Traditionally, companies have been so focused on meeting compliance regulations when it comes to Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) that they have failed to see the strategic value it can provide by improving quality, ensuring workforce safety, helping to recruit new talent, and ultimately improving the bottom line. Fortunately, that is changing.
The Evolution of EHS Management
The need for EHS management began during the Industrial Revolution. Understandably, the transition from farms to factories accelerated the need for safety regulations. And then, in 1984, the call for regulations strengthened when a Union Carbide pesticide plant in India had an accidental leak that exposed over half a million people to toxic gasses. At the time, it was called the worst industrial accident in history. The disaster drew public attention to the importance of processes and procedures to protect employees, as well as the public at large.
Around the same time, people were beginning to express concern over the environmental impacts of industrialization - the increasing consumption of fossil fuels, the disruption of natural habitats, and the release of pollutants. This led to the creation of a new set of International Standards Organization (ISO) guidelines to address the safety of the workplace as well as the environment in which it operates.
ISO standards, such as ISO 14001, which maps out a framework for companies to follow to set up an effective environmental management system; or ISO 45001, which specifies the requirements needed to provide safe and healthy workplaces, are well known and documented. What’s not as well-known is how these same procedures and processes can also lead to increased productivity, higher quality, and improve the bottom-line.
Yet, transforming EHS from a compliance requirement into a strategic initiative isn’t just about making minor changes to decades-old processes and programs. It requires creating an enterprise-wide safety culture, driven by new processes, automation and training.
Automating EHS Processes
A core component of any effective EHS program is accurate and consistent inspections and reporting, and for years one supplier was completing its monthly safety inspection reporting entirely on paper, then mailing it to a third-party vendor for processing and entry into an online system. The costs associated with conducting and replicating that process alone, throughout its thousand-plus retail locations involving hundreds of employees, was astronomical, not to mention inefficient. The company knew it needed to not only automate the inspections, but also add mobile capabilities with real-time notifications and insights for more accurate safety reporting.
Automating this inspection process saved the company tens of thousands of dollars in annual postage and third-party processing/data entry fees. It has enabled employees to take a mobile device across a work site and perform inspections without having to come back to a computer to scan any paper documents or mail paperwork. It also led to major efficiency gains for the teams performing the inspections. With the elimination of the data collection, mailing, and data entry cycle, results are available almost immediately, leading to more timely insights and the ability to react more rapidly to any identified concerns.
The ability to centralize the data and customize it at a regional level allowed for rapid adjustments, giving locations a more granular safety inspection set based on their region and geography. It also provided greater visibility to analyze the data and gain insights into key trends that could impact safety. In addition to compliance, cost and productivity gains, automating its EHS processes provided greater confidence in the company’s overall safety risk profile and its ability to make informed real-time decisions.
So how can you transform EHS from a compliance requirement into a strategic initiative in your organization? Consider the following four steps:
- Engage leadership. For any business initiative to work, it must be supported from the top down. The first step is to establish an organizational EHS vision. Safety compliance can’t just be a talking point or a marketing claim. It’s crucial that managers embrace EHS as a core corporate tenant which will enable them to translate fundamental ideas into actionable strategies and tactics. Identifying specific examples of where a focus on safety has already had a positive impact on the direction of the company will help company leaders understand the value beyond compliance.
- Control what you can. One of the biggest responsibilities of any EHS department is to control and mitigate risks by taking a proactive approach. Break each job down to its operational steps and analyze those steps for potential safety hazards, the risk of those hazards occurring and preventive measures for each. Consider safety incidents encompassing more than workforce injuries, to include the broad range of incidents that occur, such as leaving tools inside a machine that could cause damage, dropping an item that shatters on the floor, and other potentially dangerous situations. By integrating with a risk assessment tool, you can assign overall risk ratings to jobs and identify hazards before they occur.
- Believe in the power of data. Increasingly, companies are integrating EHS data, processes and workflows into their quality management systems, and empowering corporate leaders to make more informed strategic decisions in real-time. Doing so not only enables them to achieve ISO compliance, minimize workplace hazards, and support strategic sustainability goals, but drives quality excellence and creates value.
- Make reporting key. Create a central location where all incidents and accidents are recorded, investigated, and addressed to reduce the chance of reoccurrence. Take advantage of templates to submit safety reports to agencies like OSHA and use an EHS system to automatically initiate incident reporting. Broad visibility has several benefits: employees know the organization cares about safety, suggestions for improvement are encouraged, and customers gain trust in the organization, all while reducing overall risk.
According to LNS Research survey data, organizations increasingly are making EHS a top priority within their enterprise business objectives. Yet, for too long EHS goals have been viewed simply as operational compliance issues. By building a commitment to EHS as a key organizational pillar, companies not only boost the safety of their workforce, locations, and customers, but they build the integrity of their brand and the financial strength of their organization along the way.