Getting Buy-In for Your Environmental, Health and Safety Program from Management and Employees


When you’re trying to implement an effective environmental, health and safety program at your facility, there are two major audiences you must reach:

1. Management

2. Employees

As the facility or plant manager, you’re caught right in the middle—and as you try to put your EH&S plan into action, you have to consider that you need to communicate in very different ways to these two populations for them to understand and act on your program.

You have to speak a language each group understands.

Your end goal: EH&S must become a core business value. We’ve seen a lot of programs at facilities fail because they don’t get support. If it’s a core business value, any program will become stronger and more robust over time.

What Management Wants to Hear

Your first step is to get buy-in from management (when management is on board, employees will follow suit; otherwise, they don’t see the point).

The quickest way to get management’s attention is to talk about money: how to reduce costs and increase profits.

If you start talking about your proposed EH&S program in terms of technical issues, management is going to tune out because they don’t understand the details. They want to know:

  • How do I integrate these issues into our business model?
  • What do I get in return for this investment?

You have to convert EH&S program needs into dollars and cents to make management realize how the program will pay off in the long run. If there is anything management understands, it’s the consequences of lost production and lost income.

One way to do that is to explain the liabilities and risks—including their costs—associated with EH&S issues.

You simply make a list of the most significant EH&S issues at your facility and split it into two columns: In column 1, you include each issue on its own line, along with the potential costs associated with each liability or risk. In column 2, put the amount of money you’d have to invest in the facility (to create a new program or build up an existing program) to protect your facility from these high-cost liabilities, exposures, and risks.

You’ll find that the costs in column 1 are always greater than those in column 2. At that point, it’s a no-brainer to move forward with a preventative/proactive program. (I’ve included a free download of this chart at the end of the article.)

Some Typical Liabilities

One risk that will definitely get management’s attention has to do with permits. Almost every facility has permits, and if you’re non-compliant with key permits, you could be liable for up to $25,000 per day in fines (as plainly stated in many permits as a permit condition).

That’s a huge cost, right there in black and white. But it doesn’t stop there.

There are also costs associated with the time you spend away from your regular duties while addressing non-compliance issues. You might have to take employees away from their jobs to help you address these issues. Third parties, like attorneys or environmental consultants, might even have to get involved.

With a permit violation, you typically get a notice of violation and have 30 days to get in compliance. As a result, a significant concentrated reactive effort needs to be put in place within a short timeframe in order to address the violation.

All this should be included in your two-column list to reflect how the cost of being reactive is far greater than the cost of the proactive approach: implementing an effective EH&S program that heads off these problems before they happen.

Another column entry can deal with work-related injuries. Here, OSHA has done the work for you. Their website includes a section that lists the costs for specific lost-time work injuries, broken down into your time spent addressing the issue, third-party involvement, equipment damage, and lost production and income.

It’s all presented in graphs and spreadsheets, which management loves, as you know.

The end goal of this strategy is to show management that investing a small amount of money and time to put EH&S policies in place will pay off big-time in the long run.

Talking to Employees

The most important thing to remember when kicking off a chat with employees is that if management isn’t following your plan, employees won’t either—so always start with management. Get management buy-in firmly established before you try to get employee buy-in.

Once you’ve got that sorted out, you can address employees, who have a totally different viewpoint when it comes to environmental, health and safety programs. At the end of the day, they want to do their jobs well and get home safely to their families.

They really don’t have, or need, an understanding of the end goal of revenue or profits in the way that concerns management. It’s important to them only insofar as it affects their jobs.

They want to be valued for their work, and that starts with establishing defined roles and responsibilities for every employee as part of your EH&S program. The easiest way to do that is to have every employee define their roles and responsibilities for you. You’ll get a wealth of information back from them because they want to demonstrate how important they are to the organization. And don’t leave anyone out – you must realize that every employee at your facility is vital to the success of your EH&S policies and programs, so everyone must be accounted for.

As I’ve said, if management doesn’t walk the walk, employees won’t accept your EH&S program. That’s one thing. But as a facility manager, you can also increase employee engagement by being seen on the production floor and seeking assistance from personnel.

When you show you’re not just interested in employee input, but actually put it into practice, you get a ton of support. In most cases, it makes your job a lot easier, too. Employees on the production line know their stuff. It’s to your benefit to take advantage of that resource. When you collaborate with employees who are intimately involved in the day-to-day rather than just making pronouncements from afar, you’ll get great results.

You might encounter resistance at first, especially if the rank and file haven’t been consulted before. For many employees, EH&S programs are bottlenecks: they feel they are poorly designed and don’t reflect how they can do their jobs safely. This is often the result of a facility hiring a consultant sitting behind a desk who doesn’t know the intricacies of a job or how it’s performed. The big mistake here is that this consultant is the one that developed the facility’s roles and responsibilities and outlined how to do those jobs safely, not the actual employees that are doing these jobs in a productive and safe manner, day in and day out.

The solution? Ask each employee to get involved in defining their role, responsibilities, best practices, and job hazards. They can help you build your EH&S program.

They should also be active participants moving forward, with committees or regular meetings of employees involved in the development, implementation, and improvement of programs.

You could have a monthly meeting and bring in some food. Make it a “safe” atmosphere to bring up workplace issues involving environmental, health and safety practices. It might take some time, but once employees see you are committed to taking their suggestions and opinions seriously (even if you don’t implement all their input), they’ll help you develop a more effective plan.

It’s key that employees feel involved. Provide positive feedback and create an atmosphere of openness to eliminate the fear of reprisal. You don’t want anyone to feel like a whistleblower in danger of losing their job. 

One problem area can be training.

At Envision Environmental, Inc., we used to do a lot of in-person training in a classroom environment for different clients on OSHA or other EH&S issues, but we found a lot of participants were not paying attention.

What was the problem? Me. An outsider telling these guys how to do their jobs. We provide plenty of virtual online training, but if you want a classroom environment, use your own employees as trainers.

The bottom line is that employees want their jobs to be easier and safer; they want to know they’re contributing to the company in a tangible way to make it a stronger organization.

Putting It All Together

Strong EH&S programs are management-accepted and employee-owned.

Again, for long-term success, EH&S should become a core business value that everybody in the organization understands is important. It has to be communicated company-wide: included in the employee handbook, on posters in the break room, even communicated to customers—the works.

Having a strong EH&S program in place will increase profits, decrease lost time due to accidents, eliminate penalties for non-compliance, and make your job as a facility or plant manager that much easier, too.

To help you get management onboard, download and use this free tool to show them how an investment in an EH&S program now, will give your facility a significant ROI.

Environmental Health & Safety Liabilities, Risks, and Costs Chart

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