In the 20th century, as industry and consumption grew, workplace injuries and harm to the environment were all too common. In 1969, a California oil rig spilled millions of gallons of oil into coastal waters. A 1976 dioxin leak from a factory in Italy’s Lombardy region led to harmful chemical exposure that killed 3,300 animals and forced the slaughter of another 80,000 animals in order to keep them out of the food chain. And a 1984 gas leak from a pesticides plant in the Indian city of Bhopal led to an official death toll of over 5,000. Meanwhile, an estimated 14,000 Americans died in workplace safety incidents in 1970 alone. By the close of the century, the dangerous ramifications of unbridled economic growth were clear.
After years of piecemeal reforms, the U.S. established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, and in the following year, it established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to more closely regulate business practices related to the environment, health and safety. Similar improvements were being made around the world. The European Economic Community formed an Advisory Committee on Safety, Hygiene and Health Protection at Work in 1974, and the European Union later formed the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). Out of this movement grew the field of EHS management — or environment, health and safety management.
What Is EHS Management and Why Is It Important?
As its name suggests, EHS management is a management framework for businesses to keep workers, the workplace and the environment free from harm. Many companies have a dedicated EHS management system and an EHS department to oversee these activities.
The three pillars of EHS management have different objectives and functions:
- The environmental pillar of EHS management includes processes to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and negative environmental impacts such as chemical spills. With climate risk increasing, investor interest in sustainability is broadening the role of EHS. Businesses are being asked to address climate risks more urgently. This means carefully tracking and managing environmental risks, working to measure and reduce their environmental footprint and reporting progress to investors and the public.
- The health pillar covers systems to protect workers, customers and surrounding communities from exposure to pathogens, radiation or hazardous chemicals.
- Lastly, the safety pillar involves procedures to keep workers safe from physical injury due to machinery or exposure to hazardous substances on the job.
What Is an EHS Management System?
An EHS management system defines the roles, processes and responsibilities for environmental protection, energy management, health and safety, and incident management and hazard prevention.
What Are the Key Components of an EHS Management System?
There are several steps within resilient health and safety management programs across industries that include the following key components:
EHS management starts with knowing your risks. Businesses need to be able to identify risks early on by conducting a risk assessment and empowering employees to report incidents as soon as possible. Coupled with thorough incident management and reporting, it can help businesses see a full picture of risk and support more nimble decision-making processes.
Maintaining consistent EHS processes is an important element of resiliency. In the face of change, this means businesses need to control the variables they can via consistent, thorough audits and trainings; the ability to track open actions and remediations to monitor progress toward risk mitigation; secure document and policy management; and full oversight of contractor safety, from prequalification to post-job evaluation.
In a complex, dynamic business environment, detailed reporting is essential not only for regulatory compliance, but also for insight into what is happening and why it’s happening at all levels of your organization.
Finally, adapting as new risks emerge depends on effective management of change, training and operational compliance. Instilling strategies to predict and prevent risk can help organizations create the latitude they need to transform as business environments change.
What Is EHS Management Software and Why Is It Needed?
Like most business processes, EHS management is an increasingly digital process, powered by data. Because EHS regulations are complex and ever-evolving, many businesses rely on EHS management software to ensure compliance with EHS regulations and enhance decision-making and risk mitigation efforts.
Digitizing EHS management can help businesses centralize and automate data collection, making it easier to track incidents, near misses and observations and identify opportunities for improvement with EHS trainings and audits. Mobile-enabled platforms also allow workers to report data in the field, improving the speed and accuracy of information. EHS management software is also used to ensure employees have access to up-to-date safety data sheets (SDS) on the go, in their language. These platforms make it easier for businesses to stay compliant as regulations change, as well as keep workers safe and improve efficiency.
With the increasing impact of climate change and the growing interest in environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, the EHS market is responding with a focus on expanding into ESG and sustainability. EHS software is being shaped by the need to achieve zero-incident rates and broaden worker health management, while also addressing the wider ESG landscape, including the increasing need to manage and report on a company’s emissions performance.
The Future of EHS Management
EHS management is becoming more and more complex in today’s global economy. As companies grow and expand into new regions of the world, EHS regulations multiply, as does the need to provide safety information in more locations and languages. EHS management is increasingly seen as a driver of both bottom-line improvement—by increasing efficiency and reducing costly incidents—and top-line growth—by attracting investors and customers with forward-looking business practices.
As companies begin to address ESG in a more meaningful way, we are beginning to see a convergence between EHS and ESG. Traditionally, EHS functions have focused on ensuring that business services, products and processes are safe for employees, surrounding communities and the planet.
ESG can be a natural extension of this work. To take ESG efforts to the next level—and to sharpen the focus of both ESG and EHS functions—these two business units must work together toward common goals. Read on to learn how EHS and ESG can work together to move beyond the status quo.
Further Resources on Incident Management
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