Written by Amber Cicotte, CHMM, Senior Scientist, who leads BBJ Group's EHS Compliance Practice
Lessons from the 2017 Safety Leadership Conference and EHS & Sustainability Forum
I had the opportunity to attend the NAEM EHS & Sustainability Leadership Forum and EHS Today’s Safety Leadership Conference this year. Both were full of great content: thoughtful presentations from experienced leaders in the environmental health and safety profession. Topics ranged from high-level issues related to developing a cohesive and meaningful corporate EHS policy to the details of everyday life for EHS professionals, like how regulatory changes could affect day-to-day operations.
It’s not possible to touch on all the wonderful concepts that were covered, but there was a theme that I heard repeated over and over, in different topic areas, from widely diverse presenters, and from all over the country: Regulatory compliance alone will not get your company where you want it to be.
If an injury-free workplace and sustainable operation are the goals, how do we get there?
EHS Policy and Management Driven By Objectives and Core Values
That can be applied to anything: safety – a small-business operation can be recognized by OSHA as exemplary, even be honored as a “SHARP” company (Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program) and may still be far from an injury-free workplace; environmental – an operation may have all appropriate air, water, and waste permits for your facility, but still not be a sustainable operation; and so on.
Company leadership must decide on the objective before planning how to reach it because regulatory requirements and corporate objectives may not converge. Regulations take a long time to go from concept to being proven by science (as our industry requires) to being negotiated and finally drafted into law. The real world is progressing more quickly than laws are drafted and passed, and that can be viewed as discouraging or encouraging. It’s discouraging that meaningful regulation, whatever the concern, can be a long time coming. What should be encouraging to all of us is that if we are committed to a core value system, meeting the minimum requirements of the law should be easy; the objectives of a safe, responsible, and sustainable workplace are situated far above that bar.
EHS Regulations Are Not The Future
That isn’t to say there aren’t certain aspects of regulatory compliance that can be onerous to meet. The same systems of regulation that are lagging behind industry and technology are also capable of churning out copious quantities of regulation that miss the mark of truly keeping people and their environment safe and healthy. Knowing that regulations lag behind real-world conditions does not mean that we shouldn’t be involved in creation of responsible legislation. Absolutely we should. But, waiting for environmental regulations to define the future is irresponsible and will leave us unprepared. Whatever the objective, whether reducing risk of environmental liabilities, eliminating injuries in the workplace, or ensuring business is prepared for the future, regulatory compliance is just the first step, not the last.