“Without organizational alignment, management visibility and clear priorities, a company can never fully achieve EHS excellence.”Chip Duffie, EHS Momentum
Best Practices, especially for EHS Program management starts at the top, and permeate all levels of management. EHS programs can actually boost production through morale improvement, yet managers fear the time used to comply with them. As a result, too many companies fail to integrate consistent EHS practices into their operations. Instead, those businesses often find themselves scrambling to comply with an agency request, customer RFP or even a plaintiff’s demand. Creating an effective safety committee is one remarkably simple, effective, practice to avoid landing in a defensive safety mess.
Policies, procedures, training, inspection records, and company guidance are the foundation of an effective EHS program. Still, companies cannot drive sustained EHS improvement without organizational alignment, management visibility and clear priorities. The proven way to achieve these things is through an executive level (and executive led) EHS or safety committee. If it’s important enough for the president of the company to lead a routine discussion focusing specifically on program performance, then it will become a priority for the company.
Here are a few things to add to the effectiveness of your committee.
Don’t Marginalize the EHS Committee
It is tempting to create an EHS committee and then over time relegate responsibility to lower level employees. This saves time of your senior level management for daily critical oversight. As responsibility descends rank, executive management participation become less visible. Operations and expectations move to misalignment, and cultural perceptions of management’s commitment turn negative. This result is all too common and is avoidable.
My advice to executive management – make EHS Safety a priority and take 30 minutes to an hour every month to focus on program progress. Hold each other accountable and reconfirm leadership’s commitment. Imagine being in a deposition after a serious accident. Do you really want to testify that you didn’t participate in safety committee meetings because that’s the EHS manager’s responsibility? Instead, make this committee an important part of how the business is run. In return, you will empower your EHS team and drive positive performance.
Look Beyond Past Performance
If your committee is only looking at past performance, like recent injuries, then you are missing a huge opportunity. Understanding the root cause of injuries is critical, but so is driving completion of corrective action and holding people accountable. Do you know the percentage of your employees that are behind schedule on their training? Are you reviewing near misses and ensuring avoidance of those situations in the future? Have you solicited feedback from your line employees about how they can do their job better and safer? These are basic questions a safety committee should address and will help you look forward, not just always in the rear-view mirror.
Recognize EHS Committee Meetings are Effectively Capital Budget Meetings
Well run Safety or EHS Committee Meetings always come across issues that will cost money. It could be anything from replacing pumps, fork trucks, to repair or replacement of other equipment. When viewed through the lens of compliance and safety, these expenses are harder to defer. Not spending this money can cost much more money, lost production time and even lives later. Keep formal minutes in every monthly EHS Committee meeting. Review the prior monthly minutes at the beginning of every meeting. This avoids the classic “corporate amnesia” that often occurs when it comes to spending limited resources.
Take the example of the old, failing fork truck. For months, employees reported that the wheels were bad or that the mast was barely operational. However, it never gets fixed or replaced, and maintenance somehow keeps it limping along. An executive EHS committee can see that this aging piece of equipment is at the root cause of spills or injuries that are actually costing the company money and causing compliance problems. It is now much easier to prioritize the repair or replacement of that equipment than continue to suffer costs and risks of liability.
Companies that have an organized and routine safety or EHS committee meetings have more consistent compliance, fewer surprises and significantly reduce their costs and risk. To reach that level of benefit, a company must have organizational alignment, management visibility and clear priorities. Without them, a company can never fully achieve EHS excellence. An effective EHS committee in any size company can implement this practice to drive value directly to the bottom line.