20 Predictions for 2020

20 Predictions for 2020

We asked 20 safety and health leaders from various industries to give us their predictions on the trends they see most affecting occupational health in 2020 and beyond. After talking to these subject matter experts, we noticed several themes emerge.

We asked 20 safety and health leaders from various industries to give us their predictions on the trends they see most affecting occupational health in 2020 and beyond. After talking to these subject matter experts, we noticed several themes emerge.

To them, looking at safety in a vacuum is “old school” thinking. Modern safety professionals take a holistic approach to health. Blending a proactive approach with innovative tools will help those in EHS and occupational health rise to the challenges and opportunities we’ll face in this new decade.

Here are some emerging topics that will impact your job in the upcoming years to come: 

Changing demographics: Many of our experts commented on the shifting demographics in the workplace, particularly among aging workers. According to USA Today, older Americans are not only the fastest growing segment of the U.S. workforce, but they are also living longer than previous generations. However, with age comes certain setbacks.

Julie Lecci, Manager of Occupational Health at Conagra, said safety managers are creatively stretched to meet the limitations of their older workers. “As a person ages, their physical ability continues to decline, while work requirements remain constant,” Lecci said.

Nevertheless, in the age of smart factories and cyber-physical systems, there is a logical approach to older workers. Kathleen Ciszewski from Danone North America believes a marriage between technology and the aging workforce is a safe and logical route for their employees.

“Adaptable, inexpensive, easy-to-use tools and systems will be needed to continue to optimize our workforce and prevent future injuries, or I’m afraid we will see a serious uptick in stress/strain and repetitive motion injuries,” Ciszewski said.

Lecci adds, “We are pushed to learn to be creative with our jobs and processes so that we can meet the limitations of our employees. We are actively pursuing more rigorous enterprise-wide initiatives that will help us increase our ability to identify risks and educate our front-line employees on the identification of risks earlier.”

New challenges: The next decade will see a rise of new industries, and with them brand new challenges. Previous generations of EHS didn’t worry about the effects of climate change or have to navigate rules for the gig economy. Today is a different story.

 With the rise of technology and emerging industries, Billy Bullock, Director of Industrial Hygiene at CSX Transportation, foresees an increasing need for Industrial Hygiene experts that are up-to-date with the current trends in occupational health.

 “…3D printing is already transforming what, where, how and by whom products are produced. In addition, the cannabis industry is booming and Health and Safety professionals now have entirely new workplace risks to assess and exposures to control,” Bullock said. “From cultivation and harvesting to the extraction of oils and the manufacturing of consumer products, workers are facing potential risks that are not well known or characterized.”

 Additionally, climate change is swiftly growing into a distinct issue for occupational health. According to Alya Khan, Director of the Occupational Medicine Residency Program at the University of California, Irvine, the effects of climate change impacts workers in a variety of ways.

 “Its impact directly affects workers from rising ambient temperatures, loss of land from wildfires and other natural disasters, as well as the downstream effects from climate migration,” Khan said.
Safety managers must be vigilant and knowledgeable to protect their workers from workplace hazards and health risks. For example, Cal/OSHA recently passed a new regulation to protect workers from wildfire smoke that requires employers to monitor air quality.

Proactive approaches: A holistic approach to health is the best approach according to these safety and health leaders. Taking proactive action steps to occupational health and safety allows safety managers to examine their workforce’s wellbeing, not just their immediate physical health.

What is the key to improving employee’s overall wellbeing at work? For Patrick King of Armstrong World Industries, the answer is simple: it’s all about the people.

“As we enter 2020, we are seeing giant priority shifts in the EHS field. We are seeing safety compliance move to safety culture, and management-driven safety cultures to employee-driven safety cultures,” King said. “We are continuously moving towards more proactive safety cultures that reward positive safety behaviors, instead of disciplining negative safety behaviors.”

Moving forward, wellness programs and effective strategies that will benefit employees beyond work is a foundation for a healthy and happy workforce. Our home and work lives are intertwined, and today’s safety managers need a 360-degree view of wellbeing, reaching beyond just the job site.

“Employees' habits, behaviors and circumstances at home have a direct impact on their ability to perform their jobs safely,” said Beau VanDyke, Director of Global Health and Safety at Koppers Inc. “It is increasingly important to understand that assistance and wellness programs that improve an employee's overall well-being are key components to better safety performance at work.”

Andrea Lankford, Corporate Director of Safety at Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co., recommends creating a culture of safety. She adds, “In 2020, we are focusing on moving from the science of compliance to the art of safety.”

Moreover, the reach of new programs will extend past just the employee. “Look for health programs to extend beyond employees to contractors, families, retirees and the wider promotion of health cultures and community health,” said Kent Peterson, Chief Medical Officer at Examinetics.

New technology: With the rapid rate of technological growth, it’s no wonder our subject matter experts saw new technology and tools as a vital trend. EHS is an area ripe for innovation—one needs only look at the annual industry tradeshows to see rapid advances in technology, wearables and apps for health.

When designing and executing practical solutions, the increase in technology presents both challenges and opportunities for those working in occupational health.

Health and safety experts foresee technology shaping the future of occupational health through a variety of ways such as training, web-based platforms, wearable technology and new productivity metrics. Additionally, ecofriendly products will make inroads into the workplace helping companies with environmental initiatives or sustainability goals.

Dr. Peterson of Examinetics mentions four advances shaping the industry: evidence-based science, digital technology, data analytics and population health management

Ergonomics: While ergonomics has been a discussion in the occupational health field since the 1800s, it’s a topic that still remains relevant today. While it’s easy to overlook, health experts suggest it should be prioritized by safety managers.

“Our focus should be on prevention, not reaction,” said Michael Steward, EHS Manager of Altec. “Understanding workstations and how our people lift, carry, push and pull our products will show how to resolve overexertion from the work employees perform day-to-day.”

In the future, technology and wellness initiatives will make way for neuroergonomics, an up and coming specialized field with the purpose of improving human and technology interaction. “This is possible through the development of functional near-infrared brain spectroscopy and magnetic/electric transcortical direct brain stimulation technology that is miniaturized, battery-operated, portable, wearable, mobile and wireless,” says Paul W. Brandt-Rauf, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Steward points out that we should be looking at all employees, whether in the plant or the office. “By looking at ergonomics, every year a company could lower their risk, cost and rates, and improve their overall safety programs.”

To read the full report or download a PDF, please visit: https://www.examinetics.com/safety-and-health-trends-for-2020/

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are of the individual contributors and do not reflect the view(s) of the companies they represent nor of Examinetics.

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