EHS written programs

Toss the Templates: Making Your Written Programs Actually Work for You

September 26th, 2019

The introduction of the ISO 45001 standard has put a renewed emphasis on written health and safety programs, and while not all organizations pursue certification, many are basing their approach on this model. Written programs can range widely from corporate procedures outlining global minimum standards, to facility or state-specific documentation, all the way down to a single piece of equipment. Whether based on best practices or regulatory-driven, the main unifying factor is their basis in risk—an effective written program must be rooted in the organization’s unique risk profile and risk tolerance.

However, in order to truly make an impact on an organization’s safety and compliance culture, written programs must be more than just pieces of paper—they need to be a way of life. This requires taking a big picture view and honestly assessing your financial and human resources, technical and business needs, priorities, and capacity for change. This holistic approach is even more important when the person tasked with writing the program is not necessarily a subject matter expert, a scenario becoming increasingly common in today’s complex, resource-constrained global landscape.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

One of the common pitfalls companies run into is creating a program that falls short of expectations because they didn’t take the time to understand what they needed and how to make it work in their culture. Simply filling in the blanks in a standardized template will not drive the impact you want and will end up being another piece of paper forgotten in someone’s desk or file languishing on your intranet.

Begin by understanding how risks are currently being managed, even if it’s undocumented or informal. Identify the gaps and make adjustments as needed—always staying grounded in the realities of your company. You may be surprised to find your existing programs are not so far off the mark; rather, they just need some tweaking around documentation, implementation, measurement, or employee engagement. 

Often a one-size-fits-all mentality manifests as companies try to do too much at one time, simultaneously initiating dozens of programs that can’t possibly be implemented and monitored effectively all at once. Organizations using this approach frequently fail to engage stakeholders early and often, resulting in a lack ownership and buy-in, and resistance to implementing changes. (Remember—EHS can’t do this alone!) For written programs that move the needle, a more measured, custom approach is the path to success.

Insider Implementation Tips

Whether your goal is to stay in compliance, hit your KPIs, reduce your risk, or keep your employees safe, no written program can be effective if it isn’t actually adopted and enacted. Here are a few of our top tips for successful implementation:

  • Understand your capacity for organizational change, and realistically gauge how much change the organization can sustainably absorb and in what timeframe. Use this information as a baseline for your implementation schedule.
  • Determine what resources you have available to support implementing the program, including funding and people. Make sure you further consider the geography and skillsets of your staff—you will need strong leaders and trainers, not just warm bodies.
  • Speaking of training, train key managers on the implementation process, supplementing with external support if needed.
  • Piggyback on existing systems and technology to help make the new process familiar and easy. Perhaps your workorder system can be adapted or an existing workflow can be amended.
  • Don’t forget to make an accountability plan, including how you will monitor and measure success.
  • Strive for continuous improvement. A management system approach and integration of Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) concepts can help you stay focused and organized as you maintain your written programs in the long-term.

Keep in mind that it’s worse to have a program you can’t (or don’t) use than no program at all--regulatory agencies have been known to hold companies responsible and liable for requirements in their company programs, even if they are above and beyond regulatory requirements!

The Antea Group Difference

Our program development team is committed to creating practical, evergreen programs. While anyone can write a compliant program, our customization and implementation support sets us apart. Our team understands that handing you a completed template is not going to make a real impact on your business—rather, you need a partner with the integrity to ask the tough questions and help you get to the root of your needs. We guide you through this process, offering expert advice and creating a plan that will achieve your goals and become an active part of your culture.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Regardless of the needs of your specific organization, a successful written program is not a static event, but rather an evergreen framework that needs to evolve with your business needs. A good EHS manager will seek to keep that framework strong but flexible, ensuring it is updated regularly to remain responsive and relevant.

Contact us to learn how we can support your health and safety management system.

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