As we bid farewell to 2023, it’s time to reflect on the significant developments, lessons, and emerging trends that have shaped the new landscape of Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS).
This year brought significant challenges and opportunities, pushing organizations to adapt, innovate, and prioritize the well-being of their workforce. But it can be difficult to get a good sense of how things are changing while we’re still in the middle of it. So let’s take a moment to pause and look back at what changed for EHS in 2023 and look ahead at what is likely to influence the industry over the coming year.
Mental health has long been a concern for occupational health and safety, but it was often given low priority.
That changed this year. Adapting to remote work, dealing with economic uncertainty, and a number of personal and professional challenges have highlighted the importance of addressing mental health in EHS strategies.
In response, we have expanded our idea of workplace safety. Organizations learned that maintaining employee well-being goes beyond physical safety, requiring a holistic approach that takes mental and emotional health into account. We have also come to recognize that mental well-being plays a direct role in physical safety, as distraction, fatigue, and depression can cloud our judgment, slow our reaction times, and cause us to de-prioritize safety.
We’re not there yet, but we may see a future in which mental health becomes a core, foundational aspect of safety policies across most organizations.
Technology Integration for Safety Management
EHS technology took center stage in 2023, with organizations increasingly integrating digital solutions into their safety management systems.
Technology has played a pivotal role in enhancing safety protocols and reducing incidents. It’s no longer unusual to see workers equipped with wearable devices that keep tabs on various health metrics. Organizations have turned to advanced analytics to be more proactive about accident prevention. Contractor management software is becoming the norm for ensuring that all parties on a jobsite can work safely.
Organizations often struggle to strike a balance between operational efficiency and EHS requirements. Digitizing safety is the simplest way to seamlessly integrate the two, to the benefit of both the company and its workforce.
Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Health
Ergonomics is another area that safety professionals have long been concerned with, but that doesn’t get the uptake it should.
While the effects of poor ergonomics can be long-lasting and debilitating, they often develop slowly and their cause is difficult to pinpoint. This makes them seem less urgent and they are often treated as low priority as a result.
This year, the importance of ergonomics finally gained prominence. Employers have come to recognize the need to address musculoskeletal health issues that arise from prolonged work and the use of heavy machinery.
Ergonomic assessments and interventions became more integral to EHS programs 2023. Since musculoskeletal issues can prevent employees from working, reduce productivity, and result in heavy compensation claims, it will likely be an EHS staple going forward.
(Learn about the Risk Factors for Developing Musculoskeletal Disorders)
Climate Change and ESG Integration
The intersection of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors with EHS gained significant momentum this year.
The effects of climate change are intensifying. With record-breaking heat and unprecedented storm activity, it is impossible for organizations to ignore it. While stronger emergency planning and better heat stress programs are part of this, the rise of ESG is the more impactful aspect.
2023 was the year that EHS and ESG both took center stage as key components of corporate and social responsibility. And ESG will only grow in importance as environmental issues magnify.
This year was marked by a number of unforeseen events like deadly heat waves, destructive wildfires, and a spike in respiratory illness. This underscored the need for every organization to be resilient and prepared for whatever might come next.
EHS professionals focused their efforts on developing robust contingency plans, crisis communication strategies, and flexible safety protocols to navigate these challenges. Once again, this points to a future in which EHS programs are designed to be more proactive, preventative, and focused around preparedness.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in Safety Programs
The call for greater investment in DEI extends to safety programs. There is a growing awareness that safety practices aren’t always equitable, along with a push to ensure that they consider the diverse needs of the workforce.
Applying DEI principles to safety results in a culture where all employees and contractors feel heard, protected, and valued.
Supply Chain Resilience
Widespread supply chain disruptions exposed vulnerabilities across a number of organizations and brought greater attention to the flow of materials and labor. Many organizations learned the hard way that their success is tied to the robustness of every link in their supply chain and have begun examining those links more closely.
One trend we have seen is companies evaluating the safety practices of their suppliers. A resilient supply chain is made up of companies that strive for the well-being of their workers, refuse to cut corners, and go beyond basic regulatory requirements in order to do things right. As such, the safety practices of suppliers are now taken as evidence of their reliability.
Organizations are generating and analyzing data in greater volumes than ever before. Sensors and monitoring devices have become more sophisticated while also becoming more affordable. Safety software is now highly refined and more user-friendly, which has encouraged widespread adoption.
Safety professionals were often forced to rely on regulations and best practices when making decisions about safety. This year, however, we let data guide our decisions so we could be better informed and responsive to real-time working conditions.
In 2023, the EHS industry adapted to global challenges and a renewed commitment to safeguarding the workforce. These trends highlight some difficult challenges but also show that safety professionals are already rising up to meet them.
We have some indications of where EHS is heading in the coming year. Organizations that stay ahead by embracing innovation, prioritizing worker well-being, and adapting to the evolving EHS landscape will be well-positioned to navigate the complexities of the modern workplace.