The Fish Rots from the Head Down!

It’s all about Leadership! Stupid!!!

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Phil La Duke as usual is at his brilliant best on his post on Safety professional Behaviour and laments nothing has changed over last 10 years. I have also posted my comments in the forum in comments section of his blog post. The forum has some exchanges with disagreement from EHS professionals, who have their own views! 

As a fellow EHS professional, I tend to agree with Phil and his discussion in the post makes a lot of sense to me considering the situation that I find here in this part of the world. Goes to show, developed world or developing world or III world, the approach to keeping people safe has the same level of importance in priority “which is Urgent but Not Important” as in Eisenhower Decision Matrix, from Management standpoint. The Fellow EHS professionals too have not covered themselves in glory. Matrix-300x300

So why? Things have come to such a pass!! I agree that 1) EHS implementation in absence of stronger regulatory norms as well as absence of enforcing agency, for folks to work alone is a tough sell. At the same time in 2) organisations which are on the path of bigger growth, strong and committed Leadership with participation from engaged work force EHS conformance needle has moved a bit. In some organisations where 3) EHS is seen as a value enabler linking it as a “Status to be Green for maturity path” in same terms as productivity, Quality, Inventory, Delivery and Cost, it has been able to reach a level of higher maturity with EHS being in Cruise Mode of Flight journey. My estimate is that 60% organisations in Indian work environment are in #1, 30% in #2 and 10% #3 would be my ballpark number based on my visits over the past Five years.

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  1. Very Poor Housekeeping.
  2. Lacking Clear policy, Direction from top management for QEHS. It is more a necessary evil.
  3. Legal compliance at very basic. No in-depth engagement to compliance. At top overview all looks in order but as you start to deep dive issues crop up.
  4. Concept of safety management system, poorly understood, so consultants who support sites make it worse!! I have seen  even in Indian arm of Global Companies of repute,with EHS professionals in charge, Adding Probability and severity to derive Risk. (Where as R=P*S). Few such sites are even ISO -9001-2015 certified as well as for OHSAS 18001, thus exposing auditing agencies too!!! 
  5. 80% sites have no clear set objectives and targets that are to be derived from policy, business strategy, Risk Assessment etc to charter a course to know where they want to go?  hqdefault (1)
  6. Procedures have no linkage to risk assessment! They stand alone without any connectivity making people wonder why they do what they do without any justification or comprehension!   download
  7. Not a single site has workmen from shop floor participated in developing procedure or Risk assessment. The very person the procedures are set to protect.
  8. I have hung  my head in shame in presence of fellow overseas EHS auditors (More than one occasion) that HAZOP study for a plant of 20 Chemical reactors  and processes and accessories was completed in a few pages. (The consultant is related to statutory authorities) Also is the case where HAZOP study recommendations were blatantly ignored. (Oleum in a reactor cooled with water circulation !!) or a top-notch API company in disdain referring to HAZOP recommendations action plan closure as “FUND NOT ALLOCATED”
  9. Lack of recognition of inherent hazards like Static Electricity, Rotatory parts, Confined space, Use of outdated Safety belts (!!), No Seat belt in forklifts (These are all sites with full-fledged Safety professionals
  10. Most of the times, EHS person is seen as living nuisance to put up with and he is sent away on travel so that activities which could be impeded by him are done when he is away! 

I can list on and on, but I think folks would get the essence of state of EHS ! So with this kind of work environment, is it even fair for organisations to contemplate changing Employee/workmen behaviour and do BBS and thus keep people safe. Or as in many cases, Incident investigation in to Injury/Illness points to fault/error of the person making me wonder how the change would happen and What EHS folks are up to?


So what can Safety professionals do to work some kind of restore system and they can have some say and be a person who can work the change initiatives. Again, this may look easy on paper but it is tough to execute. As I keep saying, implementing a cultural turn around  or Technical excellence is not like Making Noodles and eating it so that Hunger is gone and instant gratification. It is like shedding Excess body fat through a disciplined regime and that wont happen overnight! It wont be easy either as people resist change (Even would EHS professionals want to change?? Why fix when ain’t broken).

  1. Create a sense of Urgency. Make key people / influencers/decision makers see why change that is desired, needs to happen and buy in is required? What is in it for them.
  2. Get Leadership committment! Without that essential binding agent no use trying to work change? Work in terms of risks, compliance, status, indicators to show why change must take place? Linkage to business enabler can some times do the trick to leadership. Leaders need to send a unambiguous message that people need to accept initiatives! or ………… Great change initiatives always comes with a bit of coercion. 
  3. Work Organisation baseline to see in terms People, Process, Program, Procedure and work where gaps that are identified, need to be plugged in before change can be brought about. Get the resources committment and bring the change.
  4. Seek Expert opinion, dont try to reinvent wheel. Don’t be Penny wise- Pound Foolish. Take advantage of a good, matured, meaningful management system duly validated and is not a Certificate on the wall. Good management system can do wonders!! 
  5. Any shift from status quo has to be mix of Strategy and Tactics in a right blend! So don’t make it too tactical and thus miss out on the medium term/long-term vision for what the end would look like.
  6. Always piggy back on established operational excellence program or strive to create one in its absence. EHS change as stand alone is tough sell, Line Management wouldn’t be able appreciate as Stand alone component. 
  7. Establish Metrics to measure progress. What gets measured, gets done. Assign person with responsibility to work the change who is a key decision maker. Also do not forget to include target date of closure. Without closure dates, plans are meaningless.
  8. Engage all levels of folks in change initiative program, All said and done, Safety initiatives are for Workmen / Supervisors, the first man to take the Bullet, should things go astray, so it goes without saying to include “TO WORKMEN, By WORKMEN to make such initiatives more meaningful and speed up things.
  9. Stay on top on the communication on initiatives, some times these initiatives can be seen as a threat, more so in these current uncertain times, when economy, competition would make people think otherwise. Involve few end-user in the process, so that message spread that it is not head count reduction or flavor of the month. Work on visual management as appropriate, so that what gets visualised gets retained deeper in mind. 
  10. Stay on top, Followup-follow up, followup. Never feel shy to push things. Put your skill and influence in to use.  In my experience, the EHS guys are the most unpopular guy in the most happening sites! (Not the most unlikable guy; note the difference) 

My idea of this post is not to criticise EHS folks or nit pick issues with them! I am posting this to give a course correction on how to do it. Remember it is always easy to learn from others! Learning from your own shortcomings may be costly or you may not be around to get second chance!!
Good Luck and GOD BLESS

15/5/17 1845 Hrs. 


Author: Karthik B; Orion Transcenders. Bangalore.

Lives in Bangalore. HESS Professional of 30+ yrs experience. Global Exposure in 4 continents of over 22 years in implementation of Health, Environment, Safety, Sustainability. First batch of Environmental Engineers from 1985 Batch. Qualified for implementing Lean, 6Sigma, HR best practices integrating them in to HESS as value add to business.

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