Are you integrated?

David Williams

David Williams

Are You Integrated?

In the 20 years I have been working, a common question seems to have always echoed in the background: “What does the future of the EHS profession look like and what does that mean to me?” Unless you have a crystal ball (mine shattered on impact after my Lehman Brothers stock plummeted in flames) or have a genie bottled up in a lamp somewhere (I personally am saving my three wishes for when things get really bad), then the future is a very difficult thing to predict.

If you want to maximize your chances for success, I offer one piece of advice: Focus your energies on integrating EHS into the operational aspects of your company. This is critical for the EHS function to deliver high value and remain relevant. I like to keep things simple so there are only three things to do:

  1. Admit EHS is not completely special or unique
  2. Identify key integration points
  3. Have the mindset of a good consultant

The first step is to admit that EHS is not completely special or unique – it really isn’t. That is not a bad thing; in fact, it is very positive since EHS can then be fully integrated with other functions and operations and is not left solely to a small band of “experts”. Think of it this way. If you work in a manufacturing site with 1,200 people and have 5 EHS professionals, which would you rather have: 5 EHS people or 1,200? There are certainly specialized tasks that require an EHS professional; however, there are a lot that don’t. Everybody has a role to play in making EHS a success.

The next step is to identify key integration points. Strategic plans and scorecards are a great roadmap to what is important. Find out where the company is headed. Find out what is being measured and, therefore, managed – this is generally where the money is as well because compensation, at least in part, is usually tied to metrics. Don’t only look for direct ways EHS can contribute (e.g., if lost time incident rate is a metric), but also indirect ways. Good EHS performance is often dependent on having sound underlying fundamentals – such as a management systems culture, positive relationship between management and shop floor employees, and effective risk identification and management.

The final step is to have the mindset of a good consultant. A good consultant is constantly trying to understand what problems a client is facing and what opportunities they are trying to capitalize on. They are also relentlessly focused on helping others. If an EHS professional approaches his or her job everyday with this outlook, the integration opportunities will not be difficult to find.
So how integrated are you as an EHS professional? How integrated is your function into the rest of your company?


About David Williams

David Williams is the Associate Director of Business Systems and Processes for Pfizer Inc.

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  1. Bruce Klafter

    March 4, 2009

    I think one of the first questions to ask is what represents “integration” of EHS for your company? I have heard some discuss EHS and other functions in terms of it being “core” or “context”. The higher the risk profile of the company, the more essential or “core” are the safety, health and environmental programs. At the other extreme, a financial services, software or other company that largely works in an office environment does not require a thoroughly integrated EHS function (note: sustainability is changing that equation a bit as almost every company can and should “green” its operations). We require every employee to take basic training and we require every manager to take an additional 4 hours of training, all designed to embed/integrate/proliferate/disseminate… EHS into the organization at every level. The reality is that an organization is a dynamic entity and priorities, constraints and many other factors will change frequently. I certainly counsel having a realistic set of expectations when it comes to integrating EHS into any organization.

  2. Alex Pollock

    March 4, 2009

    Interesting topic set in play by David. I appreciate Bruce’s practical comment. I have long regarded EHS professionals as being in the “solutions” business.To get the value I’ve found it essential to have respected, knowledgeable and courageous people in the right places at the right time. Great topic for others to share their experiences in making “integration” work

  3. Jim Braselman

    March 5, 2009

    One key way companies are “integrating” EHS into daily, profit-generating operations is to identify what you could term SP3R documents (standards, policies, procedures, protocols, regulations), and then to drive these into daily field operations – this is the “embed/integrate/proliferate/disseminate” that Bruce discusses, and he is right on target.

    Doing this manually is labor intensive, expensive, and subject to “advocate fatigue”. A better approach might be to deploy systems that automate this process on a single platform. When an SP3R document changes (a new regulation, an updated procedure, a modified standard), the system can push MOC (management of change) notifications to the right people at the right facilities at the right time. Even better would be to have some type of management dashboard-like view to identify when/whether folks have in fact reviewed the document and relevant changes.

    This type of approach serves to actually embed EHS into the business process, allowing the EHS team to be view as a business function, not a cost of doing business.

  4. Stephen Evanoff

    March 9, 2009

    Based on my professional experience, I agree completely with David. I think “integration” is the single most important business management philosophy an EHS manager can bring to bear within an organization. Namely, EHS issues are managed most effectively and efficiently when the core business functions take ownership and the EHS staff serves as SME’s, consultants, educators, program overseers, and organizational change leaders. Two of the corporations I’ve worked for were able to reduce costs, reduce dedicated EHS staff, and improve performance by integrating EHS into operations through the ISO 14000 model.

    Thanks, David.

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