An EHS Today Special Report
As we near the end of 2022, it’s a fair question to ask: Did anything really change over the past year?
While COVID cases have dropped off considerably over the past year, we’re still in a pandemic, and there’s no clear sign that the World Health Organization (WHO)—which officially declared the pandemic back in March 2020—plans to call it off any time soon.
The predicted “red wave” from the midterm elections turned out to be a mirage, and it sounds like we’re in for two years of solid political gridlock.
And far too many workers are still getting injured and killed on the job and on the highways from safety violations of the industrial kind (e.g., falls from heights, explosions and electrocutions) as well as the psychological kind (e.g., active shooting and suicides).
Rather than sugarcoating the bad news by focusing only on positive developments, our year-end wrap-up will do what it’s designed to do: review some of the major trends in the EHS profession (these trends are not ranked in any particular order) and shine a light on where progress occurred and where more work needs to be done. It’s likely, but not at all certain, that the pandemic could end in 2023, but the COVID variants—and vaccinations—will be with us for who knows how long. Meanwhile, safety leaders will continue to do what they always do: make their workplaces and communities safer.
In any event, we here at EHS Today wish all our readers the very happiest of holidays and an equally Happy New Year.
Pain in the Back… and the Neck, and the Shoulder, and…
One in two Americans experiences back, neck or shoulder pain, or another musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) in any given year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Health Interview Survey. That translates to over 252 million adults who are in pain. And despite the population with MSD conditions remaining relatively constant, the economic cost of MSD medical claims has doubled in the U.S. over the last decade.
MSD care remains one of the top three cost drivers in the U.S. health system, consuming one-sixth of employer-sponsored plan dollars and costing $600 billion to the U.S. economy.
Part of the cost is that people with MSD pain missed 8.2 days of work, more than double the average workers’ sick days. For those who experience MSD pain and mental health needs, the figure increases to 13 days.
To address this situation, more than 100 companies, representing 2.6 million employees, have taken the MSD Pledge, a commitment to reduce MSDs in the workplace. The initiative is under the leadership of the National Safety Council (NSC), with support from retail giant Amazon. By signing the pledge, these organizations have committed to:
DEI in the Workplace
- Analyzing the causes of MSD injuries and invest in solutions and practices that reduce risks to workers;
- Leveraging innovations and share learnings that improve safety practices;
- Building a culture of safety where everyone, at every level, is accountable for the safety and health of workers;
- Collectively reducing MSD risk and subsequent injuries across the pledge community by 25% by 2025.
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has moved from an initiative to a strategic necessity. Much of the emphasis in developing DEI programs is to recognize the varying backgrounds, cultures and other characteristics of specific groups of people. Understanding, appreciating and—most importantly—including every employee and tapping into their knowledge are at the heart of DEI’s mission.
In the safety realm, the strategy has moved to the understanding that when employees can be their authentic selves and therefore feel secure at work, they can then extend their safety reach toward the entire organization.
“If you view safety from the perspective of a company culture at the highest level, safety means having each other’s back,” says Lorraine Martin, CEO of the NSC. “Our heads are in the game, and we are watching out for each other. Therefore, all leaders—safety professionals included—need to understand the diversity of who they need to serve.” To watch out for each other, employees must “feel that their voices matter and they are able to use that voice to keep everyone safe,” she adds.
Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of companies to create an environment where people are able to speak up when they see unsafe processes and not worry about retribution. “In company cultures where employees may not feel safe or don’t feel included, the first reaction to seeing an unsafe situation is to mind your own business,” explains Martin. “This culture of non-belonging and potentially fear causes safety hazards to go undetected.”
Beating the Heat
In April, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to protect millions of workers from heat illness and injuries. As part of the program, OSHA will proactively initiate inspections in over 70 high-risk industries in indoor and outdoor work settings when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or advisory for a local area. On days when the heat index is 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, OSHA inspectors and compliance assistance specialists will engage in proactive outreach and technical assistance to help stakeholders keep workers safe on the job.
Inspectors will also look for and address heat hazards during inspections, regardless of whether the industry is targeted in the NEP.
According to the agency, the three-year average of workplace deaths caused by heat has doubled since the early 1990s.
OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program, a free and confidential health and safety consulting program for small- and medium-sized businesses, will assist employers in developing strategic approaches for addressing heat-related illnesses and injuries in the workplace.