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.