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Stranger in a Strange Land

EHSQ Alliance Contributor

Starting a standards-based management systems implementation may not be quite as melodramatic as travel in a country where you don’t know the language or customs, but it can be a daunting task. You might find, however, that you already have a roadmap.

By Alistair Walker

It’s 1 a.m., the arrivals lounge is nearly deserted and there’s no sign of the promised driver. You’re somewhere you’ve never been to before, and you don’t speak the language. You’re a SHE professional on a mission. You’re a stranger in a strange land. What to do?

You ask yourself: Is anything familiar? You look about and sure enough, there’s a yellow sign with a pictogram of a car and the words Tacsi/Taxi/^&%&% next to it. You are saved!

Okay, starting a standards-based management systems (MS) implementation may not be quite as melodramatic as some international travel - and let’s not talk about taxi horrors! - but it can be daunting as you navigate the requirements for the first time. But, like at the airport, help is at hand from the familiar principles found in your own organisation.

Virtually all standards-based MS work to the principles of “Plan-Do-Check-Act” and as such, they are all self-contained. That is, they lay out the requirements for every stage of the MS cycle. SHE professionals often feel that they must therefore create a process for each requirement that is unique to the standard they are implementing. This doesn’t have to be the case. So, where do we start?

Gap Analysis

The tried and tested tool is the Gap Analysis. You take the standard (and as it’s SHE we’re talking about, this usually will be either ISO 14001:2015, ISO 45001:2018 or both) and you look at where you stand with your processes against what these requirements, clause by clause, need you to have. Often, however, safety, health and environment (SHE) professionals benchmark against their departmental processes and operational control that’s available in the workplace.

This is a great start, but it may miss the wider picture in the organisation. Let’s take three areas where process is sometimes light in SHE.

  1. Setting and tracking objectives
  2. Understanding competence requirements
  3. Action management


All organisations must do these things; they can’t function without them. However, SHE is not always included in these organisation-wide processes, particularly when SHE is seen as an operational function. In other words, the SHE department is perceived as being in charge of safety, health and environment, rather than providing a service to the rest of the organisation to ensure that compliance, risk management and performance are delivered by the organisation.

So, widen the scope of the Gap Analysis to include stakeholders across the organisation, from finance, purchasing, HR, marketing, sales, engineering and so-on. At this point, you may encounter some resistance from colleagues. We all are inherently resistant to change; “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” or “We’ve always done it this way” or “What we do won’t fit what you want to do” often are the mantras we hear.

Here, the new standards provide you with powerful support; they insist on integration of SHE into core business processes and they insist on the involvement of senior management in the establishment and control of your SHE MS. Implicit in all of this is the idea that SHE is an enabling function, not the owner and deliverer of SHE outcomes.

If you don’t already have one, get a director on board to put your case to the senior management team. (That’s maybe the task for another post if you’re not sure how to do it!)

Use these concepts to get insight into the senior management team and finance department to understand how organisational objectives are set and tracked, to get insight into HR to widen the base competency sets to include SHE and into the audit function at your company to ensure that SHE action management requirements sit alongside those of finance and quality, for example.

Excellence in SHE management is not an option these days. MS standards are the way to ensure consistency and transparency of processes that deliver compliance, risk management and continual improvement in performance. SHE is not a siloed and operational function anymore and standards can empower you as a leader to leverage existing organisational processes to get SHE front and centre with your stakeholders. Get on it!

About the author: Alistair Walker is a freelance management systems consultant, auditor, trainer and EHSQ software implementer, working for large and small corporations in the UK, Europe and further afield. His work has included the development of corporate environmental management systems, integrated health, safety and environmental management systems, managing and delivering audit and assurance programmes and use of the Entropy Software to deliver integrated management systems in over 20 organisations worldwide.



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March 07, 2019 @ 12:44 PM EST Manufacturing, Chemical, Energy - Oil and Gas Health & Safety

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