Where’s your bench strength?


Often, in sports, the term “bench strength” is used, and refers to the quality and number of players that are available to substitute into a game. Having coached competitive basketball, I can relate to the impact of a weak bench. Basically, your best players are starters, but as soon as a starter has to come out of the game (foul trouble, injury), the skill level of the people that are substituted into the game drops off the cliff. The team then struggles to survive, and while teams with a weak bench might win a few games, it’s impossible to win championships. The opponent can instantly spot a weak substitute and attack them. They recognize if the person has poor ball-handling skills, decision-making, or shot selection.

In the context of EHS, bench strength can refer to the competence of employees to fill EHS needs. Personally, having a weak bench in EHS can be just as problematic as having a weak bench in sports. And in some situations, you may have no bench – it’s just you. In today’s rapidly changing business environment, companies can be downsized without notice, employees leave on a whim, and EHS managers pursue better opportunities. In some cases, the weak bench may be you – unwilling to do routine technician level work when times are tough. All of these reasons cause you to have to “go to the bench” for a substitute. So how can you build bench strength so the EHS department doesn’t fall apart when it has to make a “sub?”

Using EHS software to build bench strength.

Whether you have a “team” of EHS professionals or it’s just you, EHS software can help you build out your EHS “dream team.” Here’s the steps:

  • Determine all EHS requirements. Assemble your team, and determine ALL the requirements that you need to execute on an ongoing basis. If the “team” is just you, then solicit the help of either a safety committee or another employee who “volunteers” to serve as a backup. If you operate under a bigger corporate umbrella, be sure to include any corporate standards that you may be required to follow.
  • Develop each play. Once you listed all the requirements out, determine the who, what, and when of each requirement. In your EHS software program, document these requirements in what we call “master tasks.” In the description of the master task, record the details of the procedure and records that must be maintained. Cite a location of these records. If necessary, add a hyperlink to the regulation. The level of detail that you provide should be consistent with the complexity of the requirement. This list of master tasks are now considered your “playbook.” At Affygility Solutions, our EHS software has a predefined library of master tasks that can be easily modified to build out your playbook.
  • Rehearse the playbook. Now that you have completed the creation of master tasks, as a team, rehearse the details of each master task and make sure that everyone understands the basics of the requirement. This is much like a “practice” session in sports, where the entire team walks through the playbook. Not everyone will be the “go-to” person in every scenario, but with the assistance of the EHS software they should at least have an idea on how to accomplish the task to help your company stay in compliance till the team is back to full strength.
  • Have a preseason. Periodically, as a manager, make a “sub” in non-critical situations to make sure that all members of your team maintain some level of competency. See how they perform. Have the “go-to” person walk through the entire scenario.
  • Identify weaknesses in your bench. As an EHS manager, it’s your responsibility to identity where you’re lacking skills. You have to take action to either “skill up” employees or send them out as a “free agent.” Take the leadership role.

EHS Manager, do you feel threaten or insecure?

This is a problem. Often people believe that having a weak bench means job security for them and that they’re irreplaceable. If that’s your case, you need to do a lot of soul-searching and figure out what’s going on. It cannot be just about you. Having a weak bench, means that you’re a poor coach and don’t draft well. As an EHS professional you need to learn to mentor others, so that when the time comes, you can get it done.

In EHS, formerly you could specialize – industrial hygienists did industrial hygiene, environmental professionals did environmental work, and biosafety professionals did biosafety work. In today’s lean work environment, the mantra of “do more, with less” is heard echoing down the corporate hallways. It is imperative you build bench strength for your EHS team. EHS software can help you get organized, but ultimately it’s about the coach.

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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"

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