EH&S Management Systems – the love/hate relationship

In the past week I’ve had several discussions with clients regarding the concept of management systems. In the first instance we were talking about the love/hate relationship of management systems. You “love” the management system because it keeps you organized. By nature a properly designed management system is systematic and efficient. The management system ensures that things get done and if they don’t you know it and performance gets measured.

However, there are many times when you “hate” the management system because it ensures that you do what your suppose to be doing – similar to your mom. There are always more enjoyable endeavors to be involved in – conferences and seminars, company off sites, writing that journal article for publication, etc. But the management system is always there making sure things get done.

In the second instance, we were talking about the pursuit of ISO14001 certification – is it necessary? My question was, “What is certification going to do for you?” Is it a company initiative? Are your customers demanding it? Or will it gain you some regulatory flexibility?

Based on over 22+ plus years in the field, here’s my thoughts:

  • Management systems should not be put into place just to ensure “compliance.” Management systems should be put into place to ensure “efficiency”, continuity of personnel changes, and to save the company money. To the extent possible many of the system components should be automated. Systems like Affytrac eliminate much of the ongoing grunt work tracking compliance tasks and requirements.
  • Look at the resources you currently have. If you are an one person EH&S department, management systems still can work, but don’t get carried away with a lot of the “nice to do” requirements. Think about the current overall health of your organization. Are budget cuts, layoffs, etc. on the horizon. Think about what would happen to the management system if you had to lay off half your staff.
  • Keep everything simple – don’t over complicate things. Much like a business plan, a simple 4 page document that is executed well, is much better than a 40 page manual that sits on the shelf. As far as I know, the Pulitzer prize has never been given for a “safety manaul.” If so, please leave a comment I would love to know about it.
  • Start small and grow as people adapt. With a large portion of today’s workforce being Generation X and Y, they don’t like being told what to do. They like to be creative, generate new ideas, be social. Doing ongoing grunt stuff (DOGS) compliance work is not high on their to-do list. But, you know what – at the end of the day it still has to be done – weekly hazardous waste inspections, biennial reports, wastewater reports, training, fit-testing, etc. have to be done. Take advantage of Generation X and Y strengths; comfortable with technologies such as PDAs, internet browsers, blackberries, etc. Base performance and reward systems that recognize their creativity.

One of the best articles that I’ve ever read and still refer to it often was Ten Recommendations for EHS Executives. Everyone thinking about implementing a management system shoud read it. Remember, a properly designed management system should free up your time so that you can focus more on the important and strategic issues facing your company, not creating a lot of new work.

Global Incident Map
Received an email from one of the listservs that I subscribe to containing a link to a Google Earth hack called the Global Incident Map. A stern reminder that we sometimes live in a very dangerous world. Click the link above to check it out.


About Dean Calhoun

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Dean is the President and CEO of Affygility Solutions. Affygility Solutions provides environmental, health and safety software, potent compound safety, industrial hygiene, containment validation services to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industry. "Dean's Google+ Profile"

Affygility Solutions - provider of potent compound safety, webinars, and compliance management software