First off, kudos to anyone who must manage environmental, health and safety (EH&S) issues at a facility.
As an environmental consultant who has been up close and personal with many facility and plant managers over the years, my hat’s off to you because I know how much responsibility you have in so many different areas. And that makes the role challenging beyond the official job description you were hired under.
Facility and plant managers are business managers, production managers, politicians, policymakers, community leaders, and more.
Business and Production Managers
Your most obvious role is perhaps as a business and production manager. Many facility decisions (including business and production ones) are made, and policies set, based on EH&S issues. The facility has to be properly managed, so the business is profitable. I like to think of it as you having an MBA in EH&S.
At the same time, you have to convey the importance of EH&S policies to rank-and-file employees who may view them as unnecessary inconveniences. Their buy-in is essential to the success of any EH&S program.
All this is on top of your daily responsibilities of making sure the facility runs smoothly, is safe for all workers, and is in compliance with federal, state, and local regulations.
Of course, profits sometimes run counter to EH&S measures that promote safety and sustainability. No doubt, the community your facility is in has a big focus on EH&S issues because of the potential environmental impact of your facility’s activities. So, you have to be aware of and balance society’s concerns with making sure the business survives and thrives. And that may mean having tough conversations with upper management.
You’re charged with keeping things running smoothly so the business makes money – that’s often what executives focus on. But you can bet that if there is an EH&S issue that is costly to fix, the finger will be pointed at you.
But it’s essential to properly manage EH&S issues, because too little attention paid to these issues will affect the bottom line. You have to build and maintain EH&S awareness at all levels of your organization. The trick is to balance community pressure and the internal focus on making a profit. You have to convey concerns from the community internally to make a safer, more functional, and more profitable facility.
To be honest, it is a thin line you have to walk, but an essential part of your job.
Policies are instituted every day based on EH&S issues. And not just for your facility but also governmental policies. The products we manufacture and use as consumers are often influenced by how that product could potentially impact the environment. And you’re on the frontline, ensuring that what your facility produces fits within government regulations and consumer expectations.
For example, single-use plastic items like water bottles or straws are being hotly debated right now. Airports are putting in special filling stations for reusable water bottles. Disney World now uses paper straws. Some municipalities are banning plastic bag use by retailers.
There is a movement to stop using these items because this plastic doesn’t degrade, and recycling can’t keep up with the quantity used. And if we do use plastic, consumers are concerned with how much of the item is made up of recycled material. This can also have a direct influence on how you present, package and ship your products to retailers and consumers.
This type of issue is not limited to plastic, of course. But it’s an example of how you have to keep an eye on consumer preferences and new government policies to make sure your processes aren’t outdated and endangering the business.
The Go-To Guy or Gal
The facility manager is usually considered the go-to guy or gal to turn to at a facility in order to derive solutions to a problem and to get things done. This reliance does not just revolve around your routine responsibilities and experiences, but also when we find ourselves in “uncharted waters”. During the COVID-19 pandemic, facility managers have been one of the primary resources in developing procedures to keep us working from remote venues when our facilities were temporarily closed, and in ensuring that a facility remained safe for those businesses that continued to operate. Facility managers have been heavily leaned on to help our society return to a “new normal” by re-imagining and re-engineering what is considered the modern-day safe and well managed facility.
Where to Go from Here
Even though we have a supposedly green sustainable society, unfortunately sometimes EH&S issues are the last to be considered when making business decisions, and that’s where we get into trouble. Overlooking EH&S will result in significant issues at your facility.
The solution is to realize your role as a facility or plant manager extends to these different roles in your business and to the community. It might not be what you signed up for, but it’s the job you have.
I’d like to take some of the worry off your plate and help you stay safe, sustainable, and compliant by giving you a free copy of this guide: The 4 Questions You Must Be Able to Answer About Your Facility to Ensure a Strong Environmental, Health & Safety Program.