ASSE 2010: Integrating EHS into the Business

David Steinbacher, MPH, CSP, of ZymoGenetics Inc., provided a strategic overview of EHS planning during a session at the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Safety 2010 conference and expo in Baltimore.

Steinbacher acknowledged that it can be overwhelming for EHS professionals to decide exactly what to focus on as they plan their programs. “The problem is that everything seems important,” he said. “How do you begin to prioritize?”

First, Steinbacher suggested analyzing background factors. Is EHS aligned with the business? How much latitude do you have in planning for your organization? How formal is the current planning process? What are your resources?

Next, determine what is most important to you and your safety program. Some professionals focus on injury and illness rates; rely on intuition to determine areas of improvement; tackle the hot fad of the moment; or “fire fight” current areas of weakness or concern. Each of these strategies can have some downsides, or may not fit your organization’s specific needs. Steinbacher therefore emphasized the value of risk-based planning.

“It provides a logical rational for management to see why you’re undertaking initiatives,” he said. “It makes sense to management.”

He also offered the followed tips:

Start with a vision. While many EHS professionals start with analysis, Steinbacher said that vision should really be the main driver – especially since so many EHS mission statements sound the same and typically don’t excite employees. “We went a lot further and really tried to define what our vision is,” he said. “For the sake of the employees, we really wanted them to have a clear idea of the characteristics of the program we want to reach.”

What are the environmental drivers? Effective EHS planning cannot occur in a vacuum. Understanding the key drivers that impact your business, the company culture and the EHS system is vital.

The importance of data. “Gather all the data you can to understand the state of your EHS systems,” said Steinbacher. “If you wait to the last second, and you’re waiting to do any of this stuff, you’re not going to have the info you need to do a good job.”

Assess maturity and create a measurement system. Assessing the maturity of the system helps clarify the current state of your programs and processes. Less mature programs are more general while mature programs are finer tuned. Design a rating system that makes sense for your organization to provide a quantifiable measuring stick. “The main thing is to be critical in your assessment; do a lot of self assessments,” Steinbacher said. “It really takes an objective mind, being very critical, to take a maturity assessment.”

Get outside opinions. Getting perspectives from others can be helpful, too. Steinbacher points out that at his ZymoGenetics, they spent time talking with researchers and other members of the management group and then made adjustments.

Steinbacher said that when ZymoGenetics was searching for the basis for its maturity-criticality tool, they wanted something easy-to-use, flexible, adaptable, that wasn’t too time-consuming and that provided enough detail to target specific areas for improvement.

“There are many companies out there that have done a fantastic job, but let’s face it, no one’s perfect,” Steinbacher said. “When we started looking at this, there wasn’t anything specific for EHS planning … I hope [other] people share what they’re doing, too.”

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