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10 EHS Trends to Watch in 2022

It's an interesting moment in EHS: We’re still neck deep in the day-to-day tasks of the COVID-19 pandemic, like testing, PPE, and vaccine requirements. At the same time, we’re forging ahead with climate action and new environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals. 

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Combined, it should make for a challenging — and rewarding — year in EHS management. Here are the top ten trends to watch in 2022.

2022 EHS Trends

  1. EHS will finally get the attention it deserves.
  2. Tracking COVID vaccine and testing data will be a major effort.
  3. Mental health will be integrated with EHS.
  4. AI decision making is having a moment.
  5. Companies will address ESG in a more holistic way.
  6. Operational data will drive ESG metrics.
  7. Managing data is getting harder, but also more important.
  8. Organizations will double down on employee retention.
  9. Remote audits & inspections will become the norm.
  10. Software adoption will skyrocket.

1. EHS will finally get the attention it deserves.

According to a survey by Oasis, ensuring workplace safety amid COVID-19 was the #1 priority among business leaders in 2021. No surprises there. 

In 2022, we can expect to see even more engagement with EHS at the highest levels of corporations. This will be evident in everything from the budgets allocated to EHS, to the level of executives present at industry conferences

We saw this already at EHS Congress in November, where we met executives from GE, L’Oreal, Siemens, and PepsiCo. What struck us most was how emotionally invested these executives were in ensuring the physical and mental well-being of their employees. 

Of course the pandemic has been a huge contributor out of sheer need, but this actually goes far beyond COVID-19. It's the culmination of all of the things that are happening in the world, from climate change to the environmental justice movement and the rise of ESG investing. (In other words, it’s more than just the fact that EHS outcomes are now frequently tied to executive pay.) 

That’s great news for EHS professionals. But it’s even better for employees, customers, and investors, who will all benefit from high level leadership’s direct involvement in EHS programs.

2. Tracking COVID vaccine and testing data will be a major effort. 

Throughout 2021, vaccine mandates have been a massive game of “will they or won’t they”. Some employers spent the year waiting to see what will happen with federal vaccine mandates, while others were more proactive about putting their own vaccination policies into place. Today, the majority of US employers require or are planning to require vaccines for their workers in the coming months, according to consulting firm Willis Towers Watson

The challenge for 2022 will be how to track COVID vaccination status and testing requirements for employees. Collecting and managing all this information not only poses logistic hurdles, but confidentiality and privacy concerns as well. 

Whether the responsibility for vaccine tracking falls on HR or EHS will vary from company to company, but EHS certainly has an important role to play — especially when it comes to day-to-day safety issues like the use of face coverings for unvaccinated workers. HR and EHS will have to come together around how to share and manage this information to ensure they are not duplicating work. 

3. Mental health will be integrated with EHS. 

Occupational safety and health is more than just preventing illnesses and injuries. This is something astute safety professionals have been saying for a while. 

In 2022, we’ll see more organizations investing in workplace mental health. Roughly half of employers say that mental health is a top organizational priority, according to a McKinsey survey

The report also notes that “employers can prioritize mental health by appointing leaders responsible for mental health at an organizational level”. 

In many cases, those leaders will be safety professionals. This will considerably expand the role of EHS within the organization, bringing about new challenges as well as opportunities to positively influence the health and productivity of your employees. 

4. AI decision making is having a moment.

In 2022, we'll see an uptick in interest in artificial intelligence (AI) decision making. 

AI decision making works by using learning algorithms to analyze thousands of data points that would be too difficult or time-consuming for a human to process. AI can spot trends and anomalies, make predictions, and recommend possible courses of action — in much the same way that Amazon recommends products based on your purchase history.

AI is already used to inform decisions about production, such as maintaining adequate stock levels or predicting when equipment will need maintenance. Now, EHS leaders want to expand this capability to health and safety — for example, by predicting potential safety risks and proposing solutions based on near miss data. 

McKinsey anticipates that by 2030, around 70% of companies will be using at least one type of AI technology. However, many businesses still lack the capability to collect data in real-time at the operational level. Without complete and accurate datasets, AI decision making will remain a pipe dream. 

5. Companies will address ESG in a more holistic way. 

The idea that a business’ impact goes far beyond greenhouse gas emissions is something a lot of companies are waking up to. In many ways, this goes back to the events of the past year: the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change policy developments, and the racial justice movement, to name a few.

It also has a lot to do with the adoption of more sophisticated reporting standards, like GRI and SASB. Unlike in the past when companies essentially had free reign to decide what they wanted to report on, these standards provide a framework for what’s expected of companies in terms of their sustainability efforts. 

In 2022, we’ll see companies taking a more holistic view of sustainability — one that considers the entirety of a business’ impact on the world around it. It also means that environmental, social, and economic issues will be taken into consideration at all stages of the business, from material sourcing to production to selling practices.

6. Operational data will drive ESG metrics. 

Along with the focus on holistic ESG, another trend that’s emerging is the shift away from top-down ESG reporting. We’ve noticed this at conferences, as well as in our own conversations with sustainability professionals. 

Companies are interested in gathering operational data at all levels of the organization in order to provide more accurate, granular ESG information. This data comes from a wide range of sources including audits and inspections, readings, sensors, and production systems, as well as both quantitative and qualitative observations from frontline employees. 

Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that EHS mobile applications and industrial wearables are the two most popular technologies for EHS implementations, with 43% and 38% of Verdantix survey respondents respectively planning to use them in the next year. 

7. Managing data is getting harder, but also more important.

In 2022, we'll see the pendulum swing back toward a more data-intensive approach to EHS management. 

This is something we heard a lot about in the early 2010s during the big data movement. However, the movement lost some steam (in EHS at least) in the last few years. This had a lot to do with the fact that more than 100 environmental rules were rolled back under the previous administration. 

We also saw less enforcement from the EPA, including a temporary pause on fines and penalties for companies that failed to report on or meet environmental requirements early in the pandemic. While companies were still (theoretically) tracking environmental data during this time, many simply weren’t doing so with the same level of depth and attention to detail.

Now in 2022 we're seeing another reversal, with more attention than ever before on air, water, and waste data. Whether due to environmental policy developments, investor ESG demands, or a combination of both, we’re hearing from a lot more companies that tracking and reporting this data is a top priority. 

Doing so is getting more difficult. It comes back to what we said before about using operational data to drive reporting. More data sources means more data to clean, integrate, and analyze. Not surprisingly, nearly a third (31%) of Verdantix survey respondents identified data dispersity and complexity as the biggest barrier to improving sustainability data. 

8. Organizations will double down on employee retention.

This goes for both frontline workers and EHS. 

Businesses are experiencing a massive wave of turnover like nothing they’ve seen before. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that a record 4.4 million people — 3% of workers — quit their jobs in September 2021.

Not only that, but recruiting new talent has become more difficult. There simply aren’t enough workers to fill open jobs, and the competition is fierce. Amazon, Aldi, and US Foods have all started offering signing bonuses of $1,000 or more in hopes of luring in new applicants. For knowledge workers (like EHS professionals), the offers are even higher. 

More companies will wake up to the value of attracting the best talent and keeping them around for the long haul. The benefit to businesses is, of course, lower costs, better morale, and higher productivity. 

Some degree of turnover is inevitable, so finding ways to preserve institutional knowledge — such as implementing a centralized software system — is key to making sure critical business knowledge doesn’t walk out the door. 

9. Remote audits & inspections will become the norm. 

As organizations return to the office, many of the changes that happened during the pandemic will stick. One such change is the shift to remote audits and inspections.

Rather than pay for travel, many organizations will continue to complete audits and inspections remotely without having to go on-site. Remote inspections offer numerous advantages over traditional in-person inspections, including better efficiency, lower costs, and fewer disruptions to day-to-day operations. 

What will change: Companies will experiment with new technologies to enable remote inspections. The focus of these efforts will be on streamlining their toolset, with an emphasis on productivity and standardization. Instead of using multiple tools like Zoom, Dropbox, and email, organizations will gravitate toward remote inspection tools that allow them to take photos, record video, add notes, and analyze this information remotely. 

10. Software adoption will skyrocket.

All of the shifts we’ve mentioned above — the COVID-19 pandemic, EHS turnover, executive and investor interest in ESG — have without a doubt increased the demand for EHS digitization. 

Software analysts are predicting this will be a major driver for EHS software market growth. According to the most recent projections, the EHS software market will reach $2.5 billion in 2026, reflecting an 11.5% annual growth rate. It’s clear that companies are going to be investing heavily in technology to digitize traditional EHS activities like audits and inspections, compliance management, and reporting. 

That’s great news for EHS directors and managers, who have been fighting to get a budget for EHS software for some time. The difference in 2022 is that EHS will finally be given the financial resources to make this happen. 

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There you have it: our predictions for the EHS trends that will dominate 2022 and beyond. Stay on top of the latest trends and shifts in the industry throughout the year by subscribing to our EHS blog

Now to you: What are your predictions for the upcoming year? What ideas or changes are you considering in 2022?

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