified 281 combustible dust incidents between 1980 and 2005 that killed 119 workers, injured 718, and extensively damaged industrial facilities. Yet, only 11 percent of pros surveyed say combustible dust is a serious hazard at their worksite.

According to the survey, here are the top five “high impact” challenges facing professionals in 2017:

  • Employee behavioral reliability / consistent safe behaviors (cited by 52 percent of respondents)
  • Putting safety on equal footing with production (52 percent of respondents)
  • Safety training of employees (50 percent)
  • Getting senior leadership “buy in” for safety and health (47 percent)
  • OSHA compliance (42 percent)

Some things never change. Employee behaviors have been the bane of professionals’ jobs ever since the first safety pro set foot on a factory floor. Despite workshops, lectures, webinars, videos, podcasts, blogs and published articles in recent years by thought leaders to shift the focus from “blame the employee” to a greater emphasis on organizational culture, leadership decision-making, system and process design, and reducing ergonomic (working interface) exposures, professionals still perceive worker behaviors as the root of many problems. Sometimes, it might take the influence of an outside consultant to reinforce the message that an EHS Manager, HR Manager, Supervisor, or Company Owner may have been making, with limited success, for a long time.

Likewise, years have been spent by EHS experts “making the business case” for putting safety on equal footing with production, but in 2017 a level playing field has yet to have been achieved, according to the majority of professionals. And though executive safety coaching has become a bigger business in recent years, obtaining senior leadership active involvement in safety and health remains a widespread struggle.

So, are your 2017 goals among those cited in ISHN survey by your EHS Professional colleagues?:

  1. Build / maintain a safety culture (cited as a high priority by 56 percent)
  2. Reduce serious injuries and fatalities (a high priority for 56 percent)
  3. Lower OSHA recordable incident rate (high priority for 53 percent)
  4. Lower workers’ compensation cost (high priority for 43 percent)
  5. Get senior leadership support (high priority for 39 percent)
  6. Develop and track key performance indicators (high priority for 34 percent)

It is interesting to note that workplace violence gets a lot of press, but 55 percent of EHS pros consider preventing on the job violence to be a low priority. One reason could be that many violent incidents occur in retail establishments and healthcare facilities, not in factories and warehouses for the most part. Another factor could be denial – “it can’t happen here” thinking.

The safety consequences of employee fatigue and the need for fatigue management programs is an emerging issue getting press in 2017, but 46 percent of those surveyed say employee fatigue is a low priority agenda item.

The same is true for temporary worker/independent contractor safety. OSHA has made temp worker safety a major issue in recent years, and accidents and fatalities involving temps have drawn media attention. But 46 percent of professionals consider it a low priority.

SO…what makes for industrial safety-related news is often not on the radar of many EHS professionals. What’s on your radar?

Published by Stephen Kovatch

Senior Client Manager  Stephen J. Kovatch focuses on assisting clients in establishing corporate regulatory compliance programs in the areas of air, water, and waste management. Mr. Kovatch also provides direction to industrial facility owners who are active in the transaction of contaminated property by defining objectives, coordinating soil and water sampling protocols, risk assessment, and remedial / cleanup activities. He frequently represents clients in property sales negotiations and regulatory agency and insurance proceedings.

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