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EHS MANAGEMENT: Find and Bridge the Gap from Strategy to Execution

Companies care about EHS performance improvement for several reasons; most of them stem from or pave the way to operational excellence.  For manufacturing and other asset-intensive companies, strong EHS performance is considered a lynchpin of good operational performance.

Meanwhile, the need for strong Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) management systems has never been greater.   Operational complexity and tougher compliance obligations mean greater risk, yet calls for absolute transparency in all aspects of people, process, and technology.

There’s a perfect storm brewing that could help EHS leaders integrate EHS with the business and drive improvement:

  1. Changes in, and convergence of the management system standards
  2. Innovative technology enablers such as Cloud computing, Big Data analytics, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and mobile apps support new ways of managing EHS performance

Despite ambitious EHS goals, performance improvement remains elusive.  There is a gap between EHS strategy and execution in daily operations. Management systems are the fundamental tools deployed by in industry to close this gap. The challenge is how to operationalize these systems to make them more effective.  Let’s explore some of the barriers to EHS performance, and then examine ways to elevate EHS to a core competency to support business objectives.

According to surveys conducted by LNS Research, (detailed in their new report:   Operationalizing EHS Management) the primary barrier to EHS performance improvement is disparate systems and data sources.  While companies want cross-functional collaboration, they still struggle in that department.  Fragmented information systems and disconnected business functions exacerbate the situation, and the result is poor EHS results.

What’s surprising is that despite nearly daily news and social media coverage, and the wealth of evidence provided by the U.S. government and regulatory bodies, EHS professionals and executives still report an inability to build a compelling business case for investment in EHS management and a lack of appropriate metrics.  These issues aren’t unique to EHS management, but they do point to a lack of visibility around performance.

Despite the challenges, some companies are making headway in EHS management, operational consistency, and performance improvement.  The key, they say, is management systems.

Management systems define the framework to achieve goals; they are based on the well-known Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle of continuous improvement.  Research data collected by LNS Research shows that the most widely used EHS-related management system standards are ISO 14001 for Environmental Management and OHSA 18001 for Occupational Health and Safety.  ISO 9001 for Quality Management is closely-related and helps support EHS endeavors.

Companies rely heavily on management systems as a fundamental approach to manage performance.  In fact, two-thirds of companies report they have two or more management systems in place, and 60% of companies have two to five management system standards in place.  Widespread use of EHS-related management systems and standards would seem to spell success for those who focus on EHS.  What’s missing then, to bridge the gap between strategy and execution?

EHS and operations staff usually work together to achieve safety and environmental goals.  However, lack of cross-functional collaboration continues to surface as a major barrier to reaching those goals.  If collaboration is weak, then it’s likely that process capabilities will cause inconsistent execution and worse, potentially contribute to an unstable operational excellence platform.

To improve EHS performance companies must take a holistic approach, and align people, process and technology capabilities, in fact, ISO 14001 and OSHA 18001 call for this integrated approach.  A company that wants to improve EHS performance will place a concentrated focus on continuous improvement with broad employee engagement.  They will most certainly also adopt appropriate EHS information technology, which has shown exponential advancement since the information age. Today, EHS practitioners can take advantage of cloud-based platforms to integrate EHS throughout the enterprise and across the extended value chain.  Sophisticated capabilities such as mobile apps, Internet of Things (IoT), and Big Data analytics enables organizations to move from reactive compliance to more of a risk-based, predictive approach to EHS management.

Companies that are ready to operationalize EHS management system across the enterprise should elevate EHS and engage senior management.  The next step is to build cross-functional collaboration toward integrated management systems.  After that, zero in on risk management processes to prevent incidents and help the organization achieve strategic objectives.  Continue to leverage technology innovations to manage EHS in new ways.  Finally, ensure you have a business case and roadmap for long-term EHS excellence to sustain executive buy-in and support.

Check out the Operationalizing EHS Management report here.

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