Is there any other professional discipline that struggles for identity as much as EHS, HSE, SHE, QEHS, HSSE, etc…?

by Tjeerd Hendel-Blackford 26 Jun. 2017

In a recent blog post Enhesa invited readers to participate in a short four question survey to examine if there was anything approaching a consensus regarding the acronyms used within the industry in their job titles and daily roles. In this article we will examine the responses from more than 100 people from across the occupational health, safety and environmental management community who completed the survey.

I must preface this article by stating that this survey was in no way a great scientific effort. It was open to anyone in the health, safety & environment community to respond to, regardless of industry, location etc. The results in that sense are a mere indication and (hopefully) catalyst for further discussion within the industry.

The first question in the survey simply asked respondents to state which acronyms they use in their companies. We at Enhesa have always referred to EHS in all our communications internally and externally. Our company name is derived from the first two letters of the words ENvironment, HEalth and SAfety, so we are very interested to see the results, as follows:

Survey 1.png

“EHS” is the clear winner, but the chart (and the responses we received to other questions) tells several other stories. The more statistically astute of you will have noticed that the percentage totals far exceed 100%. This is because the question sought “select all that apply” responses. This tells us that there are companies out there that use at least two acronyms within their organization.

About one third of respondents use HSE, an acronym often used by British companies.

In third place was the “Other” option, which indicates that out of the eight options we provided (which we thought were likely to be the most commonly referenced), there are a whole variety of other variations.

Some of these “Other” options show that “acronymic creativity” is alive and kicking. Some of the more interesting responses included the following:

  • QE²SH (Pronounced “cash”. E² for Environment and Energy)
  • EHSQ
  • HSEQ
  • EHSS (Environmental, Health, Safety and Sustainability)
  • SSE (in French)
  • SHECS (Safety Health Environmental Community Sustainability)
  • HES
  • SHEQUAL

There may be a geographic element to these responses. For example, we rarely come across any variations on the “EHS” acronym in the U.S.A. Could it be that this is because the approach to “EHS” as a concept is more mature in U.S. multinationals? One respondent pointed out that EHS is more commonly used as it originated from academia. “EHS” is also not mistaken for the English word "she".

The second question then asked respondents to comment on the acronym of choice within their company and why they believed it was chosen.

It is fair to say that most responses were along the lines of:

  • “I don’t know”
  • “Sounds better”
  • “It’s the most common one”

Some respondents said the acronym order reflected the order of importance the issues were ranked within their organization. In most cases this priority put safety and/or health of employees first.

The third question was “Quality, Security and Sustainability are also finding their way into acronyms…are you being asked to do more than before?” The question was perhaps a little leading in the sense that people are unlikely to admit they are doing less than they were before in their jobs. However, as you can see nearly three-quarters of respondents felt their role had grown to include further areas of responsibility. Does this beg the question of whether our HSSEQ professionals are being spread too thin? 

Survey 3.pngIn the final survey question we asked: “In your opinion, does your organization focus more on [please choose one]

  • Environment
  • Health & Safety
  • Quality
  • Sustainability
  • Security
  • All aspects equally”

Survey 4.pngHealth and safety is about people, a company’s most valuable asset, so it is not surprising to see that it is the most popular focus of organizations. Relating this back to the acronyms question, when researching this topic, I received a comment via LinkedIn which said that the letter “E” in EHS had originally (in the U.S.A. at least) stood for “Employee” and that the “E” started to refer to “Environment” during the 1980s with the development of Environmental Protection legislation. You learn something new every day!

What is more surprising from these results is the apparent lack of importance given to Environmental management. This is surprising because as much as safety and health incidents can have a big impact on a company, incidents that impact the environment can have a huge, long-term, ecological and economical fall-out. This is exemplified by BP with DeepWater Horizon and VW with Dieselgate, where the fines, potential criminal prosecutions and stock market devaluations have proved to be massive. BP alone received a $5 billion fine in 2016 and its share price has still not recovered to the level it was at pre-2010.

On the other hand, the skill set and knowledge of environmental professionals is often very different from those wearing an occupational safety and health hat. Although, someone might be operating under a particular acronym, this may only be the departmental acronym and does not necessarily reflect the specific role that individual is carrying out on a daily basis.

Conclusion:

All companies are different, operating in different industries, countries and with different languages, processes and strategic priorities so the great variation in results is not surprising. This was epitomized to me by a recent discussion I had with a German “QESH” professional, who told me that when he joined his company he thought he was being offered “quiche” for lunch.

In conclusion, this survey pointed out some clear geographic lines between acronyms and that the clear winner in terms of corporate priorities is the need to keep employees safe and in good health.

Of course, the acronym your company, or you yourself choose to use is essentially immaterial, as long as you are fulfilling your role and assigned responsibilities in the safest way possible.