posted January 28, 2019
This article was published in January 2019. For a new version updated for 2020, visit 5 Occupational Safety and Health Trends to Watch in 2020.
It is well into 2019, and as you turn your attention to the next 12 months, now is the time to consider the trends that are shaping the world of occupational health and safety.
Trend #1: Prevention, Not Detection
Until recently, much of occupational health and safety has been focused on detecting unsafe conditions and the assumption that the majority of workplace accidents are attributable to unsafe behaviors. As such, for at least the last decade and a half, the statistics regarding workplace injuries have gone largely unchanged. Companies spend more time mitigating risks after an accident has occurred or been detected than preventing them. The field is changing, though. Occupational health and safety experts are recommending a shift away from reward and recognition programs (that focus on finding risks) to a more prevention-based approach (that puts more emphasis on education, training and identifying issues before someone gets hurt).
Trend #2: Acknowledging Workplace Substance Abuse and Mental Health
The prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse in the workplace is a chief concern for many occupational safety experts. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that about half of all workplace accidents are at least in part attributable to drug abuse, and 11 percent of all workplace fatalities involve alcohol. Given the severity of these issues, and their effects—on safety, absenteeism, productivity and company morale—more companies are implementing programs to provide support and treatment for struggling workers.
Trend #3: More Safety Professionals
Recognizing the importance of workplace safety, more companies are hiring safety professionals. From safety directors who are responsible for overseeing entire occupational health and safety programs to safety coordinators who develop and lead safety training, there are more opportunities for those with an advanced degree in occupational safety and health than ever before. Many of these jobs are lucrative, too, with median salaries ranging from $50,000-$72,000 per year.
Trend #4: Smart PPE
We have everything from smart lights to smart cars now, so it only makes sense that smart personal protective equipment (PPE) is starting to hit the market. Developers are working on safety gear that includes sensors designed to monitor the wearer’s blood oxygen levels, vital signs, blood alcohol level, sweat level, and other factors, with an eye toward monitoring the employee’s health. Keeping track of a worker’s fatigue and alertness levels, for instance, can help managers determine who needs a break and when. Although there are some privacy concerns about this PPE technology and how the data collected may be used by employers, from a safety standpoint, monitoring the unseen factors that can lead to an accident has the potential to significantly reduce the number of workplace accidents.
Trend #5: New OSHA Rules
OSHA has changed its record-keeping rules for businesses beginning in 2019. Going forward, businesses in high-risk industries with 250 or more employees must submit their 2018 injury tracking data via form 300 A by March 2, 2019. In addition, OSHA is considering an additional rule change that will require some businesses to submit additional paperwork related to workplace injuries, namely forms 300 and 301. The final rule is expected to be published in June, so in the meantime, businesses should prepare to submit form 300A by the March deadline.
Trend #6: Increased Retraining of Workers
In the past, many organizations have treated safety training as a “one and done” task, requiring employees to only complete a safety seminar or class when they are first hired; however, research shows that employees benefit from ongoing safety training and regular updates to their knowledge. More companies are now implementing annual safety retraining programs designed to refresh employee safety skills, as well as provide ongoing safety training on specific topics. Much of this ongoing learning is being provided in the form of “micro-learning,” which allows employees to complete a short training session using any device. Training might involve developing skills in identifying and preventing accidents, the proper use of PPE and how to report a safety violation. By continuously training employees in safety fundamentals, it ensures front-of mind-awareness and reduces the number of incidents.
With all of the changes in attitudes and approaches toward occupational safety, as well as the abundance of new jobs expected within the coming years, 2019 is the ideal time to begin working on an advanced degree in occupational safety and health. To learn more about how Columbia Southern University can help you move forward in this fast-growing field, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu/Safety.
Related: Benefits of Earning Safety Certifications