here are companies out there who ‘get it’, and others who don’t. Those that get it are companies who invest in the growth of their EHS staff and include the EHS function in business decision making. Most importantly these companies understand their own risks, leading to them hiring the best equipped EHS professionals for the job. A top-down understanding of a company’s risks and dedication to a safe and healthy workplace differentiate companies who ‘get it’ from those who don’t. The companies who ‘get it’ are prized employers for EHS leaders as they are a rare find.

Each year, the National Safety Council dedicates an entire issue of Safety & Health Magazine to “CEOs who Get It”. This annual issue applauds CEOs for their dedication to making safety and important part of their organization’s success. The title of the award itself sheds light on the fact that often, CEOs don’t ‘get it’. 

Economist Milton Friedman suggested that the main purpose of a business is to maximize profit for owners and shareholders. However, as philosophers have suggested for ages and the current market is showing us now, there is a social expectation for business to be a force for good in the world. That social expectation is why labor unions emerged during the industrial revolution, why OSHA was established in 1971, and why the EPA tracks and regulates the pollutants a factory releases into the atmosphere. Early on, some businesses refused to play by the rules, polluted ground water in their communities, neglected the safety of their workforce, and destroyed local ecosystems. Regulation was needed to ensure the social expectations of business were followed and potential victims protected.

It is easy to become laser focused on profit maximization and forget about the social expectations of business, but the two go hand in hand. Nowhere else is this social expectation more evident than with the employees who work to generate profit for the company. If an employee or group of employees feel unsafe performing their work, they will flee to an employer who makes them feel safe. Soon, the company is known throughout the community as a bad employer. Retaining employees becomes more difficult and hiring new talent is even harder. Productivity slips because the workforce is short-handed, or the employees do not work as hard. Then the company begins to lose customers because of poor product quality or inability to meet product demand. Before long, the company is either acquired or closed altogether.

Companies that ‘get it’ know that a strong EHS focus can help an organization maximize profits while abiding by the social and regulatory expectations placed upon them. It starts with the organization understanding its risk exposures from the top-down. Many companies do not have a basic understanding of their own operational risks. Look at a random job posting for an EHS professional and prepare to see a list of duties devoid of any specificity. Maybe the posting will have a degree requirement, or maybe a requirement for an obscure trade certification (because the last Safety Guy had one), but very rarely will the posting have specific information on the risks the EHS professional is being sought to manage. This type of job posting tells an EHS leader two things, the company does not value EHS and the company does not know itself.

If a company wants to attract and keep EHS leaders, there are a few things that need to be conveyed to potential candidates. The EHS function must be included in the company’s key operational decisions. Things such as implementing new equipment or adding another shift are operational decisions that an EHS professional must be aware of and can weigh in on. Even the smallest of business decisions can increase a company’s risk exposure exponentially. Let’s not forget that a single O-ring caused the Challenger disaster.

There needs to be a sincere commitment to maintaining a safe environment for employees from top management. If there is no commitment, even the most skilled EHS leader will have trouble fulfilling the needs of the organization. In the reporting structure, an EHS leader should report to the sites senior manager. This allows EHS initiatives to have the highest visibility possible and the backing these initiatives need to be driven forward.

Being a company that ‘gets it’ is not easy, if it was everyone would be doing it. However, being able to count yourself among those companies pays dividends. In a company that ‘gets it’, employees are happier, customers are happier, the company is viewed better in the community, profits are better, productivity improves, losses decrease, and the workforce sticks around. All it requires is a balanced management approach that ensures that all parts of the corporate structure work together to fulfill the company’s mission. It is a management approach that builds leaders in EHS and beyond.

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Dave Knight is the founder of Orient Safety, an EHS consulting firm in Goshen, Indiana. To learn more about the services Orient Safety provides, visit us HERE. As a free offering to potential customers, Orient Safety provides a free incident reporting app for your business HERE. Connect with Orient Safety on Facebook and LinkedIn.  To get Orient Safety’s semi-monthly newsletter, subscribe HERE.

 

Traits of Today’s EHS Professional

The job of an EHS professional is a difficult one. To be successful, an EHS pro must possess a mix of technical knowledge, business acumen, leadership ability, and emotional intelligence. The days of the “safety cop” are over. Today’s EHS professionals are called upon to lead up, lead laterally, and lead down; all while having the technical knowledge and business acumen to make sound decisions regarding a business’s regulatory matters.

The Issue of Ambiguity

One of the biggest issues I have seen in industry is that companies do not have a clear definition of the EHS professional’s role. This leads to a disparity in EHS roles and responsibilities across an organization, confusion in reporting status of the EHS professional, and several interpretations of what the professional is responsible for (oftentimes within a single facility). This lack of clarity reduces the ability of the EHS profession to attain the status and influence it deserves within an organization.

The Specialist-Generalist

Production makes things, purchasing buys things, shipping ships things, maintenance fixes things, and engineering designs things. The EHS role does a little bit of everything. An EHS professional deals with people on a personal level much like human resources, works with maintenance to repair and install pertinent safety equipment for machinery, works with purchasing to procure adequate personal protective equipment at reasonable prices, works with production to reduce injuries related to processes, and works with engineering to ensure designs for equipment and products have safety features and comply with regulatory requirements. This is just a short list of the business functions an EHS pro interacts with on a professional level.

The Tightrope

No other profession has such a need to understand the inner workings of a company’s business processes as the EHS professional. An EHS pro must function as both a generalist and a specialist and be able to fluctuate between these mindsets minute by minute throughout the work day. In addition, the EHS pro must walk a thin line between protecting the company and protecting the people within the company and the community the company operates in, all while adhering to regional and federal regulatory requirements.

Friend or Foe?

Oftentimes, the EHS professional must make decisions that are not perceived as being in the best interest of the company but beneficial the personnel of a company or regulatory agencies. This can be a difficult line to walk and is the difference between a hired hand and a true EHS professional. It is well known that regulation is a source of frustration for businesses, which makes the role of the EHS pro even more difficult. The EHS pro is an internal representative of law and regulation, which is frequently viewed as the devil’s advocate, a roadblock, or the internal enemy of an organization’s progress.

The Results of Unclear Direction

This is where the clear picture of an EHS professional’s roles and responsibilities and management commitment to regulatory compliance throughout an organization is sorely needed. If absent, these two things are detrimental to the success of the EHS role within an organization. This leads to turnover of EHS professionals, a decline in regulatory compliance, and increased incident rates within a company. The result is an often-overlooked cost of doing business; higher workers’ compensation premiums, higher premiums for property and liability insurance, regulatory fines, being shut-down by regulatory authorities, lost productivity, or an increased risk of fatality and total loss.

To be continued…

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to share it with your friends, colleagues, bosses, supervisors, managers, and CEOs. Stay tuned for Environmental Health & Safety Leadership: Part II. We will continue to explore the makings of an EHS leader, developing an EHS position’s roles and responsibilities, where EHS belongs in a company’s reporting structure, and how internal communication can make or break EHS performance within an organization.

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Dave Knight is the founder of Orient Safety, an EHS consulting firm in Goshen, Indiana. To learn more about the services Orient Safety provides, visit us HERE. As a free offering to potential customers, Orient Safety provides a free incident reporting app for your business HERE. Connect with Orient Safety on Facebook and LinkedIn.


Pointing Fingers

 

Now that I have your attention, I’d like to turn your attention to a belief system that continues to injure employees in every industry.  I call it the “blame game”.  When I go out and investigate an incident or injury, the first thing I hear is “Joe should have been doing XYZ, that’s why he got hurt!”.  While Joe may have failed to follow a procedure to a T, received inadequate training to perform his job, tried to take a shortcut, or maybe Joe just isn’t the sharpest tool in the chest; Joe is not the problem.  It is time we stop blaming people and investigate work related incidents more thoroughly.

He was just not paying attention, right?

If he was working instead of goofing off, how could he have possibly gotten hurt?  You only get hurt if you are goofing off and “not paying attention” right?  I get that a lot in incident reports for root causes, “employee was not paying attention and got hurt”.  Before Joe was injured he had to have been doing something reasonably related to his job, if not we would never have work related injuries and I’d be out of a job.  So it is safe to assume that Joe was participating in production when he was hurt, regardless of what he did or failed to do; Joe was performing duties related to one of the company’s processes.  Joe…Was…Working.

There has to be Someone to Blame!

If the problem is not Joe, whose fault is it?  While at a micro level there may be plenty of blame to go around, it is impossible to target the single accountable person that allowed Joe to get hurt.  Why?  The fault lies within the process Joe was performing; the work, the product, and perhaps even the environment.  The purpose of an investigation is to drill down to the single most important factor that allowed Joe to be involved in the accident.  That is the root cause, if not for that one factor Joe would not have been hurt.  That is not to say that other factors were not also at play which contributed to the incident; but a good, solid investigation should uncover both.

It was all about Technique.

Once Root Cause and contributing factors have been gathered, the next step is to devise corrective actions.  Corrective actions are meant to ensure the same incident never happens again, correcting the root cause and if applicable the contributing factors.  However, these should also focus on the process and not on the person.  Take for instance these two hypothetical situations.  An employee struck by a falling object and another who smashed his finger while hammering a component onto another.  Commonly witnesses to the incident will say, the employee was using the “wrong technique”.  This is another one I get all the time.  “He was doing it all wrong, you are supposed to do it like this”.  This means that the hazard was recognized long ago by workers, but they just found a tribal technique to work around it.  If you are new to the tribe, you don’t know the technique and get hurt.  Why else do you think new employees are 3x more likely to get hurt than seasoned employees?

Solving Real Problems.

In both instances, the final corrective actions should have nothing to do with technique adjustment, additional training, wearing two hardhats instead of just one, or padding employees securely with bubble wrap.  They should focus on how to make the process safer for the co-workers to interact with.  The best corrective actions focus on solving multiple issues, correcting hazards inherent in the process, increasing production, and overall improving the lives of the employees on whom the company relies.  Investigating injuries and incidents thoroughly helps uncover not only hazards, but inefficiencies in the manufacturing process.  This puts to bed the whole notion that the Safety function places a damper on an organization’s performance.

 Bringing it Together.

Blaming the employee for being hurt is a cop-out to prevent doing the extra work it takes to find out what really happened.  By doing this we are doing a disservice to both our companies and to the employees who perform the valuable work in production each day. Before someone gets hurt, there are usually ample warning signs (i.e. the need to adjust technique to prevent getting hurt). One-off, freak accidents are very rare.  If even after the warning signs, near misses, reported injuries, and recordable injuries we have still failed to implement any corrective actions to control the now well-known hazards; there is finally someone to blame…ourselves as Leaders.