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2020 Research: Where Poor EHS Performers Fall Short

Toby Graham /

What’s normal for an environment, health, and safety program?

It’s a tricky question. Any number of accidents, injuries, or illnesses can’t be considered “normal” when we’re all striving for zero. We can’t interpret averages as benchmarks, but we can’t disregard them either. We can’t ignore that incidents happen and that they tend to occur more often in some companies than in others. On top of that, it’s important to account for the differences in how organizations respond to those incidents, as well as the relationship between safety and the bottom line—a unique calculation for every organization.

These were among the driving concerns behind KPA’s recent report, 2019 State of the Industry: EHS Program Trends, collected by Informa Engage and EHS Today. To chart the true nature of EHS, we knew we needed to go further than collecting basic metrics such as the incident rate or program spending. We needed to analyze workforce safety through an executive perspective, i.e. in terms of investment and performance.

So, after gathering the data, we divided our respondents into two categories: high performers and poor performers. We found that by and large, high performers are safer, more cost-efficient, and more productive than the industry average. Not only that—they’re also well-equipped to maintain and improve their performance.

Poor performers, meanwhile, have less control over their incidents and costs; they frequently aren’t able to effectively respond to problems and curb negative trends.

In other words, it’s easy for high performers to get even better, while poor performers tend to stay where they are or get worse.

What Makes a Poor Performer?

Across the board, the companies categorized as poor performers faced common challenges with their EHS programs. Ultimately, poor performing EHS programs receive less support throughout the organization. From employees failing to follow policies and procedures to leaders failing to invest enough in EHS programs (through management support, dollars, or both), our findings reveal that poor performance happens when safety is low on an organization’s priority list.

By the Numbers: Symptoms of Poor EHS Performance

Poor Policy/Procedure Adoption

Companies that experience injury rates, absenteeism and safety violations above industry averages are more likely than high performers to report that it’s either “challenging” or “extremely challenging” to ensure employees are following internal policies and procedures.

Lack of Budget and Support

Poor performers receive less financial support—investing in improvements to the EHS program does not appear to be a budget priority. These programs also tend to receive low levels of executive support.

Relying on Manual Processes

Manual EHS processes are never an ideal solution, but their challenges are most felt by poorly performing organizations—perhaps because those organizations are more likely to rely on them. Companies that experienced injury rates, absenteeism rates, and safety violations above industry averages found relying on manual processes “challenging” to “extremely challenging” 15% more often than higher-performing companies.

As our report reveals, the EHS challenges poor performers face are multidimensional and often deep-seated. These organizations not only experience more challenges than an “average” company would but feel those challenges more acutely. Incidents are big deals because a) they happen often and b) it’s difficult to prevent them.

High performers, by contrast, can track their programs by their positive results rather than through challenges. We’ll explore what sets these companies apart in our next article.

Until then, if you’d like to review KPA’s 2019 State of the Industry: EHS Program Trends report for yourself, download it for free here.

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