Improving worker safety continues to be a major focus in 2021, particularly in the construction, engineering, and manufacturing industries. In fact, survey data shows that Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) directors in those three industries increased their budgets in 2020.
So where are EHS professionals focusing those funds? Let’s take a look.
1. *Smart* personal protective equipment
The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and worksite clothing with sensors that monitor, collect, and record biometric, location, and movement data in real time is on the rise. In fact, the annual global EHS survey revealed that high priorities for 2020 were improving incident management (51% of respondents), achieving environmental compliance (46% of respondents), and enhancing occupational health, industrial hygiene and ergonomics (34% of respondents).
This “smart” equipment collects the same data as wearable devices, including the user’s heart rate, calories burned, steps walked, and blood pressure. This equipment also tracks advanced metrics like the user’s blood alcohol content, blood oxygen levels, sweat levels, and vital signs. Some products may even detect changes in environmental conditions. Next-generation smart PPE is expected to monitor workers’ fatigue and alertness, which may help managers determine who needs a break and when.
While there are some privacy concerns about how this data is collected and used by employers, monitoring factors that could contribute to accidents may significantly reduce the number of workplace accidents.
2. PPE that reflects workers' personal preferences
Along with technological advances that enable “smart” PPE, there are also protective items that respect workers’ personal preferences. These may include items like:
Looser-fitting respirators that allow workers to wear facial hair
Seamless, fine-knit gloves that provide increased comfort
Lighter fabrics and special textiles that enable clothing to meet protective standards while still providing style, comfort, and higher employee satisfaction
Through continued advancement, PPE is evolving to better reflect workers’ preferences.
3. Mobile apps and tools
Mobile tools are increasingly being used to complete tasks and oversee the safety of employees who use mobile devices on the job. In particular, workplace safety tools (such as mobile inspection and incident applications) are expected to become more prevalent, as are apps that turn off workers’ mobile devices when they are completing essential tasks.
4. Autonomous vehicles
Autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars, are designed with sensors and software to:
Follow road contours
Avoid other vehicles, objects, bikers, and pedestrians
Adjust to unsafe weather conditions
Anticipate dangers from situations that are developing on the road ahead
For the transportation industry and other fields that rely on vehicles to transport products or employees, it’s believed that large-scale AV deployment will significantly lower vehicle accident rates and fatalities. And, AVs have the potential to greatly reduce fuel and labor costs.
However, federal and state regulations regarding the use of AV technology may be needed before small business owners deploy AVs in their organizations. As part of this process, legislators are working to identify regulatory gaps in the areas of inspection, repair, and maintenance for autonomous driving systems. Additionally, the Department of Transportation (DOT) needs to develop requirements on how commercial driver license (CDL) qualifications factor into computerized driving systems.
5. Better safety measures for high-heat work environments
From transportation and restaurants to landscaping and construction, summer months can be particularly grueling for workers without access to adequate rest periods, shade, or water.
While there are no regulations at the federal level to protect workers from heat exposure, California Rep. Judy Chu is spearheading the Asuncion Valdivia Illness and Fatality Prevention Act—a bill that would require OSHA to develop a heat illness standard. As currently written, the legislation states that workers in high-heat environments would be required to have paid breaks in cool spaces, access to water, and limitations on how long they can be exposed to heat. If passed, OSHA will have two years to write and propose a heat illness standard for indoor and outdoor workers.
6. Shifting focus from detection to prevention
Until recently, occupational health and safety programs have largely been focused on detecting unsafe conditions, meaning companies spent more time mitigating risks after an accident than preventing them. Now, safety experts recommend that companies shift away from reward and recognition programs that focus on identifying risk to prevention-based programs that emphasize education, training, and identifying issues before someone gets hurt.
7. Increased retaining of workers
Hand-in-hand with the shift from detection to prevention is a renewed emphasis on training and retraining workers to better ensure compliance. Research shows that employees benefit from ongoing safety training and regular safety skills refreshers.
As such, more companies are implementing annual safety retraining programs designed to refresh employee safety skills and provide ongoing safety training on specific topics. Some of this education is delivered via “micro-learning,” which allows employees to complete short training sessions on the device of their choosing. Ongoing training ensures top-of mind-awareness and reduces injuries, according to experts.
8. Recognizing workplace substance abuse and mental health
The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that about half of all workplace accidents are partly attributable to drug abuse, and 11 percent of all workplace fatalities involve alcohol. Given the prevalence of these issues—and their impact on safety, productivity, absenteeism, and morale—it makes sense that more companies are employing programs to provide treatment and support for affected workers.
9. More safety professionals
An increased emphasis on creating and deploying employee safety programs naturally means that more companies are hiring safety professionals. From hiring coordinators to provide safety training to attracting safety directors to oversee complete occupational health and safety programs, companies are investing in their EHS staff.
10. Engaged leadership to replace top-down safety strategies
To implement a goal-oriented safety culture, leaders need to make sure employees are involved and inspired today, tomorrow, and beyond. Most experts agree that there’s been a gradual shift away from traditional top-down approaches to newer ones. The key to adoption and engagement is having senior managers who practice genuine and visible safety leadership.
HSE experts suggest companies use a behavior-based safety strategy, which encourages effective, interpersonal, supportive, and corrective behavior-based feedback throughout the organization.
Thanks for reading! Please note that this content is intended for educational purposes only. As best practices change regularly, you should refer to your trusted advisor for specific counsel. If you’re a small business owner, learn more about workplace safety or check your workers’ comp rate in 3 minutes.