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EHS professionals need to be business partners: Panellists

Must show senior leaders how safety makes a great company
By Amanda Silliker

Environment, health and safety (EHS) professionals need to be able to influence the most senior leaders in an organization and be their business partners, according to panellists speaking at the annual American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) conference in San Antonio, Texas, on June 5.

“You have to understand the business and teach them how leading with safety will drive the business,” said Ellis Jones, senior director of global EHS and sustainability at Goodyear Tire. “That’s one of the biggest things I learned as an operations leader. When I lead with safety, it made everything else easier in my organization. But I had to learn that and I had to partner with my safety professional to teach me that.”

Safety professionals need to help senior leaders understand their role in the safety system and integrate safety into operations. Many leaders believe that safety is about one person — the safety guy or safety gal — but they need to understand that safety is a structure with a management system, leading and lagging indicators and governance.

“Senior leaders need to drive governance of safety, just like they drive governance with the business. It should be incorporated into your business governance,” said Jones. “Senior leaders need to understand how that impacts an individual’s safety.”

One barrier EHS managers often face is that safety is seen as slowing down the process, said Laurie Shelby, vice-president of EHS at Tesla.

“Our job is to help the leaders understand it will speed up and make the process more effective, more efficient and have more resilience with safety built in,” she said. “That is something we need to get better at.”

It is incumbent on the EHS professionals to make the business case for safety to senior leaders. Safety creates a great business of which “safe” is one of the elements, said Al Johnson, vice-president of EHS at Cargill. It makes for engaged employees, great communication and strong production.

“It didn’t take me long to realize, when I did safety, everything else came with it,” Jones said. “My production, policy, cost, everything became better. It made my job much easier.”

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