Creating a Culture that Values Environmental, Health and Safety Programs


When you have a strong environmental, health and safety program at your facility, wonderful things happen.

  • You add value to your organization by increasing efficiency and productivity.
  • Your customers appreciate the improvement in product quality.
  • You reduce costs on healthcare and downtime thanks to reduced workplace accidents.
  • You boost your company’s image and employee morale.

Of course, this all reflects well on you as the facility or plant manager.So why do so many facilities lack strong EH&S programs, even at facilities that have the required regulatory knowledge and resources, and understand the importance of having such a program in place?

Two contributing factors are lack of buy-in from management and lack of participation from employees. These two groups just don’t get it—and for very different reasons, as we cover in this article in detail.

But the main reason is the culture of the organization. Unfortunately, EH&S programs are too often viewed company-wide as a bottleneck, a source of stress and hassle, a “necessary evil”. The typical attitudes of personnel toward EH&S programs at such facilities are:

  • “It slows me down and gums up the works.”
  • “It’s a pain the butt because I have to read all this documentation, collect more of it, and keep it all organized.”
  • “I have to follow all these steps that don’t make sense for my job.”
  • “The person in charge of the program is a pain in the butt.”

As a result, EH&S programs aren’t established at many facilities. They might be documented on paper, but they’re not put into practice.

With all the benefits offered by a solid EH&S program, it shouldn't be that way.

When we walk into a client’s facility to work on their EH&S program, we not only look at the components of the program itself, but we also evaluate how EH&S issues are perceived at the facility. Importantly, we determine if we have to change attitudes so the program, and all its components, become a core business value and are followed company-wide. It is vital that you make your EH&S program a core business value; if you don’t, even the strongest programs will eventually fail.

By making your EH&S program a core business value, you enable the all-important buy-in from everybody on the team by changing the culture towards EH&S issues.

The Cultural Shift You Need at Your Facility

Fortunately, there are some initial simple steps you can take to strengthen your EH&S program and enable a cultural shift so that it is followed.

When we first visit a facility and look into these matters, we usually see a fundamental mistake: the EH&S program is seen strictly as a program to address safety issues at the facility. Do Not Make This Mistake! Your EH&S program should cover exactly what the terminology states: all of your facility’s environmental, health and safety issues. This includes regulations, compliance, permits, plans, training, procedures, documentation, liability management, risk reduction, sustainability, property history, etc.

Sometimes we also see a holdover from the 1980s and 1990s when EH&S programs started to appear in earnest. In these cases, Human Resources is in charge of managing EH&S issues—yes, you read that right. The thinking goes that HR trains employees, and training is a big part of EH&S policy, so HR can handle it.

Due to ongoing streamlining efforts and cutbacks, we only rarely see safety officers or compliance officers responsible for EH&S issues at facilities. In recent years, we’ve seen that the folks in charge of EH&S are primarily plant and facility managers—that’s you. This presents its own set of difficulties.

You don’t have to be told that as the plant or facility manager you already have enough on your plate. You have so many responsibilities to attend to every day, and keeping track of the EH&S program just seems like added baggage.

You do wear a lot of hats, but this is another shift you need to make. It pays off because the more work you put into building a stronger program up front, often results in a robust, facility-wide program, which means less work—and stress—for you in the long run.

To build the foundation of a strong program, the Core 4 Requirements must be in place first:

You can see these elements in detail by clicking on each entry above.

By having the Core 4 Requirements in place, you get to know your facility inside and out, including its past, present, and even its potential future… and you’ll be an effective communicator within all levels of your organization.

Then, you can start building a new EH&S program or improve your existing one.

The Main Components of a Successful EH&S Program

In order for it to succeed, you have to keep in mind certain factors that must be part of your EH&S program; these main components include:

  • Environmental: This includes regulations on the federal, state, and local level, covering multi-media issues (air, groundwater, stormwater, soil, wastewater, waste, and more). This is where permits are usually lumped in.
  • Safety: These guidelines come mainly from OSHA and cover safe working practices and required safety procedures.
  • Compliance: This is where your activities relating to training, monitoring, reporting, etc. are covered.

We usually find the following important component missing from many EH&S programs at sites we visit:

  • Risk Reduction and Liability Protection: This involves identifying past problems in order to learn from them. You must also concentrate on present conditions to manage and protect your facility, and look to the future for potential issues and prevent them from happening.

This is where those environmental “invisible gorillas” come into play. These are major environmental or safety issues you miss because you’re so used to how things work at your facility that you don’t see them until there’s an incident. (I wrote a short book on how to spot these invisible-in-plain-sight threats—we call them Gorillas.)

Taking Your EH&S Program to the Final Stages

Once you have these main components, you combine them to form a working system. To keep the program running smoothly, you must:

  • Maintain facility knowledge
  • Evaluate risks and hazards
  • Define roles and responsibilities
  • Ensure compliance is monitored
  • Ensure skills and knowledge are developed through training and communication
  • Ensure that critical information and tools are readily available
  • Enable decisions to be made as part of daily operations
  • Develop performance measurements so the system can be constantly improved

How do you figure out if the program is working?

You implement performance measurements and key indicators to ensure the program is reviewed and improves upon itself.

The tendency is to use reactive indicators, because they’re easier to understand. For example, “Last year we had ten lost-time injuries. This year, our goal is to only have five lost-time injuries.”

Why let the injuries happen? A preventive indicator would be more effective in actually preventing injuries. In this case, it could be a metric dealing with safety training or implementation of safety procedures. Put your efforts into eliminating and preventing issues from happening. Consider this: Wouldn’t you rather have a strong fire prevention program than need a strong firefighting program?

On that note, if issues pop up, you should resolve them/eliminate them from ever happening again, not just try to patch them up.

A lot of programs only identify and address emergency and non-compliance issues—again, a reactive approach. For example, a forklift hits a drum and oil is released. Aside from dealing with that incident, do you change your EH&S protocol so employees know how to avoid a similar incident in the future? It’s a matter of treating the illness, not just the symptoms.

Some serious incidents might require an examination of the whole EH&S program—a wholesale overhaul. It might seem time-consuming, but in the long run, it’ll save time and money.

Overall, a proactive/preventive approach increases EH&S awareness and saves money, too.

An EH&S program should also cover more than just the “outliers,” those potential non-compliant and emergency issues like a chemical spill. A quality program covers your day-to-day normal, routine operations, too.

Say your facility is involved in printing; lots of moving machinery is running all the time. As part of your EH&S program, you need a policy prohibiting anybody on site from wearing loose-fitting clothing or jewelry. That goes for workers and visitors.

Visitors—some executives from the head office, for example—should also watch a short video outlining safety procedures, including where they shouldn’t be and what they should do in case of an emergency. Regulations at another facility or site might call for a hard hat or steel-toed boots to be worn.

A successful EH&S program should be in a state of continuous improvement: you tweak it based on input from employees, your own observations, and changing conditions at your facility. You should set goals for your program and once those goals are achieved, create a new set of goals so that your program is continually improving upon itself. We have found that those EH&S programs that have a continuous cycle of improvement imbedded within it are often the strongest and longest lasting programs that we come across.

Next Steps

Changing an already ingrained culture that doesn’t value environmental, health and safety may not be easy, but as a facility manager, it’s the best way to maintain an environmentally sound facility, to keep your people safe, and to keep operations humming along profitably.

Being proactive in instituting a program and getting buy-in at all levels of your organization can take some time, money, and effort at the outset. But it’s a much better investment for far less money than you’d pay to be reactive and fix problems that come up down the road.

A robust EH&S program takes a lot off your already-full plate, and makes your life a lot less stressful.

Sometimes the best way to get your program on-track is to get expert help. I’ve set aside a few times to talk with you. If you’re ready to tackle these issues, book a call with me. We’ll invest 20-minutes together and at the end of the call you’ll have more clarity about what you should do next to improve your EH&S program and the culture around it.

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