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.
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.