May 16, 2024 / Larry Sloan

Five Trends in OEHS

Image Credit: Getty Images / Natrot

Recently, AIHA retained the consulting firm Foresight Alliance to produce an environmental scan of trends affecting occupational and environmental health and safety. The report identifies trends across the following six areas: information flows, evolving science, workforce shifts, 21st-century health, politics and society, and industrial hygiene in an artificial intelligence (AI) world. A summary of the report will be included in the September issue of The Synergist. In the meantime, this post introduces a few of the trends mentioned in the report. These items are expected to continue to affect OEHS for the foreseeable future:

1. Domain-specific AI models. The rapid growth of artificial intelligence is influencing every aspect of our culture. Chatbots such as ChatGPT and Bard are based on large language models, which require extensive (and extremely expensive) training on enormous amounts of data. As AI evolves, new chatbots are being trained on a narrower range of sources for more targeted applications. Organizations will develop their own AI tools trained on proprietary or curated datasets. One implication for OEHS professionals is that knowledge retention may fade in importance compared to creative problem-solving and interpersonal skills.

2. IH data standardization. OEHS professionals have long recognized the potential benefits of sharing exposure monitoring data across organizations. One barrier to sharing is the lack of a standardized structure for these data. This summer, AIHA will publish a white paper that proposes a standard data structure for air and noise monitoring. Widespread adoption of this structure will allow OEHS professionals to extract full value from the growth in AI and Big Data analytics.

3. Gen Z mental health focus. The formative years for members of Generation Z were dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gen Z is now entering workplaces with concerns about job security and the cost of living as well as higher expectations than earlier generations for employers' efforts to promote well-being. In general, these young workers highly value work-life balance.

4. Increasing attention to "forever chemicals." Concerns about the effects of exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) continue to increase. Currently, little research exists to support recommendations for worker protection, and potential exposures to the 9,000 or so individual PFAS compounds are highly complex. OEHS professionals are also contending with new state laws and national regulations from EPA.

5. Public doubts about science. The American public once held scientists in high regard, but trust in scientists has declined significantly in recent years. The Pew Research Center found that the percentage of U.S. adults who said they have a great deal of confidence in scientists dipped from 39 percent in November 2020 to 29 percent in December 2021. This trend implies that OEHS professionals will have to earn the public's trust and prove the value of their information.

    How have these trends affected you and your workplace? Leave your observations in the comments section below.

    Larry Sloan

    Larry Sloan is AIHA's CEO.


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