Top Trends in OEHS
AIHA strives to stay on top of the constantly shifting OEHS environment so we can help our members respond quickly to challenges and opportunities. This effort served me well late last year, when I was invited to give a presentation at a meeting of the California Industrial Hygiene Council. Founded in 1990, CIHC is an alliance of five California-based AIHA local sections that work together to influence relevant legislation in the state. As part of my presentation, I was asked to discuss top trends in OEHS. After consulting several sources and AIHA staff, I added the following list of trends to my presentation. I’m sharing them here to stimulate discussion and, I hope, to learn more about what you see as the top trends affecting your OEHS practice.
The emergence of smart PPE. The market for PPE includes a growing selection of gear that can monitor wearers’ health by collecting data such as blood pressure, steps walked, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, sweat levels, and vital signs. Some PPE can also monitor workers' fatigue and alertness. According to JetBlack Safety, smart PPE includes:
Hardhats with proximity sensors, location tracking, and smart protection; wristwatches designed for the risk management of hand-arm vibrations; chest devices that use bio-sensing technology to measure core body temperature, heart rate, and exertion; and real-time tracking devices for lone workers are some of the wearables that are already commercially available. These devices use highly sophisticated electronic components to collect data, track activities, and provide customized experiences. Moreover, they are designed to help workers perform their jobs more safely, thereby reducing work-related accidents.
The real-time collection of these data has the potential to enhance OEHS decision-making.
- Read “Making Sense of Sensors in PPE” in The Synergist.
NIOSH Total Worker Health program. TWH, which is reflected in AIHA’s content priorities, provides a more holistic approach to the health and well-being of workers, which is especially important considering the impacts of COVID-19. An article published by Columbia Southern University explains that, because of the pandemic, some workers “were no longer able to guarantee the financial stability of their families or be certain of the longevity of their careers,” while for others, “the transition to virtual operations . . . was highly challenging, and the return to the office can be just as chaotic.” These changes include a blurring of lines between work and personal lives, less social connection, and the stress and challenges of managing remote teams. Moving forward, a focus on mental health—that is, psychological, emotional, and social needs—is imperative.
- Read “Mental Health in the Workplace” in The Synergist.
Use of predictive analytics for safety. The article from Columbia Southern calls for all businesses to use their safety data to perform predictive safety modeling that “will aim to anticipate potential safety hazards and establish which conditions increase the occurrence of incidents.” Such modeling may be necessary for companies to remain competitive.
- Read “Predictive Purposes” in The Synergist.
Shifts in manufacturing. According to the software provider Quentic, what is known as “industry 4.0” is influenced by “the new 5G telecommunications standard, human-machine interaction, artificial intelligence, collaborative robotics, biomanufacturing, and additive manufacturing.” While these elements can make work simpler and safer, they may also present new challenges and risks. One example of these challenges is biomanufacturing, which AIHA’s Content Portfolio Advisory Group (CPAG) has been discussing as the possible subject of forthcoming guidance.
- Read “The Challenge of Industrial Hygiene 4.0,” “Protecting Modified Worker Health: Biohacking and the Workplace,” and “Generation Gap: 5G Cellular Technology and Worker Protection” in The Synergist.
The changing workforce. OEHS managers need to further consolidate the flexibility and readiness to learn that they have shown in times of crisis to handle the ongoing constant changes in the world of work. Diversity, inclusion, aging populations, and globalization are among the major new issues to address. This also encompasses caring for those who manage multiple jobs. These issues are reflected in our content priorities.
- Read “Slash Careers: How to Protect Workers with Multiple Jobs” and “Implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace” in The Synergist.
Combating airborne-transmitted diseases. According to Quentic, because of COVID-19, “employees are showing greater respect and recognition for OHS and appear more willing to implement safeguards.” Evidence suggests that this trend may continue even after the pandemic has passed.
The growing importance of people skills. Today more than ever, leadership is critical, and leadership requires people skills (also known as soft skills). Leaders must display a willingness to listen to employees and integrate them into OEHS processes to bring about a more proactive health and safety culture. People skills are reflected as one element of our “Communicating OEHS Concepts” content priority.
- Read “Harnessing the Hidden Power of Empathy” in The Synergist.
ESG (environmental-social-governance) and sustainability. Quentic observes that “organizations are under growing pressure to demonstrate that they act in a sustainable, environmentally friendly, and socially responsible manner.” Business leaders are gaining more of an understanding of how OEHS risks are, in reality, business risks—and these risks must be mitigated and managed. Under the guidance of AIHA’s Human Capital/ESG Task Force, a new white paper on these topics is being developed.
- Read “OHS Is Moving Up on Wall Street” in The Synergist.
Virtual training. Thanks to COVID-19, companies are reviewing their health and safety training, and realizing that many aspects can be taught more effectively and economically online. Virtual reality, or VR, is an immersive, simulated experience delivered by headset systems or multi-projected environments. It generates digital scenarios where the user has a simulated physical presence. Its similarities to gaming may make it more appealing to many workers than traditional training formats.
In addition to exposing workers to hazards without the risk of harm, VR training is also more efficient. For example, VR allows training on troubleshooting heavy machinery to be carried out without taking a real bulldozer or truck out of the fleet.
- Read “New Virtual and Augmented Realities for OEHS Professionals” in The Synergist.
Climate change adaptation. Efforts to protect workers from heat stress are needed due to the evolving climate. As a result of our new Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, AIHA is drafting a new Body of Knowledge paper to address the various impacts of climate change on the worker and the role of the OEHS professional. This past year, we also formed a new Thermal Stress Working Group that is discussing updates to the OSHA-NIOSH heat stress app and other research that could be conducted on heat stress strategies deployed across various industries.
- Read “It’s the Heat—And the Humidity” in The Synergist.
Protecting nontraditional workers from respiratory hazards. AIHA recently published a Synergist article and blog on this topic based on a report issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “Frameworks for Protecting Workers and the Public from Inhalation Hazards.” The April 2022 blog post is authored by Bruce Lippy, CIH, CSP, PhD, FAIHA, who teaches occupational injury prevention at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and contributed to the National Academies’ report. His post discusses the National Academies’ recommendation that Congress should establish a coordinating entity within the Department of Health and Human Services to provide a unified and authoritative source of information and effective oversight in the development, approval, and use of respiratory protective devices that can protect the public health.
- Read “Respiratory Protection Training for Non-Experts” in The Synergist.
IH data standardization. As explained in a Synergist article published in December 2020 and reflected in one of our content priorities (Big Data and sensor technology), “the principal goal of IH data standardization is the widespread adoption of a set of well-defined, exposure-relevant variables to harmonize the collection of occupational exposure data across different worksites, companies, agencies, and other entities.” The standardization of IH data has been sought for decades because it would allow more efficient analysis across work sites, companies, and industries. But despite these benefits, data elements and collection methods still vary widely, and data are stored in disparate ways, limiting its searchability. The article describes some current efforts to correct these shortcomings.
- Read “Industrial Hygiene Data Standardization” in The Synergist.
What do you think of these trends? Are there others you would list? Leave your thoughts in the comments. I look forward to your feedback.
Columbia Southern University: “4 Trends in Occupational Safety and Health to Expect in 2021” (January 2021).
JetBlack Safety: “Top Five Health and Safety Trends for 2022” (2022).
NIOSH: “Future of Work Initiative.”
NIOSH: “Strategic Foresight at NIOSH.”
Quentic: “The 7 Latest Trends in Occupational Health and Safety in 2022” (March 2022).
Exposure Drivers Should be Part of IH data standardization
Since the start of monitoring, monitoring data has not included any of the factors that drove the exposure. Neil Hawkins and I addressed this many years ago in a paper referenced below. It had NO effect and no changes happened. The development of exposure assessment science, especially modeling definitely needs these data. I am willing to continue to beat this drum if there are ears to hear it. Ref: Jayjock, MA and NC Hawkins: Exposure Database Improvements for Indoor Air Model Validation, 379-382, APPL.OCCUP.ENVIRON.HYG. lO(4) APRIL 1995By Michael Jayjock on February 14, 2023 4:08pm