EHS compliance in 2023: What our experts say is coming
We surveyed our experts for their thoughts on the most impactful trends for businesses today. Here’s what they said you should be aware of.
New year, new … outlook on EHS compliance. At this time of year, it’s traditional to look ahead and make some predictions for the 12 months to come. We can safely say that environmental health and safety (EHS) regulations around the world continue to influence progress towards safer workplaces and more sustainable businesses. However, which areas will be most affected in 2023? We asked our experts to nominate the trends that they see dominating the EHS agenda this year—and the answers were not entirely predictable.
The ‘big picture’ on EHS compliance trends
By far the most common category, highlighted in some way by more than half of our experts, was environmental issues. This included a wide range of topics, from air emissions to waste management.
The second-most common category of trends identified was health and safety at work, which was highlighted by 16% of our experts. This, too, covered a range of issues, including managing chemicals, teleworking and remote working, and occupational health and safety. The third category they identified was general compliance management, highlighted by 12% of our experts. Issues here included plastic and other emerging forms of pollution, and recycling.
The final 2 categories were each mentioned by 8% of respondents. They were sustainability considerations and reporting requirements. However, looking at the topics covered, there’s certainly overlap with some of the other categories, suggesting that these trends might turn out to be rather bigger than expected.
It’s worth digging a little deeper into the detail to explore the areas that were highlighted by our experts. In particular, why did they select those topics?
More stringent enforcement on environmental issues
The category of environmental issues was a wide one. Environmental issues are becoming much more important across geographies. On top of changing legislation, there are clear signs that enforcement is likely to be stronger, too. For example, the Biden administration in the US made clear that climate change would be a priority – already prepared to be much stronger on implementing existing legislation before coming into office.
“With a stricter Toxic Substances Control Act, industry will likely see an increase in enforcement of chemical management requirements. For example, the Chemical Data Reporting data was reported to the Environmental Protection Agency by companies in November 2020. It is likely that a Biden-EPA will use that new data to increase enforcement on companies.”
In the European Union area, there are also proposals to update and amend existing legislation, which will drive changes in enforcement.
“The European Commission issued a proposal to update the Environmental Crime Directive last year (the proposal is now being discussed by the EP and the Council). If adopted, the updates would bring enhancements for cross-border judicial cooperation, establish stricter penalties for environmental offenses, and promote better law enforcement by national environmental authorities.”
Experts mentioned specific issues around emissions, including both air emissions and carbon emissions. Like other regulations, emission levels are likely to become increasingly stringent, and the associated cap and trade systems therefore harder to achieve.
Finally, waste management, including wastewater management, was an issue mentioned by several different experts. It has been an important area for some time now, highlighted by the EU’s introduction of its Green Deal in 2019. However, it is becoming more important in individual member states as legislation is enacted to deliver the EU Green Deal.
“[Waste management] has been a trend, such as in Spain, where legislation has been enacted to ensure circularity of materials and disincentivize the use of plastic products with import/export restrictions and bans.”
The general category of waste management covers both a general issue and more specific concerns about particular types of waste. The general issue is ensuring better, more efficient use of resources, including renewable energy. This is very much associated with climate change, and the higher priority that has been placed on that across the world. We can expect to see this pressure continue into 2023 and beyond.
The more specific concerns cover certain types of waste, especially plastic and emerging contaminants such as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These issues were also raised in the context of compliance management issues.
“As scientific consensus continues to grow on the carcinogenic and other negative health impacts of PFAS, regulators around the world are taking notice and taking action.”
Improving health and safety at work
Like environmental issues, the category of health and safety at work covered several areas, but 2 in particular stand out. The first is chemicals management in workplaces. This is linked to environmental issues, but is also following a longer-term trend, especially in the US.
“Under the Trump Administration, there has been an increase in chemical regulations and enforcement. Under President Biden, an increase in chemical regulation will likely not only continue, but possibly ramp up.”
The second issue is the rise of teleworking and remote working. This has become a much more important issue for many companies since the start of the pandemic.
“The pandemic caused significant changes in attitudes to remote working. It has also given rise to new regulations and guidelines about the expectations and obligations of both employers and employees. Companies have to provide additional support to safeguard employees’ health and safety at home as well as in the workplace.”
Reporting requirements emerge from stronger enforcement
One of the implications of stronger enforcement of EHS compliance is the need for better data and reporting. This means that the requirements for environmental, social and governance reporting are ramping up around the world—and we don’t see this changing the next few years.
“There is a growing push towards certification and mandatory reporting linked to sustainability, and particularly environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting.”
Overall, our experts suggest that we are likely to see increased focus on environmental issues in the coming year. There is likely to be particular emphasis on ESG and sustainability reporting – and on transparency therein – and this can only be supported by solid EHS compliance metrics.
Maintaining EHS compliance in 2023 will require much more
Of all the ways our experts see EHS compliance evolving in 2023, one thing is clear: there’s more to keep track of – and stay in line with overall. Not only will businesses need to ensure the protection of health, safety, and environment against more (and more stringent) regulations but also that regulatory landscape is expanding to include more areas of consideration. From safeguarding the well-being of teleworkers to ramping up sustainability reporting to be more transparent – is your business ready for all that’s coming next?