The Importance of Data and Decision-Making in Environmental, Health & Safety (EH&S)


I have a friend in the office design business. As you can imagine, for people heading back to work in an office during the pandemic, companies now must consider many more factors in office space design to keep employees safe through social distancing, as well as accounting for the many touchpoints every person creates from the moment they arrive at their facility to when they get to their workstations.

Think about everything you touch during the course of your day; each is a decision, conscious or subconscious.

This scenario inspired me to look at our decision-making process and determine what works best and what could be detrimental to our health and safety, both at home and in the workplace. What is the basis for a sound decision vs. what causes us to make a bad decision? The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how much we rely on data and how much that data influences our decision-making process. As a result, this is the first in a series of articles on the importance of data and decision-making in the EH&S field.

Recognize a Good Decision-Making Process

This exercise really brought to light the many decisions we make each day, consciously and subconsciously. What you wear, your breakfast, your route to work. Most of the decisions we make are subconscious, almost like breathing, which you just do automatically without thinking. You’re not aware of it.

On the job, we have a variety of valuable resources, but it all boils down to decision-making based on information and data when it comes to handling an EH&S issue. There is a different process for important – or even life-changing – decisions like these.

Unfortunately, sometimes people just go for it and jump into the pool, so to speak, without thinking things through.

Other times, some waffle and can’t commit. They’re indecisive.

Neither option is effective, safe or sound.

We use the PACED Decision-Making Model to examine choices in a logical, straightforward way, based on information and data, for any decision related to EH&S.

P – state the problem
A – list alternatives
C – identify criteria
Eevaluate alternatives
D – make a decision

When it comes to EH&S, you have to be exceedingly thorough in everything you do, because in many cases, the decision you make could affect the life and safety of employees or have a big impact on facility operations.

It’s All About Information

The foundation for this decision-making model is data. Without sound data you can easily go down the wrong path. But you must also carefully consider where the data comes from and how it was generated. You can’t always accept information at face value simply because it is presented in a well-organized spreadsheet or in an expensive-looking pamphlet.

How data is collected can significantly influence the results. For example, soil and groundwater samples collected improperly may generate inaccurate findings. The samples could be taken from the wrong place, or at the wrong frequency. Maybe the samples were not analyzed properly. Maybe the person collecting the samples didn’t follow proper sampling procedures.

It’s kind of like political campaign polling. There is often a big disparity in results based on who did the polling and where they interviewed potential voters. If you were to poll only voters in an area that heavily favored one party over the other… which way do you think the results would skew? It’s certainly not an impartial data set upon which a campaign can make decisions.

The point is to understand that data can be impacted by the method of collection and the collector of the data.

That’s why when we collect data that will lead EH&S-related decisions, we make sure that the data is supportable. For all your data collecting activities, you need to be able to present the following:

  • What we did
  • Why we did it
  • How we did it
  • When we did it
  • Who did it

Having this “back-up” for your data is just about as important as the data itself.

Remember to not only be very thorough in collecting data to make decisions, but also be diligent in safeguarding that information. Make sure you maintain all the relevant information in your archives, including the details and information to support your whole approach. Maintain sufficient information so that you can “recreate” what you did.

Then, if questions do arise, you can explain and justify how you arrived at the decision and how you obtained the data that supports it. This thorough approach will certainly come in handy over the years.

 Using This Decision-Making Model

If you use a thorough process like the PACED Decision-Making Model, you cannot be assured that the moves you make with regards to EH&S issues will always be 100% correct. But you can always be 100% confident that you did all you could to arrive at the decision you made.

When faced with a decision, use this five-step model to identify the actual problem you’re trying to solve, list and debate among alternatives, and then make the decision. And, of course, make sure you have extensive, sound, and appropriate data to back it all up.

Keep a look-out for a future article where we further explore the very important process of data collection.

At Envision Environmental, Inc. we’re happy to advise you on your next EH&S project, using the PACED Decision-Making Model and verifiable data. In the age of COVID-19, making decisions based on hard facts and data is more important than ever.

For more information, please get in touch with me, Mark Roman, at 609-208-1885 or via e-mail at

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