EH&S In Depth: Looking After the Bottom Line

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Courtesy of Richard MacLean & Associates, LLC

Technical competency is only one dimension of an environmental professional’s career. Success comes with effectively
applying this technical knowledge to your work environment. “EH&S Advisor” is a new EM column that will offer a wide range of tools and techniques to help you become more proficient in your job. The column will provide a monthly forum for environment, health, and safety (EH&S) professionals to share lessons learned from their successes and the challenges that they have overcome. The EH&S Advisor will have one or two supporting authors from industry,
academia, government, and non-government organizations. This serves several purposes. First, co-authors provide expertise, credibility, balance, and contacts for additional information. Second, recognizing contributors encourages readers to join this forum and share their own experiences and tools for working effectively. A&WMA Immediate Past President Paul King, director, Environment, Health, & Safety Stewardship for PPG Industries, joins me in introducing the column to EM readers. This, the first article, describes the need for timely EH&S information in today’s rapidly changing work environment, provides the ground rules for the potentially controversial material that will appear from time to time, and asks for your feedback and contributions to future articles.

At several universities, I have lectured undergraduate students on the challenges they will face in the work environment. Early into the discussion, I give them a one-page “realworld exam” and ask them, among other questions, to rank their proficiency in the following skills in terms of longrange significance to their professional careers: (1) math and science, (2) writing, (3) engineering, and (4) golf. Inevitably, the liberal arts majors pick (1) or (2), and the engineers pick (3). Option (4) is, of course, the throwaway, making the four-choice question a three-part one while simultaneously providing amusement and stress relief while taking the test. Or is it?

One may reasonably assume that very senior and successful professionals in positions to which these students aspire would pick the “correct answer.” I have given this test to dozens of successful professionals and they uniformly and without hesitation pick (4). They recognize that “golf” represents the forum where key social and professional interactions take place. It may be jogging or boating in some organizations, but they know that the discussions that involve or take place during these activities can be essential. “How was the golf game on Sunday, Judy? By the way, what’s the status of the new proposal?”

The realization that implementation skills based on life experiences and interpersonal adeptness can be determining factors in success or failure may be disturbing to an EH&S professional beginning his or her career with four or more years of technical training. To senior professionals, it is a fact of life. The successful ones have built networks and mentoring systems to learn these techniques taught not in universities, but in the “College of Hard Knocks.” This column will provide an opportunity for EM readers to broaden their support networks.

The challenges faced in the work environment continue to grow. We, and for that matter, all professions, are facing relentless demands to add value or be cut. The three-part series just completed in the July issue of EM on “Right-Sizing Organizations for Quality” directly addressed the question of organization cutbacks. The strong feedback from this series was one element in our decision to begin this column. Another key element was our ongoing discussions with A&WMA members who are under enormous pressure to do more with fewer resources.

There can also be secondary and unintended consequences from doing more with less. For example, the need to press on with “getting the job done” can create a myopic view of available options at a time when there are tremendous, innovative opportunities. Additionally, the concern over job security and future cutbacks may lead some EH&S professionals to use only proven, “safe” options rather than new, potentially more efficient but riskier courses of action. Worse yet, these fears can lead to inaction. Clearly, now is the time to be efficient and effective in how we apply our technical knowledge.

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