How do you manage EHS risks when change happens?

November 23, 2016

We all know that in today's world, change is a constant and a business's ability to respond to change is critical to its success.  SAI Global's Business Improvement Analyst and management systems expert, Denis Slade, discusses how change, whether driven from internal and external factors, if considered as part of an enterprise risk management process, can help to protect a business and its stakeholders.


Managing EHS risks effectively when things change is one of the biggest challenges organisations face - even with an effective management system already in place. Changes to both the internal operating environment and the external environment can seriously affect an organisation's ability to identify hazards and manage the associated risks.


A well implemented management system should provide the controls needed to ensure internal changes are managed effectively so the system itself performs as planned. However, cracks can quickly appear in the system if internal change is not recognised as a major source of weakness and given the attention it needs as soon as it appears. Personnel changes, a change of ownership, restructure, relocation or opening of new offices can have a big impact on an EHS system and potentially go unrecognised from a risk management perspective. During these changes, organisations may lose their normal operating rhythm and focus more on the day to day operational issues rather than taking a wider look at the new risks introduced by the changes.


Personnel changes pose a number of challenges which may be caused by key roles not being filled, new staff or simply changes to reporting lines within the business. Having no-one responsible for driving the system presents an obvious problem which may be  overcome if the organisation has invested the time and effort into a risk-based succession plan and is able to quickly promote well-trained managers and team members. An efficient and up-to-date on-boarding process can also speed up the development of new managers or team members.


Hazards and risks associated with the introduction of new products and services can be spread cross the organisation. An effectively implemented New Product Introduction (NPI) process can help identify hazards in each of the functional areas of your business as well as across the value stream of each product family. A good NPI process may help manage risks from the product or service design and development  phase through to the post-sales support and end-of-life processes which may be separated physically and be years apart in the product lifecycle. The design of new production equipment, new raw materials, new suppliers and new work methods and operating environments could also be flagged for attention during the NPI process. 


An effective management system should also be able to control risks driven by external changes. New regulation, new contract requirements and even the economic cycle can have a significant effect on the ability of even an established system to perform as planned. Whilst it is a requirement for certified systems to identify and act on regulatory change, a lack of regular review or operating rhythm can quickly create a fault line across the core of the system itself.


Changing contract requirements are also a major factor in an organisation's ability to manage EHS risks effectively. A well-implemented contract review process with representatives from across the functional areas of the business may help organisations identify and review potential EHS risks before pen is put to paper.


Changing economic conditions can also challenge the effectiveness of even the most mature EHS system. However, a well-oiled management review process may give the organisation continued focus on EHS risks even when the financial factors seem all-consuming.


Even an effectively implemented, mature EHS system can be weakened if it doesn't cope well with change. However, if change is considered as part of the enterprise-wide risk management process, the EHS system may be more effective and be able to react more predictably.  

Learn more about how quality management can help you manage you EHS risk and change in your organisation.


Denis Slade is a business improvement and Quality Management Systems expert. He joined SAI Global as a Quality and OHS auditor in 2011 and he believes integrating quality and safety into every business process is one way to build an intelligent approach to risk management. This also makes commercial sense as it drives real improvement, increases staff engagement and provides the foundations for long term business growth.