avoiding EHS surprises

Avoiding EHS Surprises: How to Proactively Address 5 Common Scenarios in the Tech Sector

September 21st, 2017

Managing compliance and mitigating risk at a mix of lower-risk facilities around the world.

Designing, implementing, and managing new company-wide initiatives.

Stakeholder engagement.

Keeping pace with local, regional, and global regulatory changes.

Meaningful reporting.

Ensuring all employees — regardless of location and facility type — are properly trained.

Brand protection.

Let’s face it. As an environment, health and safety (EHS) leader in the technology sector, you have a lot of irons in the fire — and when unwelcome EHS surprises occur, it’s hard not to get burned.

If you’re nodding your head in agreement, you’re certainly not alone. During our spring EHSxTech event, global tech company EHS leaders talked at length about the challenges they’ve faced when it comes to dealing with a variety of surprise scenarios.

Based on their feedback and sentiments, and Antea Group’s decades of EHS consulting experience in the technology sector, I wanted to highlight five of the most common surprises tech company EHS leaders face and how to proactively address and mitigate their impacts.

1. Surprise EHS compliance inspections

It’s safe to say that surprise EHS compliance inspections are a top concern for all EHS leaders at tech companies. After all, with facilities spread across the world — and you stationed at headquarters — it’s impossible to have all your compliance bases covered with absolute confidence. Furthermore, when a surprise inspection does happen, there’s a good chance it will uncover something you never expected.

So, what can you do to prepare? Here are a couple suggestions:

  • Identify your key EHS compliance drivers. By understanding what drives EHS compliance within your organization, you’ll be able to refine your overall strategy and focus your efforts — which will ultimately help you feel calm and confident when a surprise inspection does occur.
  • Conduct regular internal audits. Internal audits can help you uncover risks that could prove damaging if a surprise inspection did occur. I suggest creating and using facility-specific EHS checklists as a guide, and then implementing a tracking system to flag common issues across facilities or repeat offenders.
  • Develop an action plan. Prepare a plan that describes specific actions to be taken by the facility if a surprise inspection occurs, and train the local team on the plan. The plan should address logistics such as who should meet with the inspector, what information to provide, how to respond to questions, and how to address any corrective actions.

2. Unexpected customer questions

In today’s digital world, consumers are becoming increasingly self-directed in their purchasing decisions, often turning to social media and the web to research products, engage with companies, and stay up to date on the latest news and gossip. As a result, many are feeling more empowered to reach out with questions using both traditional and modern means. And some of the questions your company fields may have EHS connections.

If you haven’t done so already, add “customers” to your list of key stakeholder groups. Then work with your sales or marketing team to identify common questions that your customers already have, and compile a list of key customer contacts that could be engaged for direct feedback and insights. Finally, document current and possible questions, and create key messaging around them to have on-hand.

3. Uncharted regulatory territory

Technology companies are built on innovation. So as your organization continues to level up its products, services, and facilities, there’s a chance that you’ll find yourself in surprising and uncharted regulatory territory. For example, an EHSxTech attendee shared that a project that to build a small plane led to spearheading EHS regulation with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

To avoid unexpected regulatory hurdles down the road, work with your product development team to stay in the loop on new technologies products and services that may require new EHS considerations. As new things come up, take the time to get in touch with your key regulatory contacts at the federal, state, and local level to understand their list of requirements and expectations, and conduct an applicability assessment to determine how regulations apply to your business.

4. Bad press

Most technology companies are operating lower-risk facilities such as offices, call centers, and data centers around the world. However, lower-risk certainly doesn’t mean no risk. Damaging and even fatal incidents can and do happen — and they can make their way into the press.

Protecting and bolstering your company’s brand is an increasingly important part of your job. So how do you defend against bad press?

For starters, make sure you have an emergency action plan in place. Work with your marketing or public relations department to craft an action plan that maps responsibilities and outlines key messages for possible incident scenarios (i.e. fatal accidents, chemical spills by a contractor, noncompliance, etc.). This will help you respond quickly and stay on message.

5. The cultural and regulatory nuances that come with a merger or acquisition

Many tech companies are growing their global footprint. But stepping into a new territory or country often presents hidden EHS challenges and surprises — particularly when it comes to local culture and regulatory requirements.

When you’re heading into a new region or country, a good first step is making contact with the local embassy. Embassies can help you find important information on legal compliance requirements, whether it’s organizations you can work with or contacts who can answer questions.

Then, do some research to see if there are cultural nuances that might affect EHS programs and communications, such as women in the workplace, religious holidays, local language barriers, and the culture of time.

If you don’t have the expertise or internal resources to research local requirements and expectations, engage an experienced EHS consulting firm with trustworthy and knowledgeable contacts around the world. Hiring an EHS consulting firm is an additional cost but it will offer you independent and objective third-party perspectives, as well as broad-based knowledge and expertise.

What else can you learn from your peers in the technology sector? Check out our roundup of EHS insight articles that were born out of our most recent EHSxTech event.

 

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