The title and subject of this blog post may come as a surprise to some readers, but certainly not all of you. The fact is, it’s often true that companies who choose to hire an in-house EHS manager subsequently fail to achieve nor maintain regulatory compliance. This scenario is especially true among small companies, which will be the focus of this blog post.
All too often, once small businesses come to the realization that they need EHS compliance help, they make the decision to hire an in-house EHS manager and “magically” expect that everything will get addressed and managed, and that compliance will be achieved. Often times this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
Implementing and managing EHS compliance is a difficult and complicated process that can go wrong in any number of ways and at any time. The scope of compliance requirements for a given company plays a major role, but failure often arises from a lack of adequate understanding, experience, & effort from both the assigned EHS manager as well as company management. When EHS programs fail (for example, from big OSHA fines, high injury rates, environmental violations, etc.), it’s all too easy to point the finger of blame towards the EHS manager, which is often justified, but just as often, if not more so, company management must accept or share the blame.
To make matters worse, anyone along a company’s chain of command can undermine or even destroy the chances of success, from the assigned EHS manager, to the owner or CEO, through mid management & supervisors and even front line production workers.
This blog post will focus on the struggles of small companies, specifically in regards to recruiting, managing and supporting in-house EHS managers so that their compliance programs can succeed. I’ll use manufacturing as the example industry, but the discussion is relevant to other General Industry and Construction businesses. Let’s take a closer look at each of these challenges.
EHS Compliance Scope:
The EHS compliance scope of a given company plays a major role in the likelihood of success or failure. The more regulatory obligations a company has, the greater opportunity for failure.
On the OSHA side, companies with extensive hazards create more health and safety compliance requirements. For example, a simple electronics assembly manufacturer typically has much fewer hazards as compared to a wood products, chemical manufacturer, or steel foundry. The former typically has few chemicals, little if any machine guarding issues, and simple PPE requirements, whereas the later probably have extensive electrical, chemical, fall, fire, crane/hoist, walking surfaces, hazardous energy, & machine guarding safety hazards, not to mention health hazards such as noise and toxic metal & chemical exposures. These hazards trigger regulatory “control” requirements to help ensure the health and safety of workers, such as training, personal protective equipment, written policies and procedures, testing, routine inspections, work rotations, reporting and the list goes on and on. To make matters worse, these controls aren’t “one time events,” they are ongoing and must be managed from day to day, week to week and month to month in order to maintain compliance.
On the environmental side, it can get even trickier, and again it depends on the company’s operations and activities. Many simple manufacturing processes, take electronics assembly again as an example, have little if any environmental impacts and therefore few if any compliance requirements, whereas other more complicated processes, such as chemical, semiconductor, & fiberglass manufacturing, have major environmental impacts that trigger significant EPA, TCEQ (in TX), hazardous materials and even DOT regulations. Examples include air permitting, storm water, waste water discharge, hazardous waste management (RCRA/EPA/DOT) and hazardous materials management and reporting. This collection of regulations trigger multiple requirements such as employee training, tracking, monitoring, testing, engineering controls, as well as reporting, deadlines and other administrative obligations. Again, these are ongoing obligations, not “one time events.”
The first challenge is determining exactly which regulations apply to a given company, which can be a major undertaking in itself. Then the company must implement the applicable EHS regulations, and most importantly manage them over time.
A company’s EHS manager must understand and manage these regulations, which obviously means they possess the requisite knowledge, qualifications, experience and training to do so. The company must also recognize the scope of these obligations and challenges, and then contribute the necessary resources, support and most of all management commitment (more on this last issue in a moment), to help ensure that the EHS manager, and company, succeeds and that the compliance boxes get checked.
Recruiting, Vetting and Hiring an EHS Manager
Once the decision to hire an EHS Manger is made, the difficulties begin and it’s often rooted in the fact that many small companies simply don’t understand the scope of their EHS compliance requirements, and therefore don’t know the skill set and experience required to manage those requirements. In other words, if a company doesn’t fully understand these regulatory issues, how are they supposed to recruit and hire the right person for the job? The problem only compounds once the company begins to understand how difficult it is to find fully qualified professionals, not to mention the price tag (ie: high salary) if they succeed in doing so.
I’m going to refer back to the content of another related blog post that I recently published to expand on this discussion.
The frustration continues as a company tries to draft their job posting. How do you create a job posting for an EHS manager, when you’re not exactly sure what they’re supposed to do nor what qualifications and experience the candidate needs to have? Often a company will end up searching other similar ads, and cherry pick whichever content sounds good. Not very scientific, but at least it keeps the ball rolling…
Once done, the ad gets posted and the company eagerly awaits responses. What normally follows is an overwhelming stream of resumes that quickly clogs the inbox. As the resume review process begins, the frustration mounts. As with any recruiting process, a company will be presented with a wide range of candidates, some of whom had strong written communication skills and educational backgrounds, and many who didn’t. That’s to be expected, but what companies often aren’t prepared for is the wide range of industries, qualifications, skills and certifications that fill the resumes. Making sense of it all can be overwhelming to say the least.
Here’s a quick sampling of what a company can expect to encounter:
(I refer to these as “hard qualification” considerations, but will discuss equally important “soft qualifications” issues in a moment):
“Hard” Qualification Considerations:
Health & Safety Credentials Will Include:
OSHA 500, OSHA 501, OSHA 510, OSHA 511, OSHA Outreach trainer, and so on.
The word “certified” will come up over and over again: “Safeland certified,” “Hazwoper certified”, “DOT hazardous materials certified,” “IATA certified,” “OSHA certified,” and the list goes on.
Certification acronyms including CSP, CIH, OHST, CHSM, and others.
Environmental Experience Credentials can include:
Hazardous Waste Management, RCRA, Stormwater, SPCC, SWPPP, air permitting, air modeling, etc.
Formal education can range from undergraduate & graduate degrees from accredited well known universities (although probably few), to 2 year “associate health & safety degrees” often from “on-line” universities, to HS diplomas or less. Companies may be surprised to learn that few candidates, even those with higher educational levels, will have degrees directly related to environmental, health and safety compliance (and that’s because there are few universities offering such degrees).
Then there’s the wide range of industries that candidates came from: oil and gas, offshore, maritime, construction, general industry, manufacturing, mines, & energy.
If a company has no prior experience recruiting and vetting EHS professionals, this will be overwhelming and often results in an inability to effectively evaluate resumes and determine viable candidates for the job.
“Soft” Qualification Considerations
Beyond “hard qualification” considerations, the next major challenge is finding candidates with the right “soft qualifications.” Soft qualifications include typical qualities like professionalism, appearance, communication skills, etc., but more relevant to this conversation are the candidates’ overall demeanor and “approach to enforcement and compliance.” Let’s face it, EHS managers have a tough job. Not only do they need to have the requisite technical skills and experience, but often times must fill the role of “company cop” having to enforce and ensure that EHS compliance endures. This is a very tricky and difficult proposition and it takes a very special kind of personality to pull it off, especially over time at a given company.
Here’s why: effective and successful environmental, health and safety compliance is a very inconvenient and often costly proposition for a company. This hard truth will eventually, if not routinely, ruffle the feathers of virtually everyone throughout a company’s chain of command from ownership and senior management, through mid-management and supervisors, all the way down to front line production workers. Company leadership often grumble about added costs such as lost production time and added payroll costs while employees get safety training or are sent out for respirator fit testing, or for the expense of implementing and managing an air permit or new scrubber technology to reduce emissions. Production workers gristle about having to wear safety glasses or hard hats, and supervisors and managers complain about having to constantly remind them to do so. Even the office staff may grumble about having to participate in things like evacuation drills or undergoing ergonomics training. Virtually everyone within a company will be impacted by EHS compliance issues, and often times rather than view it as positive and helpful, they often (but not always of course) focus on the downside. Imagine being responsible for dealing with and managing all of this!
Back to the point,.. so what are the requisit “soft qualifications” needed to navigate these choppy waters? As you may have guessed, it starts with a very patient and understanding personality with a high “emotional IQ.” The person must connect, communicate & relate effectively with all levels of company personnel, from the company CEO to production workers. An ability to listen to, understand and acknowledge concerns and objections is key. Equally important is the ability to effectively, patiently and consistently address and approach these concerns by educating staff as to why EHS compliance, and all of the challenging requirements that accompany it, are so important (ie: protecting health & safety of employees, minimizing the company’s environmental impact on the local community, etc.). A smart EHS manager will go to great lengths to “personalize” their responses to objectors” by appealing to their specific personal and professional needs and agendas. A good EHS manager will consistently attach a “price tag” for failing to manage EHS compliance, such as regulatory fines and penalties, potential civil & even criminal liabilities, and of course the risk of serious injuries and even fatalities for employees. The EHS manager will have to do this over and over again, and with a smile, throughout is or her time with a company.
On a related note, there are basically two types of EHS professionals, those who rule with “the hammer” and those who choose to enforce compliance through thoughtful education and interaction (see above). The second type is the only real sustainable approach. The “hammer” may work for a while, but eventually employees will tune the “hammer” out, sometimes even actively scheming to undermine them, rendering them ineffective and doomed to failure. I’ve personally seen this scenario play out over and over again with my own businesses and with client companies.
Other EHS Manager Pitfalls
Here’s a quick summary of other major EHS management and style problems that I’ve encountered in the past:
- The Desk Jockey: As the name implies, this EHS manager spends the vast majority of their time sitting behind a computer and rarely ventures onto the production floor for inspections, employee interactions, etc.. Their focus, for whatever reason, is on written policies and procedures and other “administrative” tasks, to the great detriment of the overall EHS program. Ask this manager to conduct an employee training session or field inspection, and they might respond with a blank, puzzled stare. An EHS manager who fails to engage outside of his/her office is doomed to failure for obvious reasons.
- The Field Rat: As you may have guessed, this style is the opposite of the Desk Jockey. They focus almost entirely on “field work,” such as inspections and training, but have a serious allergy to computers and documentation. An EHS manager who fails to manage administrative requirements is equally doomed to failure, because when it comes to EHS compliance, documentation and records, etc. are key.
- The Problem Finder: This person is good at identifying problems, but not so good at following through on implementing corrective actions. A good EHS manager must be equally skilled at identifying EHS violations AND THEN following through on correcting them, regardless of the required effort and obstacles. Pointing out problems, and then leaving them for “someone else” to fix is another common and critical failure of EHS managers.
- The “Loose Ends” Manager: This manager is good at identifying problems, and then earnestly attempting to follow through on corrections, yet cannot consistently get to the finish line. The root cause can be lack of organization, commitment or consistency. Regardless of the cause, the net result is inconsistent results, lots of loose ends, and therefor lots of non-compliance.
The difference between this manager, and the “Problem Finder,” is that the latter literally believes that their job is “done” once they’ve identified an issue, and it’s now up to someone else to address it. At least the “Loose Ends” manager consistently attempts to address problems, but their success is consistently inconsistent.
I’ll now briefly shift the conversation back towards how company management can contribute to EHS compliance failures.
Inability to Oversee & Manage The EHS Manager
Another major challenge facing small companies when it comes to EHS compliance, is how to oversee and manage the EHS manager. In other words, small companies typically make the decision to hire an in-house EHS manage because the company lacks, among other things, the internal expertise to get the job done. So if management doesn’t have a good understanding of applicable regulations, how are they supposed to manage and evaluate the performance of their EHS manager, let alone hold them accountable? If a company gets lucky, and hires a competent and professional EHS manager who actually gets the job done, than this might not be a major problem, but often times the EHS manager fails to adequately perform and senior management doesn’t get the memo until something really bad happens, like a major OSHA or environmental fine, dramatically increased insurance costs, or a serious injury or fatality occurs. Again, this issue is a major challenge and consideration for any small business who is contemplating hire of an in-house EHS manager..
One small business owner I know recently illustrated the point this way: “I knew I’d hired the wrong guy when he came to me one day asking about an environmental regulation, and I replied, hell, I don’t know, that’s what I hired you for!!!”
I’m going to end off by briefly discussing probably the most critical component contributing to EHS compliance success, or failure, and that is “management commitment.” As discussed throughout this blog post, EHS compliance can be an incredibly inconvenient, complicated and costly endeavor. Senior management and/or ownership must recognize and acknowledge the magnitude of their obligations, and then make an unwavering and sustained commitment to EHS compliance, through all of the ups and downs, if there’s going to be any chance of success. Without this “top down” commitment, EHS compliance is almost always bound to fail.
Unfortunately, this sort of sustained commitment is very rare in small companies, and it’s often rooted in a lack of education and understanding from senior management. Not only ignorance of the actual environmental, health and safety rules and regulations that apply to their business, but also the risks involved in failing to manage them. They’re all too often consumed running the businesses and maintaining the “bottom line,” and simply don’t have, or make, the time to understand these critical issues. Often times it takes a disaster, such as a huge OSHA or environmental fine, or high insurance premiums (EMR) or the serious injury or fatality of an employee, for them to finally “get it.” In my experience, this is what it often takes for “management commitment” to finally take hold.
On a related note, many a talented and committed EHS professional has left a company over lack of management commitment. In my experience, this is probably the #1 reason why EHS professionals choose to leave a company and seek employment elsewhere.
In summary, in order for a small company to succeed in implementation and management of their EHS compliance programs by hiring an in-house EHS manager, they must first determine which rules & regulations apply to their operations, then recruit, vet and hire a candidate who is fully qualified to manage those requirements, and then most importantly, provide the necessary, sustained & unwavering management commitment and support to ensure that the EHS manager and compliance programs succeed. As this blog post has discussed, this is no easy task and success is far from inevitable, especially for small companies.
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