Faces of EHS, Technology and Innovation

Faces of EHS: Chris Fanning on Digitization and Prioritizing Safety

Chris Fanning has a 35-year track record of leading software and technology companies, building high-performance teams, driving innovation, scaling operations, and growing revenue and profitability. He received a Master of Business Administration from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, a Master of Computer Science from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Boston College. He was President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Survey Sampling International (SSI) and has also held a variety of leadership roles at Lattice Semiconductor Corporation and The Boston Consulting Group.

In 2019, Chris was appointed President & CEO of KPA, where his goal is to drive the growth of the company’s environmental, health, and safety (EHS) solutions. KPA provides EHS software for a wide range of businesses, and a comprehensive catalog of online EHS training programs and recurring audits & inspections. With a 300-person team of EHS experts, KPA directs clients in manufacturing, automotive, construction, and oil and gas on how to help keep their employees safe, and their businesses stay in compliance with federal, state, and local statutes.

For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Chris to discuss new EHS trends, the digitization of safety programs, and how management can prioritize safety as a value in their workplaces.

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

I started in the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and EHS space when I started to lead the KPA team. One of the attractions of joining KPA was our mission of helping businesses keep their employees safe, compliant and on a more sustainable path. 

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

ESG/EHS is such a nascent industry and when compared to the many in our global economy, it’s impossible to point to one truly influential person. I believe there’s a great journey ahead for many of us in the industry, and I’d expect some of the people in the industry today will emerge as generational leaders for the next wave of ESG/EHS professionals. I aspire to have an impact and to help and influence others as they develop their careers in ESG/EHS.

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

Love the social good that we contribute on a daily basis. Again, we’re helping to keep people safe! There is a great deal of pride in knowing you’re helping people return to their families at the end of the day and also contributing toward companies creating a safer and more sustainable workplace. I’m also excited to work with such a vibrant team of KPAers: everyone brings their best each and every day and it’s a real privilege to have such a smart, energetic, dedicated team. 

My least favorite part is hearing business leaders explain to me that implementing an ESG/EHS program is a “discretionary expense” versus being an initiative that should be a core part of everyone’s business outlook and operational DNA. It’s a short-sighted perspective to hear, but changing that mentality is one of the great opportunities for KPA in the years ahead.

Q: How can company leaders make safety a value within their organization?

It all starts at the top: the CEO must make it a core part of their company’s value set. It’s critical that senior management is heavily involved with their organization’s safety program. At KPA, we see the more effective safety programs have senior management buy-in, day-to-day attention, and an appropriate level of investment.

There are generally three things that management can do to ensure safety is a priority:

  • Attend and engage safety committee meetings: This sends a clear message that safety is a top priority for everyone in the organization.
  • Correlate safety and profitability: A well-run EHS program actually saves an organization money. First, fewer employee accidents mean more employee uptime and productivity, and fewer workers’ comp claims and related expenses. Positive safety records also tend to reduce a company’s insurance policy costs over time.
  • Lead by example: As with anything in life, actively practice the behavior that you expect of your employees. This includes prioritizing EHS, attending and actively participating in EHS meetings, being involved in inspections, and rewarding safe behavior when you see it and employees who make it happen.

A good safety culture is rooted in teamwork and consistency. When your employees see leaders actively adhering to their company’s safety rules, so will they.

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

We have our eye on three main trends over the next five years. Mobile applications with precision GPS will increasingly help convey the right information to the right people at the right time, including bespoke training micro-learnings. ESG/EHS training creation is a core capability of KPA’s; we produce bespoke ESG/EHS training versus others who essentially resell content. Given our 30+ years of EHS experience, we believe this is a clear differentiator for KPA. We’re the only EHS provider who is regularly recognized for its training excellence, and I believe this trend towards better, in-the-moment training will become essential in the years ahead.

Environmental applications will quickly become an area of understanding and focus for many companies with emissions reporting being the immediate priority. Companies will need to take stock of where they are regarding a zero-carbon initiative, and then develop programs to reduce and measure their carbon footprint.

One big trend we are seeing in the automotive industry in particular is the increasing popularity of electric vehicles (EV). With this change, it’s important to be intentional about safety best practices for servicing EVs. To help auto dealers stay safe while servicing EVs, KPA recently launched its EV Safety Program to keep service employees safe as they work with a rapidly growing number of electric vehicles in the market.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic complicated or exacerbated problems with safety culture?

The pandemic introduced a lot of new rules and regulations. It also significantly raised the awareness and importance of workplace safety in the eyes of many employees. Between new OSHA violations and vaccine requirements, and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, companies that haven’t updated or changed their safety programs in years are now adding lots of pages to their handbooks.

While evolving rules and regulations are inevitable, the opportunity lies in how your company organizes, communicates, and enforces these safety protocols. The old pen-and-paper way of storing safety information doesn’t work with today’s fast-paced workforce. When an accident happens, such as chemical spills, you don’t have time to run down the hallway to grab the safety handbook and search for remediation steps.

EHS software is a great way to mitigate workplace safety risks—both seen (falls, slips, etc.) and unseen (COVID-19)—and ensure incidents are addressed quickly. Not only does it make it easier to keep up with changing rules and regulations, but workplace safety software that has mobile capabilities can even make on-the-go training possible. Digital management also enables analytics that ultimately help a company determine those priority areas requiring more emphasis and more effective management.

Q: How will safety culture look in the future?

More organizations will continue to realize the importance of a strong safety culture and why it needs to be a priority. A safety program doesn’t simply live in a binder on the shelf; it should be woven into the core values of an organization.

Digitization is a trend I expect to accelerate a great deal in the next five years. Companies are realizing that pen-and-paper safety programs just don’t work. They’re impossible to manage, especially as your organization grows and regulations change. Digital safety programs that provide incident management, OSHA 300 reporting, training, etc., can make safety programs much easier to manage and lead to better results.

There will also be an accelerated push towards mobile safety management software. When an incident happens in the field, on a job site, or at a facility, workers need quick access to mobile safety applications that are simple and easy to use. By increasing safety program accessibility, companies will see better engagement from the entire organization when it comes to a culture of safety.

In general, I expect companies to take workplace safety even more seriously. Not only is it the right thing to do, but workers’ comp averages $1 billion per week. That can have a massive impact on a company’s bottom line because they didn’t, for example, display appropriate slip hazard signage at a worksite.

Q: What are you most proud of? 

I’m proud of the KPA team we’ve created over the past few years and the many ways they positively affect our customers’ EHS programs and outcomes. In the process, we’ve built an excellent company with a strong foundation for growth for many years to come.

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

Learn as much as you can as fast as you can. It’s a dynamic profession with lots of change so you need to be agile and intellectually curious if you want to have a great career in ESG/EHS. There will be a massive demand for such people in the decades ahead, so if you truly apply yourself, the sky’s the limit!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

I often hear, “How much is this going to cost?” No doubt, creating a culture of safety with the technology to match requires investment. But considering the direct and indirect costs of not having a well-organized, digitized ESG/EHS program, businesses who fail to implement due to cost concerns will find themselves well behind the curve over time. And they will ultimately spend a lot more money on employee injury costs, regulatory fines, and employee goodwill.

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