EH&S Management Systems: Easy to Understand, Difficult to Successfully Implement

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Courtesy of Richard MacLean & Associates, LLC

Over the past decade and especially since the 1996 introduction of ISO 14001, environment, health, and safety (EH&S) managers have moved toward a “management system” approach to implement EH&S programs. Environmental management systems (EMSs) have the potential to yield significant value through the systematic
implementation and continuous improvement of EH&S programs. The concepts that form the foundation of an EMS are very simple to comprehend and articulate. So too are the concepts underlying many other business techniques such as reengineering, enterprise resource planning (ERP), and total quality management (TQM). Indeed, TQM forms much of the substructure of an EMS. As simple as these business strategies are conceptually, they are deceptively challenging to implement and achieve their full value. Rolling out an EMS is no exception. You may have an EMS in place, but is it delivering the full benefits you expected? This article discusses a number of key, but often overlooked, steps in implementing a successful EMS.


The EH&S profession has been around since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Only during the past decade has the nature of EH&S work grown so intricate and so integrated with other business functions that management systems are necessary to “keep all the pieces together.” Indeed, the authors’ primary focus early in our careers was on a relatively narrow list of items: (1) compliance with end-of-the-pipe regulations; (2) pollution control systems; (3) remediation; (4) EH&S training; and (5) crisis intervention. On second thought, crisis intervention was first.

Beginning around the mid-1980s, things started to get very complex. Departments grew, costs escalated, responsibilities overlapped with those of other departments, industry problems got front-page coverage, and management wanted more information and bettercontrol. Attention was shifting from endof- pipe controls to the manufacturing processes themselves. The issues were nolonger the exclusive domain of the EH&S staff departments, but were now everyone’s responsibility.

EH&S managers need business skills to manage the issues and identify competitive opportunities. With few road maps, they independently devised management systems to continuously improve their programs. EH&S managers shared their experiences (as they so often do), and a common body of knowledge evolved into guidelines for successful EH&S departments.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, “codes of practice” that contained many of the basic elements of a well-managed EH&S program started to appear. One of the most widely recognized was the 1991 International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Business Charter for Sustainable Development (see Table 1).1 In 1992, the first national standard for EMS, BS 7750, appeared, soon followed by the regional standard, Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), developed by the European Union in 1993. In 1996, the first international EMS standard, the ISO 14000 series, was published. Around the same time, literature, training programs, and assessment manuals became available to help design and evaluate progress in implementing an EMS.2

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