EHS: 2024 Trends on Tap

22 Jan
EHS 2024 Trends

Environment / Safety

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According to a December 2023 press release, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moved further and faster than ever before to deliver on its mission and protect human health and the environment in 2023. These actions—in addition to other trends in business efficiency, employee safety, and sustainability—have given rise to several new (and some ongoing) challenges and opportunities in environment, health, and safety (EHS). As a new year begins, it is important that companies understand their obligations, assess potential impacts, and prioritize efforts to ensure ongoing compliance and business performance.

Here are some of the top EHS trends KTL is keeping watch on in 2024—and some guidance to help you as you set your EHS strategy for the new year.

New OSHA Reporting Requirements

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is focused on increasing transparency regarding workplace injuries with its new reporting requirements, which are effective as of January 1, 2024. The Administration is requiring organizations with more than 100 employees in certain high-risk industries to electronically submit information from OSHA Forms 300 and 301 to OSHA annually. In addition, certain high-hazard industries are now required to submit case-specific information. The data is intended to allow employers, employees, customers, the public, and other stakeholders to make more informed decisions about workplace health and safety. The deadline to submit information via the Injury Tracking Application is March 2, 2024.

Guidance: Maintaining robust occupational health and safety and incident records becomes even more important with these enhanced reporting requirements. Information technology (IT) tools, such as KTL’s OSHA 300 PowerApp with its comprehensive intake form tailored to OSHA 300 and OSHA 300A requirements, make it easier to collect, search, and analyze data—and maintain OSHA compliance. Using a digital format helps ensure no crucial data points are missed and makes it easy to filter, search, and analyze records and data to offer deeper insights into safety performance.

Climate Change and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Standards

In March 2022, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a proposed ESG Disclosures Rule that would require companies to 1) disclose how they are dealing with oversight and governance of climate-related risks; 2) identify any material climate-related risks and articulate their impacts on financial performance; and 3) provide comprehensive reporting of Scope 1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

Leading the way, California passed its Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act (SB 253) and Climate-Related Financial Risk Act (SB 261) in 2023 to address the physical, human, and financial risks associated with climate change by requiring companies publicly disclose GHG emissions and climate change threats. Thousands of organizations that do business in California will now have to provide carbon emissions data by 2026—and companies across the country need to be prepared to follow suit. 

Guidance: If it isn’t happening already, facilities need to start gathering emissions data, develop and implement a system to track GHG emissions, and create an action plan for climate disclosure. Accurate carbon accounting and energy management will allow companies to gain a deeper understanding of their emissions profiles and implement changes to improve energy efficiency and sustainability. If managed appropriately, these new disclosure requirements can provide a significant opportunity for companies to demonstrate a commitment to corporate social responsibility and improve brand reputation.

EPA Regulatory Enforcement

According to EPA, enforcement has been revitalized. We saw this trend pick up in 2023 with significant investments being made to enforce compliance with the nation’s environmental laws, including $213 million for civil enforcement efforts, $148 million for compliance monitoring efforts, and $69 million for criminal enforcement efforts. The past year has brought increases in onsite inspections, new criminal investigations, civil settlements, and cleanup enforcement. In 2024, EPA intends to continue its enforcement path, holding environmental violators and responsible parties accountable.

Guidance: Facility audits and assessments offer a systematic, objective tool to assess compliance across the workplace and to identify any opportunities for improvement before they become findings in an EPA inspection. These audits can also present an opportunity for organizational learning and development, particularly related to non-conformances. Conduct a gap assessment to evaluate whether processes and systems are functioning as intended, and then implement corrective and preventive actions to ensure compliance, particularly at the time of inspection. Look at the big picture and consider changes in production and business operations that may also change compliance requirements.

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

EPA continues to make significant contributions in research and regulations, according to the PFAS Strategic Roadmap, to confront the human health and environmental risks of PFAS. In October 2023, the Agency finalized two new rules to improve reporting on PFAS. This January, EPA finalized a rule to prevent inactive PFAS from reentering commerce and added seven additional PFAS to Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reporting. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is further working to understand and limit PFAS in food and food packaging.

Guidance: It is important for facilities to have a good understanding of PFAS and PFAS-containing chemicals used onsite, as reporting requirements now apply regardless of the quantity used. Implementing a chemical inventory management system that documents and manages PFAS data can make reporting more efficient and help ensure the facility meets these new requirements. Proper usage strategies, a comprehensive environmental management system (EMS), and a forward-thinking Emergency Response Plan will also remain vital tools for companies potentially dealing with PFAS to effectively manage the associated risks.

Environmental Justice (EJ)

The focus on EJ remains a top priority for the Biden Administration. In November 2023, EPA announced the largest single investment in EJ history, funded by President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. The Community Change Grants build on Biden’s Justice40 Initiative and will provide approximately $2 billion in funding for community-driven projects that deploy clean energy, strengthen climate resilience, and build capacity to manage environmental and climate justice challenges. EPA also launched the EJ Thriving Communities Grantmaking Program to expand its technical assistance and project grants for communities, as well as the  EJScreen screening and mapping tool, which provides EPA with a consistent approach for combining environmental and demographic socioeconomic indicators. 

Guidance: Take the time to understand the communities where you operate—be informed, be prepared, and be proactive. Establish organization priorities and goals and commit the appropriate resources to address EJ concerns. With EPA focused on more regulations, more enforcement, and improved climate change and EJ, environmental management needs to play an integral role in company strategy.

Chemical Safety

EPA is working to strengthen chemical safety with the long-awaited implementation of the 2016 amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). In addition, the Agency has advanced rules to better protect communities from harmful chemicals like TCE and methylene chloride. These rulemakings align with Goal 7 of the FY 2022-2026 EPA Strategic Plan to ensure the safety of chemicals for people and the environment

Guidance: Facilities need to have a good understanding of chemicals used onsite so they can take action now to phase out any regulated chemicals (e.g., TCE), as the phaseout period will be quick. Take an inventory of onsite chemicals to determine what chemicals the facility manufactures, distributes, and/or uses. For many chemicals, safer alternatives may be available to eliminate the use of banned chemicals. Be aware of compliance deadlines as you make the transition.

Other Issues to Watch

The following OSHA issues also ones to watch in 2024:

  • OSHA Hazard Communications Standard (HCS): In 2021, OSHA proposed to modify the HCS to maintain conformity with the United Nations Globally Harmonized System (GHS) revision 7, align certain provisions with Canadian and other U.S. agencies, and address issues with the 2012 HCS. The proposed updates are intended to increase worker protections and reduce the incidence of chemical-related occupational illnesses and injuries by improving the information on labels and safety data sheets (SDS) for hazardous chemicals. The Agency expects to release finalized changes to the HCS in early 2024.
  • OSHA Emergency Response Standard: OSHA has released an unofficial version of its new Emergency Response Proposed Rule and anticipates publication in the Federal Register in January 2024. The proposed rule would replace OSHA’s existing Fire Brigades Standard (29 CFR 1910.156), which covers only a subset of emergency responders. The proposed Rule provides basic workplace protection for workers who respond to emergencies as part of their regularly assigned duties (e.g., fire departments, emergency medical service, and technical search and rescue).
  • OSHA National Emphasis Program (NEP) on Warehousing and Distribution Center Operations: Effective July 13, 2023, OSHA announced an NEP for inspections at warehousing and distribution centers, mail/postal processing and distribution centers, and other high-risk retail establishments. The comprehensive safety inspections will focus on workplace hazards common to those industries, including powered industrial vehicle operations, material handling/storage, walking-working surfaces, means of egress, and fire protection.

Set Your Goals for 2024

There is a common need across industry to manage emerging EHS risks with solutions that also provide transparency, security, and sustainability. Heightened EPA enforcement, new OSHA reporting requirements, and pending SEC requirements for ESG are necessitating solutions to help manage business and EHS requirements—and that will continue in 2024.

KTL suggests completing the following early in 2024:

  • Get senior leadership commitment. Even with the best EHS personnel, the organization and its EHS system will only be as good as the top leadership and what is important to them.
  • Conduct a comprehensive gap assessment to ensure you are meeting the requirements of all applicable EHS regulations, particularly given new environmental, health and safety, and ESG requirements. Think critically about what you have and how overlapping requirements may apply (e.g., your chemical inventory may uncover requirements for air permitting, waste management, Tier II report, etc.). This assessment should be the starting place for understanding your regulatory obligations and current compliance status.
  • Seek third-party oversight. Having external experts periodically look inside your company provides an objective view of operations, helps you to prepare for audits, and allows you to implement corrective/preventive actions that ensure compliance. An outside expert can often provide the “big picture” view of what you have vs. what you need; how your plans, programs, and requirements intersect; and how you can best comply.
  • Create an integrated management system (e.g., ISO 9001/14001/45001) by finding commonalities between the standards and leveraging pieces of each to develop a reliable system that works for your organization. 
  • Leverage IT solutions—whether to inventory chemicals and GHG emissions, track OSHA performance, or manage compliance requirements. Technology advancements can help create significant business efficiencies.

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