Risk & Compliance magazine discussed the convergence of the risk management needs that have traditionally been the domain of Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS) experts with overall risk strategies with Christine Adeline, Vice President of Product Management and Product Marketing for EHS at SAI Global.
R&C: Could you provide an overview of the additional risks the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is posing to environmental, health and safety (EHS) compliance?
Adeline: While the very nature of the EHS function is to identify and understand risks that your diverse workforce may face, and to be prepared to support the needs of a safe and healthy work environment, the pandemic has redefined what readiness and operational resilience means for organizations.
We all have faced the unknowns about COVID-19 – how to protect workers and prevent spread, from the physical workspaces that people touch to the concerns involved in person-to-person interactions that we now have come to understand are more important. Work practices and the composition of the workforce have also changed, in addition to managing a remote workforce. Workers may have been furloughed or not working due to facility closures. This changes familiarity with the workplace and work tasks and introduces risks.
The workplace may have been redefined and new procedures introduced, so changes must be effectively managed to reduce risks. Companies may have less resources, support and supervision. Meanwhile, with so many companies struggling to remain viable, supply chains are being impacted. This introduces additional risks.
Companies need to ensure employees and contractor employees are fit to work, aware of new risks, trained or retrained and competent to do a task. Companies still have a duty of care for workers working from home and need to also ensure their health and safety. So, in a way, managing EHS risks is now more complex with the redefinition of the workplace. And while COVID-19 is a physical illness, it has increased psychological injury and illnesses. Workers are more stressed and anxious, as there is a lot of uncertainty.
Companies need to adapt and find new ways to communicate and engage with workers to understand needs and concerns while also ensuring they stay focused on key risks – new and existing ones. As overwhelming as it sounds, there is tremendous opportunity here coming out of the pandemic. Every organization will need to review and reset their management of EHS during and post-COVID.
This truly is a time when you can increase your risk agility, reduce bureaucracy and elevate your preparedness. Agility and adaptability will be invaluable to the future resilience of your business.
Christine Adeline, SAI Global
Christine also addresses:
- How the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the functional roles of risk managers and EHS managers, and what risk managers need to know about EHS to be effective
- Advice for risk and compliance professionals on how to identify and assess EHS risks in the ‘next normal’
- Once risks have been identified, how results should be incorporated into the broader enterprise risk management (ERM) program
- Difficulties that businesses may face when implementing a risk management system to effectively mitigate EHS risks in the post-COVID-19 environment, and how to overcome them while maintaining compliance
- Ways that companies can use technology to tackle EHS risks posed by the pandemic
- How risk and compliance professionals can ensure new EHS risk management processes are being effectively monitored and enforced
R&C: How do you expect EHS risk management processes to evolve in the ‘next normal’? What do businesses need to do now to ensure they are prepared to meet the demands of this risk landscape?
Adeline: There are many unknowns in our future, including when and how effective and how accessible a COVID-19 vaccine will be for workforces around the world. COVID-19 has dramatically changed the landscape for many industries and its impact on businesses and the timing of a full recovery remains uncertain.
We know that technology makes a difference. EHS risk management processes will evolve to be more digitalized and the adoption of innovative technologies to mitigate EHS risks will increase. Companies need to ensure that they have the right technology in place to support them during and post-COVID.
Companies are more cost-conscious, but the demands on EHS professionals to help keep organizations focused on preparing and sustaining best practices to be ready for not only this crisis, but the next one, are increasing. We have to be open to doing things differently and more efficiently, with processes and tools that can lead us through whatever comes along.
Finally, EHS risk management should also evolve so it is part of business operations and not operate as a silo. The lessons learned, collaboration and partnerships formed during COVID-19 should continue to ensure that EHS remains core to safe and sustainable business operations. With the growing focus on ESG (environmental, social and governance) risks by investors, companies that are successful in making EHS integral to their business will be better placed to survive and thrive in the next normal.
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