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EHS safety consultant

In these "new normal" days, environmental, health and safety (EHS) compliance isn’t the sole concern of most businesses—it’s just one part of running a healthy and productive company. But ongoing compliance is still an absolute must in order to run a safe and effective business, and EHS managers are faced with the daunting task of managing regulatory compliance across multiple facilities and functions, often without a lot of resources and now likely virtual in some capacity. Now is a great time to refocus and revisit your "pre-COVID" initiatives and goals.

Below we address some common challenges EHS managers face, as well as answer common questions they have about where to focus their efforts and possible consequences of non-compliance. 

Which EHS regulations are the most important?

The short answer here is: all of them. EHS, in and of itself, is important. Industry regulations that may seem inconsequential or comparatively minor can still be costly to miss or have larger-than-anticipated repercussions. With that said, check out the full blog from Antea Group USA for a handful that should be top priorities for all businesses:

Which regulations cause EHS managers the most trouble?

There are some regulations that are notoriously troublesome. Wouldn’t it be great if a regulatory agency like OSHA published a list of “Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards of the Year?” Of course it would be, and they do. As with everything in 2020, the list didn't get published as planned so here is the list for fiscal year 2019:

  1. Fall Protection
  2. Hazard Communication
  3. Scaffolding
  4. Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout)
  5. Respiratory Protection
  6. Ladders
  7. Powered Industrial Trucks
  8. Fall Protection - Training Requirements
  9. Machinery and Machine Guarding
  10. Eye and Face Protection

OSHA also compiles a list of the Top 10 “Serious” violations as well as a list for the Top 10 “Willful” violations. Safety + Health magazine has compiled all three 2019 lists in an easy-reference infographic.

What happens if I don’t comply with EHS regulations?

There are a number of consequences for failure to comply with any and all regulations that impact your business.

  • Costly fines. The actual fine can be just the tip of the iceberg. Attorney and consultant fees, along with employee hours used to focus on the noncompliance, can far outstrip the cost of the fine itself. In addition, environmental regulatory agencies can add supplemental environmental projects to a notice of violation, further running up the tab for noncompliance. It is more cost-effective to avoid fines altogether.
  • Stopped production. How many of your customers can be patient with your inability to provide finished products because a regulatory agency issued a cease and desist? EHS management should be part of business continuity discussions, maybe even extending to suppliers.
  • Criminal charges. Environmental health and safety noncompliance in its worst form can lead to criminal charges for both a business and individual employees.
  • Damage to your company’s reputation. You have far more control over maintaining your company’s good reputation than you have in re-establishing it if you lose it.
  • Higher employee turnover. Who wants to work for an organization that values its bottom line more than employee safety? And don’t forget to consider the lost time and costs spent hiring and training replacement workers.
  • Higher workers’ compensation insurance. If you dent the family car, you know it will eventually impact your insurance costs. The same is true with workers comp, though obviously much more serious and on a larger scale in the case of an injured worker.  

Where should I focus my efforts to ensure EHS compliance?

All of this information can seem a little overwhelming, making it hard to know what to do first or how to prioritize. Here are some of our suggestions:

  • Get stakeholder buy-in. Find someone in your organization to sell EHS as a priority and make the business case for why it matters.
  • Create a culture of EHS. While you may be thinking: “Easier said than done,” creating an EHS culture in the workplace is definitely worth the effort. In order to do this successfully, remember that the process cannot simply be from the top down or from the bottom up—the organization as a whole must be either in or out. Make sure to hold people accountable to the standards you set.
  • Make ongoing training a top priority and continuous investment. Employees know when they are the recipient of an investment, and respond accordingly with loyalty and performance.
  • Regularly audit your program. Regular EHS audits are an efficient and effective way to assess regulatory compliance, identify risk and find opportunities for process and program improvement.
  • Reward high performers. Those who have embraced EHS are the ones who can show the rest of the organization how’s it’s done. Recognizing them for their good work will encourage them to continue down the right path and be a leader for others

While compliance is an absolute must, it’s no longer the sole purpose of an EHS program’s function. It’s also about ensuring a happy and healthy workplace where employees feel comfortable and encouraged to participate in EHS efforts.

Check out the full blog for more including virtual audits, COVID impacts and new initiatives that should be added to your program.