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Putting the “Eh” in EHS: Are You a Poor Performer?

Kathryn Carlson /

In terms of environment, health, and safety, companies tend to fall into one of two categories: high performers and low performers.

High performers commit to the health and safety of their employees by prioritizing EHS programs, investing in technology, and working to establish safety cultures. As a result, they not only minimize workplace incidents and accidents but are more innovative and efficient than their competitors. They’re safe, rewarding, and all-around pleasant places to work.

Poor performers, on the other hand, put the “eh” in EHS. They consider employee health and safety little more than a cost or necessary evil. They do the bare minimum (or less) than what’s required to protect their workers. Consequently, they experience higher-than-average rates of safety violations, face substantial expenses year after year, and have to deal with continual employee turnover, absenteeism, and unproductivity.

It’s not that these organizations don’t care. It’s that they don’t realize they could be doing better. Many poor performers are aware that something needs to be improved within their organizations, but fail to connect their problems to inadequate EHS programs. And just as many poor performers don’t think there’s anything wrong with their specific approach. They assume their issues are endemic to their industry—that every employer must be facing the same incident rates. Our performance isn’t great, they think, but it’s probably normal.

Let’s be clear here: any number of workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths other than zero cannot be considered “normal. Most, if not all, workplace incidents and accidents are avoidable. There’s no excuse for exposing your employees to hazards you could have prevented.

Are you a high performer or a poor performer? See if you can answer a couple of questions:

Are Your Employees Actually Following Your Internal Policies and Procedures?

EHS performance is not a question of developing strong policies and procedures. Anyone can come up with an exceptional set of rules. The challenge is making sure those rules are being followed across the organization.

Poor performers often struggle to answer this question. Managers may fail to follow reporting procedures and thus can’t do root cause analysis. Moreover, they struggle with high rates of absenteeism, making it a challenge to train employees and track their actions.

Keep in mind that in many mid-sized organizations, activities are managed at the line level. Whether it’s the line manager at a manufacturing plant or the store manager at a retail plant, someone other than an EHS professional is usually the one responsible for ensuring employees are following policies and procedures on a daily basis. If these team members aren’t equipped with the right tools and training, they can’t capture information effectively, let alone make sure others are abiding by the rules.

That said, there’s an obvious indicator of poor policy adoption: safety violations. Every time a worker is injured gets sick or is otherwise involved in a health or safety incident, it’s a sign that rules aren’t being followed.

For example, you may have a detailed forklift safety policy that spells out who needs training, what kind inspection must be done before the forklift is operated, who’s certified to use the equipment, when it’s necessary to do spotting, and so forth. But if that policy is sitting in a binder and it’s not readily accessible to those individuals using the equipment—or if those individuals are not receiving regular refresher training—safety violations tend to occur.

Do You Rely on Manual Processes to Manage EHS?

As the 2019 State of the Industry: EHS Program Trends report revealed, poor performers, tend to rely primarily on manual processes to manage key activities and operations, including their EHS programs.

That means that when there’s an incident or accident, someone has to inspect the area, write things down on a clipboard, and enter the information by hand into a folder or spreadsheet.

This process is slow, cumbersome, and error-prone. It’s not that it was designed to fail—for decades, it was the only way to manage EHS—but it’s old-fashioned and deficient in this day and age. There are simply too many variables, risk factors, and shortcomings. Managers may not arrive at the scene in time, capture the right information, or enter it correctly.

Many EHS professionals who depend on manual processes have the best of intentions for their organizations. Unfortunately, those intentions rarely line up with what humans are able to do on their own. There isn’t enough time to cross-reference data from paper documents and spreadsheets, analyze patterns, and then determine what needs to be improved—not when there’s work to be done and incidents continue to happen.

Besides, employees can’t rely on manual processes to stay safe. If you need to know how to respond to a certain hazard, you may not have time to go upstairs, dig through a file cabinet, pull out a binder, and flip through until you find the relevant policy or procedure. These days, everyone keeps a mobile device in their pocket. EHS information can and should be available on these mobile devices.

Are You Feeling Frustrated with Your EHS Program?

This is perhaps the most immediate sign of poor performance. A lack of policy adoption and a reliance on manual processes tends to leave people feeling frustrated, confused, and fearful at work. You may not be able to track the rate of safety violations or pinpoint the reasons for them, but you should be able to tell when workforce productivity and engagement are lagging behind.

Ultimately, poor performance is a mindset. It’s a feeling that circumstances are unacceptable coupled with an unwillingness to change those circumstances. When you’re depending on manual processes and have no visibility into your program, it can feel impossible to move forward and envision a better way to do things. And then, if you try to improve the situation, you could end up creating a Rube Goldberg machine of inefficient processes and become mired in a mess of too many moving parts you’re attempting to continuously (badly) refine.

I’ll leave you with some candid advice: don’t duplicate stupid. If a process is failing, don’t try to improve it on the edges. Sometimes, you have to simply start all over and come up with a brand-new process. It’s a challenge, but it’s better than the alternative—more unnecessary incidents, violations, injuries, illnesses, and deaths.

KPA can help. Ask us about automating your EHS program.

For more about the difference between high performers and poor performers, download our report: 2019 State of the Industry: EHS Program Trends.

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