5 trends to watch & how to drive safety best practices in your firm
by Matt Airhart
March 23, 2016

Early indicators suggest that 2016 will bring many challenges to environment, health and safety (EHS) professionals in the construction industry. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has taken measures to push through long-awaited regulatory shifts that empower the agency to better identify violators and hold them accountable. In general, the industry continues its progress toward greater environmental obligations and EHS transparency. The effective implementation of EHS software and other technologies can help you minimize operational risks, promote financial stability and drive performance. The following are five EHS trends in the construction industry to watch in 2016.

1. More Complex Safety Regulations & Penalties

Several recent OSHA developments have resulted in tougher safety regulations and stricter violator penalties for employers. The first concerns the way OSHA handles inspections. Instead of being directed to conduct a set number of inspections, inspectors will now be required to meet a certain number of units. Under the new system, more complicated inspections will be worth more units. This adjustment allows inspectors to spend more time on complex inspections, especially relating to hazards that can lead to the most serious consequences. Another development is the validation of OSHA's authority over multi-location hazard abatement. A recent court ruling by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) confirmed the agency's power to compel businesses with multiple locations to conduct an enterprise-wide abatement of hazards in those locations. Additionally, a provision in OSHA's approved budget allows it to increase the maximum limit for fines by 80 percent. It is the first time OSHA's fines have increased in 25 years.

The final development is the recent agreement between the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) prioritizing the pursuit of criminal charges against individuals who willfully lie or mislead inspectors about matters related to employee safety.

Prosecutors can now charge other serious offenses that often occur in association with OSH Act violations. Penalties range from 5 to 20 years of incarceration and include significant fines. These changes add more operational risks to the already complex compliance requirements faced by companies. To help control safety and compliance risks, many contractors are turning to comprehensive EHS software platforms with tools for high-priority items to root out workplace hazards before OSHA ever arrives.

These software solutions many available through the cloud give you the ability to track deadlines, implement corrective actions and deploy employee trainings in real time. With better access to EHS information across your organization, you can more easily identify areas that need improvement and ensure that your overall safety goals are being met.

2. GHS & the Future of Chemical Safety

OSHA's final deadline for the adoption of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) comes June 1. By this date, OSHA expects employers covered by the revised HazCom Standard to be in full compliance with the new GHS provisions. Since 2012, HazCom violations have ranked second on OSHA's annual top-10 list of violations, with the most common citations issued for failure to maintain a written HazCom plan, lack of training, labeling failures and issues related to employee access to safety data sheets (SDS). Expect increased scrutiny on chemical safety, and continue to make HazCom compliance a priority to avoid potential penalties or fines. The best electronic chemical management solutions today are cloud based, mobile enabled and cover a range of chemical management activities.

GHS adoption has accelerated the influx of new safety data sheets, so you will need to actively manage your safety-data-sheet library. A good electronic solution provider, with a robust program for acquiring SDS, can help automate the process of updating safety data sheets by providing areas to automatically supply updated documents as they become available. Today's cloud solutions are often easier and less expensive than paper-based systems, and provide a better view into your hazardous chemical footprint.

3. Spotlight on Temporary & Contract Workers & Workers on Multi-Employer Worksites

Over the last year, OSHA has put a greater focus on those employees that it fears too often fall through the EHS cracks, particularly temporary and contract workers and workers on multi-employer worksites. One issue in particular that the agency has targeted is training. Temporary employment arrangements and multi-employer sites have created confusion over the responsibility for complying with health and safety standards and conducting the required training. In response, OSHA has published numerous directives, guides and web resources outlining the responsibilities of employers to ensure everyone exposed to hazards on the jobsite are covered.

Despite widespread agreement on the value of safety training programs, several factors in the construction industry often pose significant obstacles when it comes to execution, including the number of people needing it, the broad range of topics that must be covered, the costs and difficulties of delivering it and the time and resources required to track compliance.

One way companies are meeting the challenges of workplace training is through the use of on-demand solutions. A flexible system, with a large library of courses to choose from, can be used to deploy training to one or all of your employees through an easy-to-use online interface. It's cost effective and allows the employer to work within tight budgets and employee time constraints. With a comprehensive system, you will also get tools for staying on top of training deadlines with email alerts sent automatically, ahead of due dates.

4. Increased Demand for Safety in the Field

As more employers see the role EHS plays in improving productivity by reducing the types of injuries and illnesses that lead to work stoppages and costly workers' compensation claims, there has been a push to make EHS tools more available on jobsites. Even the most committed safety professional can run into issues ensuring all safety needs are being met by the teams of workers operating independently, sometimes over a large worksite. Today's best EHS software platforms are accessible on mobile devices, making it easier for supervisors to report compliance and safety concerns from the field, automatically sending alerts up the chain of command within moments and making it easier to correct issues as they happen. In a high-performance industry like construction, strict deadlines and budget constraints often displace safety concerns. Mobile is helping to give the edge back to the safety team by making it possible to share the responsibility for health, safety and compliance with workers. By giving supervisors faster and easier access to critical EHS information and tools, safety can be everyone's job.

5. Move Toward Transparency & Visibility

The strategic use of data to create competitive advantages is a key initiative across many industries. And when applied to EHS, many companies are finding the benefits go beyond compliance and safety, and actually help drive productivity gains that improve the bottom line. For many companies, the hard part is getting the necessary data in an actionable form. Spreadsheets and legacy software system often make the collection of data more difficult than it should be. If systems aren't easy, people won't use them and the resulting data is incomplete. On the other hand, a well-designed, single-point EHS platform engages users and makes the collection of quality data easier. With better data, analyzing trends and making EHS decisions gets easier. Additionally, the information is available to everyone in the organization in real time.