What is EHS Management and Why is It Needed?
In the 20th century, as industry and consumption grew, workplace injuries were all too common and pollution was rarely given a second thought. A river in Ohio burst into flames because it was so saturated with chemical waste. A California oil rig spilled millions of gallons of oil into coastal waters. Meanwhile, an estimated 14,000 Americans died in workplace safety incidents in 1970 alone. By the 1960s, the dangerous ramifications of unbridled economic growth were clear.
After years of piecemeal reforms, in 1970 the U.S. established the Environmental Protection Agency, and in 1971, it established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to more closely regulate business practices related to environment, health and safety. Similar improvements were being made around the world. The European Economic Community formed an Advisory Committee for Safety, Hygiene and Health Protection at Work in 1974, and the European Union later formed the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Out of this movement grew the field of EHS Management — or Environment, Health and Safety Management.
What is EHS Management?
As its name suggests, EHS Management is a management framework for businesses to keep workers, the workplace and the environment free from harm. Many companies have dedicated EHS managers or EHS departments to oversee these activities.
EHS Management has three pillars: environment, health and safety. The environmental pillar of EHS Management includes processes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent chemical spills. The health pillar covers systems to protect workers, customers and surrounding communities from exposure to pathogens, radiation or hazardous chemicals. Lastly, the safety pillar involves procedures to keep workers safe from physical injury due to machinery or exposure to hazardous substances on the job.
EHS Management grew out of the need to stay compliant with new regulatory agencies. However, it has taken on even greater significance today as it becomes a way for businesses to manage risk, continuously improve operational efficiency, and attract customers and investors who prioritize environmental sustainability.
What is EHS & S Versus EHS?
With climate risk mounting, investor interest in sustainability is reshaping the role of EHS management. While some organizations incorporate sustainability in the environmental pillar of EHS, many others are choosing to add a second ‘S’ to emphasize the growing importance of sustainability efforts. This is an indicator of the shift in EHS management from a reactive mindset to a proactive, long-term outlook. As sustainability becomes a core part of corporate missions, EHS&S underscores the link between these efforts and broader strategic goals.
EHS Management Software
Like most business processes, EHS Management is an increasingly digital process, powered by data. Because EHS regulations are complex and ever-evolving, many businesses choose to use EHS Management software to improve compliance, decision-making and risk mitigation efforts. Digitizing EHS Management can help businesses centralize data collection — making it easier to track incidents and identify opportunities for improvement. Mobile-enabled platforms also allow workers to report data in the field, improving the speed and accuracy of information. EHS Management software is also used to ensure employees have access to up-to-date Safety Data Sheets on the go, in their language. These platforms make it easier for businesses to stay compliant as regulations change, keep workers safe and improve efficiency.
The Future of EHS Management
EHS Management is becoming more complex in today’s global economy. As businesses grow and begin to operate in new regions of the world, EHS regulations multiply, as does the need to provide safety information across more sites, in more languages. Additionally, as the climate crisis escalates, businesses are being called upon to address climate risks more urgently. This means carefully tracking and managing environmental risks, working to reduce their environmental footprint and reporting progress to investors and the public.
As the stakes go up, EHS Management is increasingly seen as a driver of both bottom line improvement — by improving efficiency and reducing costly incidents — and top line growth — by attracting investors and customers with forward-looking business practices. This means EHS Management is becoming a core part of corporate strategy and driving enterprise-level decisions.