Faces of EHS

Faces of EHS: Subena Colligan on Environmental, Social, and Governance

Throughout the course of her career, Subena Colligan, CIH, CSP, has held many titles, including Air Force veteran, executive coach, and (Chair-Elect) Director for the Board for Global EHS Credentialing (formerly American Board of Industrial Hygiene), all of which she found very rewarding. She realized that her joy of occupational health and safety came from providing tools to live life fully. For her, it came in the form of an industrial hygienist implementing programs and leading people in dynamic environments. The outcome meant that those impacted were protected from short- and long-term illnesses. Today, she has taken the management lessons and turned into a management consulting agency for OHS professionals.

Subena is the principal of S. Colligan Coaching, which specializes in occupational health and safety management consulting, with an emphasis on strategy and professional development for leaders of all levels within to improve the quality of life for practitioners and those they serve. The premise of the agency began out of the concern for OHS pros that are often under-resourced, over-worked, and burnt-out. The hazards these conditions present can result in fatalities, substandard performance, or communities losing their OHS pro. S. Colligan Coaching aims to protect the professional protecting the workforce.

For this special Enviro, Social, and Governance Week (ESG) edition of Faces of EHS, we sat down with Subena to discuss her influences, lessons learned, and the ins and outs of ESG.

Q: How did you get your start in the field?

I had no clue the field of occupational health and safety existed! However, I believe my life is a series of fortunate events, one of them being the Air Force seeing me as an asset to the career field. I was placed in industrial hygiene and the rest is history.

Q: Who has been your biggest influence in the industry?

There are too many influences to pick just one. There are women that have paved the way for me at various stages like Dianne Grote-Adams, Donna Doganiero, Abby Ferri. Then there are those coming behind me like Jacob Shedd, Frances Appenteng, and Jans Babkevics that inspire me to keep evolving. Every time I attend a conference and see the poster sessions or have a conversation with someone about their career, I feel an immense joy that turns into motivation.

Q: What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?

The biggest mistake I made was showing up to a potential chemical attack at my deployed military installation and expecting the incident commander to listen to what I had say. Although, I had the right information, I had not built a relationship with the incident command system. In a time of crisis, getting information from unconfirmed sources can be a risk. I learned that building cross-functional relationships was paramount to my leadership.

Q: What’s your favorite and least favorite part about working in the industry? Would you change anything?

The spontaneity of the field is exciting. I get to learn about every function of the business from frontline to logistics. It’s an incredible space to grow.

My least favorite is knowing someone that was injured, or their quality of life impacted negatively due to the conditions of the workplace. Work is an avenue for many to provide a comfortable living for themselves and their families. While I can’t change each incident, I have dedicated my career to pouring into the OHS professionals that can make a difference through influence and leadership.

Q: Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?

There is a current trend of the employee raising the expectations of their well-being in the workplace, to include OHS professionals. Management consulting agencies around the world are tracking the increased success of organizations that prioritize respecting and valuing people. The more successful OHS leaders will be engaged across the business function, take time to know their people, and create conditions that encourage innovation and well-being amongst their staff.

Q: How can safety leaders adopt the values of ESG in their workplaces?

Let’s be clear, ESG is here and must be adopted to thrive in any business. Finance companies are assessing the health of companies based on their ESG initiatives, contract criteria are starting to include ESG as a requirement to bid. The bottom line is that ESG is impacting the bottom line, which means we must adapt. The great news is that safety is integrated in ESG, if the connection is made.

A standardized management system, like ISO 45001, is a great investment to adopt the values of ESG. Expectations of labor standards and equity in the workforce will continue as a priority from the Boardroom down. Now is a great time to create the strategies and implement the best management practices of safety program leadership.

For my folks that are responsible for environmental, I highly recommend getting the proposals for continuous improvement in the works. If your company is not asking for it now, be prepared as annual goals are being developed.

Q: How will the implementation of ESG change the future of EHS?

Workplace safety has seen increased invitations for a set at the decision-making table since the pandemic hit, ESG will continue to create opportunities for subject matter experts to be invited to the table. There are also opportunities for career changes. I’ve witnessed an increase in industrial hygienists moving into product stewardship and environmental professionals taking on climate change initiatives. If you are looking for a career change, ESG may be an avenue to be astute and provide value to our changing role.

Q: What are you most proud of?

My nieces make my world go around. I am so proud of them, the way that they challenge each other, and the systems of thinking presented to them. They are shining examples of the possibility for the coming generations that encourage me to show up as my best self every day.

Q: Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Do what you love. This is an expansive field. I encourage every person, new or tenured, to explore more opportunities, to find things that you love, and do more of it. They say that when you are doing what you love, you will never work again in your life. I have witnessed it firsthand, and I wish it for everyone in their chosen profession.