What is EHS
What is EHS? And Tips to Improve your Company's EHS Program
Author : Ian Gabrielides
Total resource involvement is the simplistic answer to the question, ‘how do you improve EHS in your company?’ How an organization sets about involving people is a much more complex and highly faceted answer.
Companies need to ensure that people feel part of the journey. Leaders must provide teams and individuals with the time and resources to positively impact the EHS process. Effective EHS processes are continuous, they are not initiatives.
Why Is Environmental Health and Safety so Important?
Environmental health initiatives save money, lower medical expenses, and improve employee productivity for companies. EHS assists in safeguarding workers and preventing accidents including injuries, and dangerous environmental pollutants that can cause diseases.
The EHS process isn’t owned by an individual or department, ownership stretches across the organization. The EHS process is supported by leaders that understand that their role is to enable their teams to improve the process and there isn’t an end point, just a series of milestones heading towards ZERO harm.
At Milliken, it starts with the EHS strategy. Historically we have always been good at creating teams and getting ‘stuff’ done. Much of these activities led to ‘bright spots’ in our plants, offices, warehouses, and laboratories. However, over the last 15 years, we have been much more successful by focusing on getting the right people involved, at the right time, to do the right ‘stuff’.
This has been reflected in a continuously improving safety performance. Much of this can be attributed to the introduction of the Risk Management System (link). But for the Risk Management System to flourish, there were some fundamental foundations that had to be established that we continue to maintain and strengthen.
What is a risk management system?
A risk management system aims to anticipate possible issues before they arise, so that contingency actions may be developed and carried out to help reduce adverse effects that businesses might face. A risk management system aims to identify, analyze, prevent, or minimize factors that might affect business operations.
Best Practices for EHS
Create an Environment for Change
First, we must create an environment for change. Start with the leadership team establishing and communicating their vision for EHS improvement with a specific emphasis on their vision for EHS ownership.
Leaders must be prepared to ‘let go’. This doesn’t mean they relinquish their responsibilities and accountabilities, but they must stop believing and acting like they have all the answers. Likewise, they should not expect that their teams will immediately accept greater responsibilities and seek greater ownership. There is a need to sell the new vision and outline the benefits of an EHS system. A system that is owned by the organization rather than one or two individuals.
This vision should include how the leadership team is going to enable their people to improve the EHS process through a structured approach of capability building. Leaders need to explain and visualize the dynamic changes which will see associates go from following to owning, and leadership go from directing to serving. Leaders must articulate the benefits of change and ask for help to address the challenges. Building trust is crucial at this point. How leaders behave, particularly when things don’t go to plan, will make, or break, the path towards an employee owned EHS process.
Designing ownership into everyday life is essential. Outline roles and responsibilities within the EHS process to detail ownership. What can each work group expect from one another? Create teams with clear goals and expectations. Ensure their focus is aligned to the strategy and avoid just doing ‘stuff’.
Help teams by appointing sponsors. Sponsors should support, guide and coach, and avoid taking over. Team members should attend as many team reviews as possible. Sacred time needs to be created and ring fenced. If people are denied the opportunity to participate, or aren’t participating when the opportunity presents itself, then the sponsor should intervene.
The physical working environment is also an important aspect to consider. Creating sacred spaces that are conducive to improvement work is vital. A hybrid space, where the worlds of formal meeting rooms and the shop floor come together. These multi-functional spaces should be furnished with the tools and technologies the teams will require to achieve their aims but are often inexpensive to set up.
Build the Culture
Measuring the right things is a key part of improving the EHS process. A blend of leading (where/ what to work on) and lagging (what impact we are having) measures should be established. A baseline for each measure should be recorded, a target for each established and a standard method to take regular measurements devised. This creates transparency and adds credence regarding the efforts of the teams and the EHS results. This doesn’t mean that there will be an instant impact on those lagging indicators.
Measuring performance and undertaking the review & response routines could be a cultural shift for some organizations. It is critical that the teams become accustomed to their areas of ownership being measured. Leaders and team sponsors have a role to play to ensure that teams are comfortable with the metrics that they own and the review process.
Providing teams with feedback at the right interval and in the right way is critical to ensure that teams don’t drift and don’t lose confidence when feedback may not be so positive.
Safety audits are an interactive way to provide instant feedback and check the drivers of EHS performance. These audits must not be purely about compliance, but a two-way discussion between auditor(s) and auditee(s). This is a coaching opportunity, a communication event. Where capability building and continuous improvement opportunities should be identified, and actions implemented to make the most of the opportunity.
Recognition is a key part of the feedback process. Recognition and reward (if adopted) should be appropriate to the level of achievement and communicated to the plant.
Holding interactive activities across the plant is a good way to communicate new processes, procedures, or heighten awareness regarding a particular EHS topic. These activities should lean towards the kinesthetic and visual VARK learning styles. They should be memorable, purposeful, fun, possibly competitive and certainly impactful.
Support to Sustain
Continue to move the EHS process forward. Keep communication fresh, allow teams to think of new ideas and methods to increase EHS participation. Provide the necessary education to increase skills and knowledge so that teams continue to grow in confidence and deliver results. Celebrate successes and don’t shy away from obstacles. Continue to build the next group of safety leaders and remember; leaders are not necessarily managers.
Performance Solutions by Milliken EHS
If you’re looking to enhance your EHS system, there are several ways Performance Solutions by Milliken can help your organization to improve. Whether that’s an introductory EHS Bootcamp, training your people to deliver their own EHS Bootcamp, or regular on-site support, education, and coaching. Please contact us today to take the next steps to lead your organization in improving EHS in your plant.