History has shown that predicting the headline grabbing environmental health issues of tomorrow can be difficult. However, we can glean insights into some of the challenges likely to emerge by looking at large scale trends impacting people and businesses around the globe. Anticipating these challenges can help risk managers, business owners and environmental professionals begin to prepare for what is coming down the road.
Peering into this crystal ball and mapping a pathway forward has been the central focus of the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s “Content Portfolio Advisory Group”. FACS has had the honor of being able to participate as a volunteer on this team. The discussion below provides some perspectives on the work of this team through a discussion of how global megatrends in five key areas are shaping the environmental health field.
- Technology & Innovation. Remote sensor technologies continue to evolve and fuel a rapid increase in sensor deployment, generating volumes of data on agents in the environment. This is driving more focused and personalized exposure characterizations, and is enabling crowd sourced aggregation and analysis of this data. When coupled with advances in personalized genetics, risks can be assessed more granularly on specific groups of workers and even on individual risk profiles.
- Global Change & Markets. The continued globalization of commerce is bringing more emerging market hazards into developed market products and risk environments. The increased transparency of these supply chains is shifting responsibility for managing risks and liabilities across borders, as overseas environmental health support is often non-existent or is early in its development.
- Changing Society & Workplace. As awareness and understanding of environmental health issues continues to evolve, there is an increasing emphasis on hazard prevention and sustainability. When coupled with the increased understanding of individual risk profiles discussed above, this drives a greater emphasis on “total worker health”, evaluating the range of exposures and other factors influencing an individual’s overall health and well being.
- Policy & Regulation. As access to data increases along with transparency in its analysis, there has been an increase in the power of “citizen science” and online influence campaigns to shape policy and regulation. This has led to an increased questioning of traditional scientific research and authority. With this challenge comes an increased need to diligently advocate for science-based decision making and build trust among stakeholders.
- Knowledge, Education, & Research. The increasing torrent of data, crowd sourced data analysis, and innovations in artificial intelligence are changing the nature of how professionals process and explain data. The challenge lies in keeping up with these advances, leveraging them to make well-reasoned decisions, and articulating conclusions to a more informed, critical audience.
Theses megatrends are transforming long-standing norms and challenging those responsible with managing environmental health issues to evolve in response to a more complex and engaged world. While these changes may be disruptive, they have the potential to dramatically improve the health and well being of our communities through improved risk identification and management.