In our latest installment of Ask the Expert, we hear from Claire Beich, the president and owner of Ascend Consulting EHS, LLC, about how to craft and invest in a safety program, and the future of technology and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives in the workplace. Here’s what she had to say.
Q: What are some of the key elements of a well-crafted safety program?
My thoughts on a well-crafted safety program go beyond the program and start with the leaders of the organization. If everyone considers themselves as part contributor to the program, keeping people at the core of their thoughts, then a foundation is laid for long-term success. The owners, C-suite, etc., create the company culture and if we pull out safety on its own as a culture, we have already set it up to be set to the side first.
I hope we find ourselves leading with empathy in our steps in EHS and as the safety pro on the job site. Typically, we are called in when something has already gone wrong. If we know anything, when something has gone wrong people are more likely to not want to speak up about how it all happened. Sometimes people simply cannot remember. Either way, leading with questions stemming from if there is written process for the task, or if there is documented training for the task can lead you to the root cause quicker than asking who did it. We need to keep in mind that people will not typically wake up and say they want to get hurt at work today. Most of the time, people are trying to be a great employee and get the job done, no matter what. It is not easy, but it is very much worth it.
Q: How can EHS leaders connect with the C-suite and get them to invest in workplace safety?
As much as we want this question to be asked in the opposite direction (how C-suite can get the employees invested in their own safety), we often find ourselves justifying and creating ROIs on a human life/limb. Luckily, we have tools for this. We can use questions and curiosity to pull them in. When was the last time we asked our C-suite what it takes to convince them to take safety seriously? If they respond that they do, ask them how they take it seriously. Not crassly or with anything other than pure curiosity because they could be doing something far beyond what you may be aware of. Spend time getting to know your teams and see where they are truly and ask them questions that get them thinking about safety as a “company culture,’” not “safety culture.”
Q: What are the benefits of using data analytics or new technologies like artificial intelligence in the EHS industry?
Being able to free up our time from doing data entry through the use of many AI and new tech we have more opportunities to focus on people, company culture developments, psychological safety, and more. How flexible are we and how often do we lead with questions rather than accusations and pointing fingers? It is not to say we remove accountability, not at all, we are simply finding ways to hold the correct entity accountable in each case. AI can help determine root cause, create metric for gaps in processes, and highlight our weaknesses and/or challenges. Everything in moderation should be headed as we move with open eye and backup systems into our automation and high-tech world.
Q: How will ESG shape the future of safety culture and overall company culture?
ESG has already started to shift many companies into a consciousness we may not have had otherwise. EHS personnel are being valued more than previous years due to the specialty skill set and knowledge for keeping a company on or ahead of the curve for compliance and ESG soundness.
In addition to the logistics above, if the trajectory remains as it is now ESG will continue to bring transparency (of an organization’s ESG standing) to the public view creating some interesting effects. So far, we have seen the results providing a new layer to employee recruitment tools, retention incentives, and engagement ideas within the company. How is that? Well, people are being more selective of the organizations they are working for; they are more willing to walk away from an unhappy work life. People are looking for more than just a paycheck to keep them interesting in their organization. People now want purpose—which a good ESG plan can provide an individual. They are more intrigued, invested, and engaged knowing they are working (or applying) for a company that is taking real steps to reduce its carbon footprint, partnering with not-for-profits organizations regularly, being responsible about its investing (e.g., transparency of said investing), etc.
An organization’s commitment to ESG can shift and transition a company culture into something much more than it was originally intended to be, namely into something that adds more positivity into the community, locally and globally. Additionally, the hope is to drop the concept of “safety culture” and use only the “company culture” because safety is truly inherent and non-negotiable, at all levels of the organization. Safety is a byproduct of a good (to great) company leadership, and the culture they create. As the EHS pro who can speak into each element of the organization’s position within the ESG sustainability projection (5 to 25-year plans), it is now clearly playing a pivotal role.