The creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the 1970’s signaled the birth of the modern environment, health, and safety (EHS) profession. Since that time, the field has been supported by four foundational considerations—and while these foundations of EHS management hold true today, they are also being continually shaped by technology.
EHS found its genesis in and has evolved as a response to demand from both the labor force and consumers for greater corporate social responsibility and visibility when it comes to employee health, worker safety, and the environment. As in any other industry, as the profession has grown technology has grown right alongside of it. Paper records are quickly yielding to the increased convenience and expanded accessibility of digital tools, while EHS managers are using organizational data more efficiently than ever before in order to gain insights to further improve their programs and find evidence to support new initiatives.
EHS software is being adopted at organizations large and small to streamline tasks and leverage data to take advantage of previously unseen efficiencies and opportunities. Primarily taking the form of Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms, EHS software has grown more mobile, more granular in its analysis, and more customized to fit the needs of individual organizations. As innovations in data collection and analysis become more commonplace, business intelligence (BI) will become key for driving organizational success—and EHS managers must ensure that they are positioned to keep pace.
Amid all of this change, however, several foundations of EHS management remain steadfast, and with the right tools they can work in alignment with the advent of technology and BI.
Four Foundations of EHS Management
While the times and tools change, the core mission of EHS remains the same: Maintain compliance with applicable regulations and also going beyond compliance to continually improve organizational protection of workers and the environment.
To achieve this mission, companies must continually take four foundations of EHS into account.
1. Planning against regulatory requirements. The EHS regulatory landscape is challenging, to put it mildly. It is estimated that there are 100,000 action-forcing EHS requirements (i.e., those that may result in a citation or fine) under U.S. federal, with approximately 5,000 revisions to these requirements every year. State laws and regulations add another layer of complexity, as there are an estimated 3,000 state exceptions in the U.S. with approximately 1,000 changes occurring each year. And then there are your own organization’s (hopefully high) standards when it comes to EHS, from internal policy to nonmandatory international safety management standards such as ISO 45001.
The only way to successfully navigate such a complex atmosphere is through diligent compliance planning. EHS managers must stay informed and one step ahead of developments that could affect compliance obligations.
2. Executing compliance tasks and action items to prevent noncompliance issues while maintaining a culture that seeks proactive, preventive efforts. In addition to planning for the future, EHS managers must act in the present. Corrective and preventive action is imperative once any areas of noncompliance are identified, and follow-up is necessary to ensure that your work has indeed sustainably resolved the problem.
Of course, an EHS manager’s long to-do list isn’t just about what is done, but how it is done. Maintaining an excellent safety culture is about more than compliance—it’s about going beyond compliance to ensure that all employees are coming together and actively participating in EHS. While this does require some extra effort, it also has the potential to alleviate effort—when every worker wants to behave in a way that promotes safety, it makes the EHS manager’s job far easier.
3. Continually assessing and verifying company performance against regulatory requirements. After a plan is in place and action is taken, continual assessment is necessary to evaluate performance—nothing about the EHS profession can be taken for granted, and a “set it and forget it” attitude is not conducive to the success of safety or environmental initiatives.
EHS auditing is a necessary part of this process. Tour your workplace, record observations, share the results with everyone, pursue improvements, and reward positive safety behaviors and compliance achievements.
4. Accurately recording and investigating incidents, accidents, and other issues. Recordkeeping is more than an obligatory chore. It is an essential part of proper incident and accident management. Knowing the facts about incidents, as well as keeping track of near misses, can provide EHS managers with the data necessary to improve workplace safety, not only for the benefit of their own organization but also for others by properly reporting annual safety data to OSHA.
(In fact, now is a good time for a reminder—the deadline for submitting your OSHA Form 300A data to OSHA is March 2, 2021! You can read up on tips for success here.)
These four foundations will always define the primary roles of the EHS profession. BI will not seek to replace them, but to enhance them.
BI Is the Next Big Movement, and EHS Will Be a Part of It
As more organizational data is made available, leveraging the intelligence to gain a business advantage will be key to success. EHS should not hesitate to pursue the benefits presented by BI and SaaS solutions, which may include:
The discovery of new relationships and correlations among health and safety data to prompt targeted preventive action based on individual workers, business locations, and seasonal conditions.
Data dashboards that can provide real-time visibility into safety and environmental performance, allowing EHS managers to quickly gain buy-in from key stakeholders and take more immediate and appropriate action.
A clearer pathway to future EHS success, where planning, training, and task execution are driven by informed, evidence-based, and data-driven decisions.
New technologies can sometimes seem daunting, but they should be seen as means to a positive end. With the four foundations of EHS management underpinning their actions, those in our noble profession can implement change and deploy BI effectively within their programs.
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