Flashback: Revisiting Our 2020 EHS Trend Predictions

Each year in January, we write a list of our predictions of the biggest trends that will impact the industry. And each year in December, we look back at our predictions to see what we got right and what we missed.

A lot has happened since we hit 'publish' on our trend forecast for 2020: Devastating Australian and West Coast wildfires. The coronavirus pandemic. A global recession. A wave of Black Lives Matter protests. A massive explosion in Beirut. An impeachment, and a tumultuous U.S. presidential election.

In spite of all this, many of our predictions on the trends that would shape the industry this year held true — although in some surprising ways. Here's a look back:

Prediction 1: EHS software spending will increase

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, executives hit the brakes on EHS software investments as they focused on cutting costs and keeping the lights on. However, COVID-19 has further increased business’ need for these technologies.

The focus of most businesses now is protecting workers, reducing risk, and minimizing disruption to their operations. Safety is essential to reopening and economic recovery, and tools that give leaders granular visibility into real-time safety performance have become mission-critical.

However, budgets are still tight. To bridge the gap, some software vendors have offered deferred payment options or reduced pricing in 2020. Low-cost, standardized solutions can be implemented quickly for a fraction of the cost of older custom systems, making them an appealing choice for cash-strapped businesses.

Prediction 2. Mobile EHS apps will be a must-have

The pandemic has accelerated the shift from traditional to remote work. Mobile apps, as a result, are in high demand.

Remote workers need to be able to access their information from any device, anywhere. Mobile apps provide a secure way for EHS teams to access their tasks and data from home. In addition, mobile apps allow EHS teams to conduct audits and inspections remotely without the need for a site visit. And, they’re able to stay connected with workers even when they're not physically present on-site.

Organizations that were already using mobile solutions before the pandemic have been able to adapt more quickly. In fact, teams that were using Perillon noted that they were able to maintain their normal workflows while working from home.

For organizations that have not yet adopted mobile EHS apps, now is the time to do so. Going forward, remote work is expected to be the new normal. One in six workers will continue working from home at least part of the time after the pandemic is over, according to a recent survey by economists at Harvard Business School.

Prediction 3: Connected worker solutions will transform safety practices

This year, organizations have experimented with using existing connected worker solutions in new ways. For example, the NFL and NBA are using wearable sensors to monitor social distancing and enable contact tracing. The pandemic has also spurred a new wave of wearable technologies, including wristbands that help monitor a person’s temperature, masks that help clean the air around you, and wearables that alert employees when they’re too close to one another.

Prediction 4. Organizations of all sizes will invest in cloud-based EHS software

Remote work has also accelerated the shift to the cloud. As we said in our original forecast, cloud-based EHS software offers many benefits that aren’t possible with traditional on-premise solutions, including lower costs, faster implementations, and fewer burdens on IT. And, cloud solutions enable teams to access both the software and their data from anywhere, securely — something that’s essential for a remote workforce.

In fact, Gartner noted that despite spending slowdowns in other areas, enterprise cloud spending actually increased in 2020. Going forward, the research firm predicts a 4% global increase in overall IT spending in 2021 over 2020.

Prediction 5. New safety concerns will dominate the conversation

When we wrote our trend forecast back in January, we had no idea how accurate this prediction would soon be. We anticipated that issues like workplace violence, opioid abuse, and marijuana use would be among the biggest challenges for safety professionals. That remains true, but issues like the coronavirus pandemic and racial justice have also come to the forefront this year.

No matter what challenges you’re facing, keeping the lines of communication open between front-line workers, supervisors, safety professionals, and executives is crucial. Open and honest communication builds trust and helps ensure everyone feels safe and secure.

Prediction 6. Deregulation will continue

As we predicted, deregulation has continued throughout 2020. One of the most noteworthy changes this year was the temporary suspension of EPA enforcement in response to COVID-19. Early data shows that some facilities conducted fewer emission tests and polluted more following the EPA’s rollback of enforcement. However, many other facilities have held the line or ramped up their sustainability efforts.

Likewise, OSHA enforcement has declined in 2020 — despite thousands of worker complaints — leaving employers to police themselves during a deadly pandemic. The lack of clear coronavirus standards has also left individual employers with the daunting task of coming up with their own ways to meet health guidelines.

Prediction 7. More companies will set science-based emissions targets

Climate action has been one bright spot in 2020. Global emissions decreased by 8% in the first half of the year due to coronavirus shutdowns. Many companies — including Walmart, Duke Energy, BP, and Ford Motor Company — took advantage of this momentum and announced science-based emissions targets. Since last year, the number of net zero commitments from businesses and local governments has doubled, according to a report from the Data-Driven EnviroLab and the New Climate Institute.

Prediction 8: Employers will adapt to an aging workforce

During the pandemic, older workers have adjusted to remote work better than their younger colleagues. And, they've been better at adapting to measures that counter COVID-19, such as mask-wearing and social distancing.

Not all employers are preserving the knowledge and skills older workers have, though. Research shows that older workers face higher rates of unemployment during the pandemic than mid-career workers. Some of this discrepancy is due to older workers choosing not to return amid health concerns. But the research also shows that older workers have been disproportionately affected by layoffs. Unless employers act quickly, this valuable wisdom and perspective will be lost forever.

Prediction 9: More organizations will pursue ISO 45001

The ISO 45001 standard is designed to help employers reduce risks and respond to threats to employee safety and health. As such, organizations with an ISO 45001 management system in place were well-positioned to respond to the virus.

Now, the ISO standard is evolving to meet the changing needs of today’s workplace. The ISO 45001 transition deadline was extended from March to September 2021 to give companies more time to make the switch. And, work is underway to develop a new complementary standard — ISO 45003 — that provides guidance on managing psychological health and safety risks at work.

Prediction 10: EHS professionals will wear more hats

From securing PPE, to providing critical solutions to safety challenges, to communicating policies throughout the pandemic, EHS professionals have played a pivotal role in the virus response. After years of being seen as the “safety police”, the message is now clear: EHS is a strategic partner in the business and, as such, deserves a seat at the table.

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