We spoke to Bob Toohey, Senior Manager of Environmental, Health, Safety, and Security at Continental Mills, about how small and medium-sized organizations can achieve safety excellence.

Toohey has been a safety professional for twenty-five years, working across the building materials, large equipment, and food industries, as well as an EHS consultant in the aerospace and oil and gas industries. He’s also on the Board of the Governor’s Industrial Safety & Health Conference, has served on the Evergreen Safety Council Education Board, and is a member of ASSE.

Small and medium sized companies have distinct challenges when it comes to safety and promoting health, agrees Toohey—so much so, it’s a topic he’s speaking about at EHS Today’s Safety Leadership Conference taking place September 11-13, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (The conference is designed to share best leadership, risk management, compliance, and safety practices with EHS professionals hoping to achieve world-class safety at their companies.)

“Typically, small and medium-sized companies do not have the amount of EHS professional resources available that larger organizations have. Yet, the responsibility to create a zero-harm environment still exists, and OSHA federal and state requirements for compliance are no less applicable,” adds Toohey.

In order to overcome this challenge, Toohey shares 4 things that should stay top of mind.

1. Answer a critical question

First, start to approach and think about safety differently, says Toohey. Reconsider and ask who owns, manages, and drives safety within the organization.

“This often requires that [leaders] leave behind the old model of the site ‘safety officer’ as the person everyone looks to as the one ultimately responsible for safety,” explains Toohey. The responsibility doesn’t have to be in one person’s hands. It can be shared, and for smaller companies, that actually helps a company be more successful. The key is to ensure that those individuals are all on the same page and have access to the same information.

This is a shift in mindset or a shift in high level approach, but also can be a mindset that is deep-rooted in many business cultures. That’s why it’s a critical first step, explains Toohey.

2. Check for visible evidence that employees value safety

Make sure your employees are brought into the process. “The first task in managing EHS systems to excellence is gaining employee engagement in the process,” explains Toohey.

Top signs that workers value safety, and know that their company does, too, include:

  • They are actively involved in beliefs and knowledge around safety—and behaviors that support safety
  • They take pride in safety, in general, and on a day-to-day basis
  • They are able to empower colleagues through safety
  • They have opportunities to give feedback and input when it comes to safety
  • They feel comfortable reporting any issues as they arise with safety and/or health-related concerns
  • They report feeling included and are heavily involved in safety-related communication
  • They would agree that senior leaders see safety as an investment

“Engagement is visible, and must have regular, concrete actions,” adds Toohey. If you aren’t sure that workers have bought-in and are aligned with the direction you are headed, it’s a signal you have a problem, explains Toohey. Many companies are afraid if employees report potential hazards that they have liability. There is more liability if things go un-reported.

3. Get clear on roles and responsibilities

When a company “only” has a few dozen employees, responsibilities and roles can shift rapidly and can greatly overlap. But for every small or medium-sized business, there comes a time when formal EHS roles and responsibilities at all levels in the site organization need to be developed and shared. It can cut down on risks, help the company save time, and help you to stay compliant.

Start by identifying EHS program leaders or “sponsors” who will be ultimately responsible for compliance and best practice applications in specific EHS programs. That might be lock-out/fall protection, confined space, electrical safety, hazard identification, or others.

The next task is to provide program sponsors development opportunities in their area of EHS responsibilities. This can be done through outside training or a corporate EHS professional, for example. “Program sponsor and team development is also going to be a part of the function of the annual audit,” adds Toohey.

“By involving all leadership and employees in specific and clear EHS responsibilities, the organization grows towards a zero-harm culture.”

4. Practice operational discipline

Even with limited professional EHS resources (compared with large organizations), continue to put an emphasis on improving your operations. The foundation of any continuous improvement is getting your operations organized so you can achieve safety excellence.

After you identify EHS program leaders or “sponsors,” design an EHS scorecard that is appropriate for your site. This should be a combination of leading and lagging indicators, helping you to understand your highest risk areas. After all, you want to be able to take action to prevent future accidents, and your data and metrics should allow you to do so over time.

The other ways to drive continuous improvement include asking and uncovering, “Are we doing what we say we are doing?” explains Toohey. That process can involve annual EHS systems audits.

Next, Toohey recommends continued coaching and developing of each role, audit gap-closing action plans, and repeating these steps year after year.

Toohey says gaining engagement in driving continuous improvement in EHS is one of the most pressing EHS and risk management issues facing leaders and safety professionals today and in the future. “Second is, through engagement, developing the overall skill levels of EHS in the organization,” he adds. “It’s time to leave behind the old model of the ‘safety guy’ being [the ultimate one] responsible for safety.”

Safety Management As It Should Be

iReport brings you effective EHS management and an effortless incident workflow:

  • Demonstrate to your workers that you value safety by providing an easy way to empower them to provide input and feedback.
  • Keep everyone on the same page with the all-in-one workflow. With shared responsibilities, iReport provides centralized information so that everyone has accurate and up to date information.
  • Instill operational discipline by collecting data in real time and increasing business intelligence with easy reporting on leading and lagging indicators

Learn more about how you get faster, more accurate incident reporting (and you own the data) here.