Gateway to the Future of EHS: A 2020 Symposium Recap

Each year, the Campbell Institute brings together EHS professionals from across industries to exchange best practices and benchmark with each other on leading-edge topics.

The Symposium focuses on the future of EHS. This includes emerging trends like digital transformation, new thinking in risk, sustainability and worker wellbeing and how these affect the EHS professional.  

Digital Transformation

Digital transformation isn’t without its new challenges, however. There are three major categories of new risk created in most digital transformation projects that EHS professionals need to be aware of: cybersecurity, distraction and complacency, and user acceptance

First, cybersecurity, both on the job and off the job. There are organizations that have all the resources in the world to build the first truly smart factory – but hesitate because of the challenges of keeping that factory secure from outside interference. Additionally, the “domino effect’ of connectedness can create its own set of risks – one small thing going wrong or being hacked can be the straw that breaks the back of a production facility or a power grid.

Second, distraction and complacency. Mobile phones are probably the best example of this. Not only in safety-sensitive positions, but even in situations such as the one we’re in today, distraction is everywhere. Next time you’re at a safety conference, watch how many people walk with their phones in front of them – even upstairs or on escalators! But less visible is the potential for information devices to make us passive and risk-tolerant. When we’re fed instructions (such as in YouTube videos) we may feel confident in performing even extremely dangerous tasks. Multiply this by years and years of getting used to this way of working and there’s a recipe for serious risk.

Third, user acceptance. One of the biggest barriers in any digital transformation project is culture. When it comes to data privacy and trust, even projects with the best of intentions can go awry and begin to chip away not just at that project but at the broader culture of the organization when it comes to safety. Failure in this sense is not just limited to the small bubble of the wearable or co-bot you’re implementing, but the years you’ve spent building credibility for EHS.

New Thinking In Risk

One good example of this is the many recent advancements in what is known as Serious Injury & Fatality Prevention or “SIF” science.

To understand how to prevent serious injuries and fatalities, we turn to a classic concept in workplace health and safety, Heinrich’s safety triangle. In this original conception, Heinrich theorized that for every major injury or fatality, there were 29 minor injuries and 300 non-injury incidents. While this triangle was accepted as the gold standard for many years, safety professionals today realize that there is a flaw in this theory, namely that not all non-injury incidents are equal in terms of their potential for resulting in SIF. Only some near misses have the precursors that could lead to recordable injuries, lost time injuries, and even fatalities. In order to prevent SIF from occurring, many organizations have realized that they cannot look at the entire triangle, at least not in the way Heinrich originally conceived of it. Instead, they have to isolate that part of the triangle with the potential for SIF and prevent those incidents from occurring.


…yields increased business returns

…enhances company reputation

…builds organizational trust

…stimulates safety

Investment in safety and sustainable practices yield tangible, quantifiable business returns and also enhanced reputation/brand, organizational trust, and employee engagement. In this sense, it’s clear that safety is sustainability.

Worker Wellbeing

Another major trend we’ve seen is an increased level of attention for EHS professionals to address health and wellbeing. Usually, this is done in partnership with another member of the organization – often medical or HR – but in some cases, we’ve seen the safety function own wellbeing entirely. We’ve published several research papers on this topic, covering everything from the fundamentals of wellbeing programs to leading indicators of health and wellness. The drivers for the focus on health and wellbeing, beyond the demographic impetus to look at the topic, have been mostly around cultural necessity and cost control. Employees increasingly expect a strong and multi-faceted wellbeing program, and to most effectively manage health issues and get out in front of them, employers must resource them adequately.

Read more about the research we have done in this space.

There was so much more to the future of EHS. We encourage you to join us next year in Louisville, Kentucky to be part of the conversation!

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