What is EHS?

by Tjeerd Hendel-Blackford 10 Apr. 2018

A simple question, surely?

Well, yes and no.

On the face of it EHS (or HSE, or however this domain is abbreviated by your company) is a straightforward acronym of the words ‘Environment’, ‘Health’ and ‘Safety’.

Does that tell us enough to answer the question?

NAEM, the largest Association for EHS Management Professionals and an organization Enhesa is a proud active member of, dives a little deeper and provides the following definition of “EHS”[1]:

Companies that aspire to be better environmental stewards invest in strong environmental, health and safety management, otherwise known as EHS. From an environmental standpoint, it involves creating a systematic approach to managing waste, complying with environmental regulations, or reducing the company’s carbon footprint. Successful EHS programs also include measures to address ergonomics, air quality, and other aspects of workplace safety that could affect the health and well-being of employees

It's a good definition, but when it comes to the what, how and why companies need to manage EHS, we need to delve deeper.

As MC Hammer would say, “let’s break it down” and get back to basics.

Environment, Health & Safety

First, we have “Environment”. Environment will cover any and all topics around the impact that your company has had, does have, or could have on our natural environment (air, water, soil, etc).

Second comes “Health”. This will cover anything related to the health and wellbeing of employees and or any people that have come, or will come into contact (even passively) with your company.

Finally, we have “Safety”. Safety is closely tied to health and covers anything related to the prevention of harm to employees and or any people that have come, or will come into contact (even passively) with your company.

Now, there are two very crucial aspects to each of the aforementioned statements that are worth elaborating on:

  • Time. What your company has done or produced in the past, what it does today, and what it will do tomorrow are all hugely significant when it comes to managing your EHS.
  • Impact/Contact. Corporations come into contact with people or impact the environment in a great variety of ways. Some active, some passive; some inside your facilities, some outside your facilities; some possibly in countries you never heard of, where your products are sold, or their waste ends up.

We can also dive into each element at a more granular level. There are a great many topical areas covered by EHS. There will always be overlap in certain areas, but it is common to split these into EHS topics impacting your day-to-day operations, on the one hand, and the EHS topics impacting the products that your company produces, on the other.

EHS Impacting Operations.

For example, here are just some of the EHS aspects that will impact “operations”.

General

· Permits may be required to operate

· Responsibilities for soil/groundwater contamination.

· Industrial activities may require compliance with environmental impact assessment requirements.

Air emissions and related

· Air emissions from heating installations, such as boilers.

· Air emissions from industrial and manufacturing processes.

· Emissions of greenhouse gases.

· Solvent emissions.

· Operation of moveable emergency generators.

· Energy efficiency of buildings and processes.

· Odours generated from on-site processes and equipment.

· Environmental radiation from aerials/antennae or other equipment used on-site.

Water

· Abstraction of water for the purpose of manufacturing processes.

· Abstraction water for drinking water and building management.

· Discharging of wastewater to the public sewer system, directly to surface waters, or to groundwater.

· Wastewater treatment plant on-site.

Waste

· Generation of non-hazardous waste.

· Generation of hazardous waste.

· Treatment and/or disposal of waste on-site.

· Consigning of hazardous waste for transport, treatment, and disposal.

· Generation of used oil from maintenance operations.

· Generation of specific types of waste including electronic equipment, batteries and packaging waste.

· There may be medical facilities on-site such as first-aid or resting rooms which may result in the generation of medical waste.

· Waste disposal operations on site

Chemical Management

· Export and/or import of chemicals.

· Use of chemicals in manufacturing processes.

· Repacking and relabelling of chemicals and/or chemical products.

· Fire extinguishers may contain PFOS or its salts

· Employees and contractors may use chemicals with hazardous properties.

· There may be cooling equipment containing ozone depleting substances (ODS) or fluorinated greenhouse gases.

· Chemicals may be used that are covered by the Chemical Weapon Convention or that are drug precursors.

Hazardous Materials and Dangerous Goods

· Use and storage of heating fuels and other hazardous materials.

· Consigning dangerous goods/hazardous materials for transport by road, air, rail, in-land waterways, and maritime.

· Insulation oil in heavy electric machinery such as transformers, capacitors/condensers and other equipment, such as lighting ballasts, may contain PCBs.

· Asbestos may be present in buildings or equipment located in facilities.

· Warehousing or storage space on-site for hazardous materials.

· The use and storage of explosives.

Safety management

· General duty of care to employees.

· Risk assessments.

· Health and safety training to employees.

· Requirements for specific health and safety experts and/or service.

· Employment of young workers, night workers, and pregnant/breastfeeding women.

· Contractors on-site to perform maintenance or construction activities.

Technical Safety

· The use of a variety of machinery and work equipment.

· Maintenance activities in industrial/manufacturing facilities may be subcontracted or handled by in-house staff.

· Certain activities on-site may require the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

· The presence of confined spaces such as air conditioning units, tanks, basements, server rooms.

· The use of lifting equipment, including forklifts or elevators for people or goods.

· Working at height activities may occur such as use of ladders, window cleaning, and accessing the roof.

· Pressure vessels may be used at the facility.

· The installation, inspection and maintenance of electrical installations.

· There may be small laboratories in the facility.

Emergency

· Emergency preparedness requirements like emergency equipment and evacuation procedures.

· Potential for accidental releases and spills that occur on-site.

· Special emergency requirements for certain high-risk industries.

Occupational health

· The provision of first-aid equipment, first-aid rooms and training.

· Workers may use visual screen equipment for large portions of the day.

· Exposure to chemicals include exposure related to processing and manufacturing activities and the use of cleaning chemicals, inks, solvents, substances used during testing and maintenance.

· Noise exposure related to processing and manufacturing activities.

· Contact with biological agents related to processing and manufacturing activities can occur.

· Workers may be exposed to asbestos.

· Building materials may contain lead paint on wall and lead pipes.

· Employees may be exposed to non-ionizing radiation.

· Activities may require the use of x-ray equipment and sealed sources such as measuring equipment, which are sources of ionizing radiation.

 

EHS Impacting Products

By contrast, but in addition, here are just some of the EHS aspects that will impact “products”.

Product Design

· Life Cycle Analysis

· Chemical & Substance Restrictions (e.g. asbestos, cadmium, mercury, lead, brominated flame retardants, azo-colorants, PCBs, ODS, phosphates, chromium, GMOS, VOCs).

· Noise Emissions

· Energy Efficiency

· Emissions of Ionizing or non-Ionizing radiation

· Materials that could come into contact with food

· Material coding

· Restrictions on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

· Restrictions on Use of Nanotechnology

· Water Efficiency

· Sourcing Requirements

· Safety of use

Market Conditions

· Supplier Registration

· Product Registration

· Compulsory Product Certification

· Packaging

· Compulsory Labelling

· User Information

· Import/Export Restrictions

· Publicity

· Product Recalls

Market Facilitator

· Industry Initiatives

· Voluntary Labelling

· Purchasing Guidelines

· Fiscal Incentives

· Green Awards

Distribution and Use

· Packaging

· Lifetime, Service and Repair

End-of-life

· Take-Back / Reverse Logistics for e.g. packaging, electrical/electronic equipment, batteries, paper

· Recycling / Disposal of e.g. electrical/electronic equipment, batteries, paper

· Re-use

EHS in one word

What is abundantly clear from all of these varied topics is that EHS is constantly moving and it spreads way beyond your company walls. The friendly tentacles of EHS reach into most nooks and crannies in your organization. EHS has elements that impact HR, Finance, Legal, Operations, R&D, Logistics, PR, Sales & Marketing and, crucially, your entire corporate strategy.

What do all these words, definitions and terminologies have in common?

What is EHS?

For me, there is one word that sums up the answer.

“Responsibility”