When it comes to compliance with environmental, health and safety issues, there are three words I want you to keep in mind. Just three words… but they can be very difficult for anyone to say.
These three words are…
“I don’t know.”
I initially wrote about these words a few years ago. You can find that article here: https://www.envisionenvironmental.com/blog/three-magic-words-every-manager-must-say
These words are so important for EH&S compliance that they are worth repeating. With the passing of each year as an environmental consultant, I keep coming across more and more EH&S issues that our clients ask us to help resolve that are the result of mistakes people make simply because they cannot say “I don’t know.” With each passing year, resolving these types of issues for our clients is becoming the fastest growing portion of our consulting workload.
It's time that we put an end to this unnecessary behavior because it is costing too much money!
According to the authors of the influential book on business and the economy, Freakonomics, not being able to say these three simple words and admit to our peers – and bosses – that we don’t know something costs U.S. industry millions of dollars each year because of the mistakes we make simply because we cannot say “I don’t know”.
I am here to say again that it’s okay to admit you don’t know something!
However, in my experience, I’ve found that many people are very reluctant to do so. Many workers, especially managers, feel like they should know everything – or at least appear to. The thinking goes that to admit they need help would show weakness… or cause team members to lose confidence in them.
As a manager, you’re juggling so much. There is so much to know when it comes to EH&S… and it’s changing all the time. It’s all too easy to get bogged down… to fall behind in following best practices… to not be able to figure things out on your own.
In addition, many fear these words due to the highly competitive and pressure-filled workplace that they may find themselves employed in. There is that general feeling, if you will, that you can be easily replaced should you ever admit that you do not know something relative to your job.
This inability to say “I don’t know” can create a wealth of totally unnecessary problems. It can delay finding solutions to problems, which then result in such problems costing well more than they should to resolve… or may even make a problem worse because the wrong solution has been implemented to try to resolve the issue. And that’s just the start of what can happen when you refuse to admit your “ignorance” of the right path forward.
It happens to everybody. And it’s okay to seek out assistance from somebody who knows the issues better than you do and can help with expert knowledge… or has experience dealing with an issue that you may not have any experience with.
In many cases, seeking assistance from a knowledgeable resource is the quickest way to a solution. And when it comes to EH&S issues, thoroughness is often of the essence to prevent a problem from growing in scope and expense to solve.
Where to Get Help When You Don’t Know What to Do
Step 1: Say “I don’t know.”
Step 2: You now have many options for getting help with your issue…
A. Your friendly neighborhood environmental consultant is a great place to start when seeking assistance. They solve EH&S problems for a living. They’ve seen it all. They probably have experience in the problem you are facing… and the possible solutions too. And you can bet they’re not going to “judge” you either.
B. Another great option is any industry association or group you may belong to. Often, they have forums where you can seek out free expert advice on common issues. Your peers have probably experienced the same issues you are struggling with or something similar – and have already discovered the potential solutions. Let them show you the way.
At the very least, these types of groups might have a website with resources you can search for solutions or perhaps a newsletter archive to go through for similar problems – and solutions.
You can be proactive in this area by regularly attending meetings or conferences hosted by these groups. A wealth of up-to-date information is shared at those types of events – sometimes over coffee and donuts during breaks.
C. This next resource might be the toughest to swallow. I recommend you also seek out assistance internally. It’s worth looking into because somebody at your facility may already have an answer for you because they have experience dealing with the particular issue you are addressing when they worked elsewhere.
Tap into this resource!
Who should you go to? I often refer to a maintenance staff and long-time employees as a facility’s most valuable resource. And that’s certainly the case here. They’re the ones who really knowhow your facility ticks… and what lurks in the dark corners.
So, take advantage of that. Make them your best friends. And be sure to document their in-depth knowledge. Because when they retire or transfer to another job, you do not want that institutional knowledge to be lost when they leave.
D. This next resource is related to other locations within your organization. I’m talking about seeking out help from sister facilities.
Basically, contact other facilities in your company who do similar work to yours. These folks are on the same team, so to speak, and should be happy to help. Not to mention, they’ve probably faced the same or similar situations.
If this problem is new to them too, they can still help guide you to the solution. Two heads are better than one, as they say.
I can’t tell you how many times that we’ve come across a client that has multiple sites across the country… but they never talk to each other. It doesn’t have to be that way – and shouldn’t.
I recommend creating a pipeline between all the sister facilities. Perhaps a regularly scheduled conference call with the goal of sharing problems, ideas, solutions…even spare parts between facilities that have the same equipment.
That last one has been especially important of late when supply chain issues mean that many folks are running short of what they need to keep facilities running smoothly. During the pandemic, one of my clients did just that when a sister facility across the country had a vital part for their process equipment. They had it shipped overnight and were up and running in no time!
E. This next potential resource comes with a big caveat. I’m talking about the internet. This is a fantastic place to search for information on every topic under the sun. But, as you know, there is lot of misinformation too.
What you find could be outdated, incorrect… dangerously incorrect, even. Make sure whatever you download is from a trusted resource, is the latest version of whatever you are looking for, and that it also applies to your specific needs.
Regulator’s websites are especially valuable. These are the folks who wrote the regulations and are on top of “hot topics” relative to EH&S. As a result, their websites are chock-full of compliance assistance tools and guidance documents on important regulations. You can also find letters of interpretation that answer the most common questions that come in about a specific regulation.
For example, probably one of the best websites to check out belongs to OSHA. They’ve published thousands of guidance documents, helpful videos, and more that help companies stay incompliance with very diverse worker safety rules and regulations. Many are issues where you may need to say, “I don’t know.” At a minimum, you should be downloading their annual list of the top 10 most common violations each year. Check out our latest article on OSHA’s Top 10 Violations at the following link: https://www.envisionenvironmental.com/blog/what-you-must-do-to-address-oshas-annual-top-10-list-of-most-frequent-violations
F. These next couple of resources are more proactive measures than anything else, as they help head off compliance issues before they pop up.
Training is the best investment you can make in your facility, whether it’s run internally or you bring in a third partylike Envision. We also have a Virtual University that lets you conduct training online and at your own speed. Check it out at the following link: https://www.envisionenvironmental.com/virtual-university-info
Routine audits and assessments are a great tool for spotting issues that may result in compliance difficulties. In many cases, we will do an initial audit for our clients. In the process, we show the client what to look for and how we look for it – and how we develop solutions. That way the client can take the reins themselves on the next go around.
G. These days there are also software solutions to help you stay in compliance through environmental management systems. Once you have all the specific information about your facility in the system, this compliance software keeps you on track with what you need to be doing and when.
This software takes a lot of upfront work to set up. But once in place, it can be a handy tool.
Keep in mind that when it comes to compliance, you should always involve corporate counsel before making a move. Make sure you are on the same page before you take that call from a regulator or commit to doing anything.
And one last thing…
Let me emphasize that it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” It’s not showing weakness. In fact, it takes a lot more strength to ask for help than not.
I’d welcome the opportunity to chat with you more about compliance and EH&S issues and how Envision Environmental, Inc. can help with your efforts. Just call me, Mark Roman, at 609-208-1885 or get in touch via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.