Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) Management

EHS Management is an art form unto itself. Those who manage EHS departments or individuals frequently do not come from EHS backgrounds. They may have a difficult time understanding and managing EHS, even understanding and managing basic regulatory requirements. Managing EHS can be similar to managing other aspects of the larger organization and involves understanding the EHS drivers for your business, setting and managing goals, measuring performance, auditing key issues, employee competence and the proper selection, training and placement of personnel, resource utilization, and building a culture of EHS importance within the larger organization.

The basic question becomes what type of EHS Management does your larger organization/company need. EHS programs and management systems are driven by compliance/regulatory, business, competitive, community, and/or stakeholder issues. These main EHS drivers must be clearly communicated to senior management in terms and language that business leaders understand. EHS drivers change over time based on the maturity of the EHS program. The EHS governance model and organizational design must be aligned with senior management expectations; after all, senior management owns responsibility for EHS; the EHS department/group does not. EHS policies, standards, protocols, and procedures must address the key risks, be clearly written, understandable, endorsed, and supported by the organization.

Most organizations have annual EHS goals; some are very strategic; many aim for a small reduction from last year’s injury rates, and/or a small percentage increase in recycling. Some incorporate their goals into the larger organization’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Most company’s EHS KPIs are lagging indicators (e.g. injuries, spills), primarily due to a limit on the overall number of KPIs on a company scorecard. However, real step changes in KPI performance can be made by using leading indicators that have been correlated with causal factors. What would it take to have a major step change in your EHS KPIs? Is there a correlation between your leading indicators and improved EHS performance, or are you measuring the wrong things?

In addition to improved KPIs, most organizations use a periodic audit to evaluate the status of their EHS programs and systems. Sometimes internal EHS resources are used for the audit; sometimes external resources; oftentimes a mix of both are used. Audits can be focused on regulatory compliance, compliance with an organization’s own standards and protocols, or usually a combination of both. The critical issues for any successful audit are the competency of the auditors and an understanding of the operations. The frequency of audits needs to be based on risk. Please see Colden technical talk on “Occupational Health & Safety Audits” for more detail on audits.

It takes a lot of hard work, and usually a good amount of time to change the culture of an organization, including the EHS culture. Culture is formed over years of interaction between individuals, and often reflects the prevailing management style of the larger organization. Usually a change in behavior is needed to create the desired organizational culture. If EHS is not discussed in senior management meetings, that will be reflected in the larger organizational culture. To effectuate real EHS change, you must be on a journey to build a culture of EHS within the larger organization.

Have you ever wondered why two very similar operations, with approximately the same number of employees at each location, have totally different EHS staffing levels? EHS staffing needs to be based on the risks associated with operations, and on the number of employees serviced. Staffing needs to be sized for the predominate level of operations, not peaks and valleys. EHS staff members need to be competent professionals, otherwise EHS credibility and resource use suffers. Newly appointed EHS managers and employees on developmental assignments with the EHS group need access to competent EHS professionals for mentoring and guidance; those professionals can be internal or external resources. Succession planning is needed for critical EHS positions.

To discuss these and other EHS management issues, please contact:

Mike Glowatz, MS, MEd, CIH, CSP
Senior Consultant