The EHS State of the Nation 2017: Part 2

2/1/2017
January 13, 2017   Dave Johnson

ISHN magazine’s exclusive survey of environmental health and safety professionals

 
Part 2 of 2 – EHS forecast for 2017

The bottom line question entering 2017 – and every year – is what do resource allocations look like for EHS departments?

Pretty much what you’d expect, given the “challenging economic headwinds” reported in many corporate earnings statements, particularly in the manufacturing sectors. 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.

Nothing drastic is in store. The status quo rules. Significant budget increases are reported by only two percent of survey respondents, and only one percent reports a significant decrease.

The same holds true for safety and health department headcounts. The overwhelming majority, almost seven in ten respondents (69 percent) report staff size will stay the same in 2017. About one-quarter (23 percent) expect a slight increase in headcount, mostly in the construction industry. There will be no bloodletting in departments: only five percent of respondents report a slight decrease in staffing, and only one percent reports significant cuts.

Top hazards

The survey asked professionals about the most serious hazards they confront on their worksites. 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 serious hazard at their worksite.

Challenges of the job

Considering the array of near-miss and injury (or worse) hazards that professionals confront on an almost daily basis, the challenges of the job are equally broad and diverse.

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.

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.

One area where progress has been made is compliance with OSHA standards. After more than 40 years of OSHA regulation, many businesses, especially large operations with full-time professional staffs, have mastered compliance. Here are two reasons why about 40 percent of survey respondents still report OSHA compliance to be a top challenge: 1) new standards such as the silica rule, electronic recordkeeping, and walking and work surface fall protection must be interpreted and implemented; and 2) small businesses with part-time safety functions and few resources still wrestle with compliance complexities.

Another group of EHS challenges have a medium to high impact on organizations, according to the survey:

  • Integrating safety into sustainability activities (39 percent report it has a high impact; 36 percent say it has a moderate impact)
  • The aging workforce (33 percent high impact; 36 percent moderate impact)
  • Contractor safety oversight (25 percent high impact; 37 percent moderate impact)
  • Temporary worker safety (24 percent high impact; 30 percent moderate impact)

Here are the job challenges with the least impact:

  • Employee legal use of controlled substances/medications (62 percent define it as low impact)
  • Supply chain management (59 percent low impact)
  • Employee illegal substance abuse (66 percent low impact)
  • Off the job injuries (62 percent low impact)

Abuse of prescription medications and illegal substances has received widespread media coverage, but most professionals have not personally encountered what some describe as an “epidemic.” Supply chain management issues bedevil multinationals, but that’s a small percentage of overall survey respondents. And off-the-job safety, while a perennial safety meeting topic, is not perceived as having much of an impact, according to most pros.

Goals for 2017

What professionals hope to accomplish in 2017 – their goals – is as diverse as the list of top hazards and the most challenging issues. ISHN’s survey reports professionals have these priorities (ranked in order):

  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)

Goals for 2017 considered to be of medium importance include:

  • Developing personal leadership skills (33 percent define as a medium priority)
  • Implementing/maintaining a behavior-based safety program (35 percent medium)
  • Using effective personal protective equipment (46 percent medium)
  • Building/maintaining a forma safety management system (33 percent medium)
  • Developing/maintaining an employee wellness program (34 percent medium)

What’s lowest on the list of professional priorities for 2017? Fifty-five percent say reducing employee absenteeism is a low priority. It’s a business expense, but more of a human resources issue.

Workplace violence gets a lot of press, but 55 percent of 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.

What makes for industrial safety-related news is often not on the radar of many professionals.

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