This month we were fortunate to be able to gather some of the biggest names in the tech industry for a one-day workshop in Paris, kindly hosted by Salesforce. EHSxTech® represents a unique opportunity for industry professionals to explore regulatory updates, health and safety issues, and EHS trends for both the individual and common good.
This session zeroed in on issues particular to Europe, including EMEA health and safety requirements, active threat management, and psychosocial risks, but the open and honest discussions led to a number of useful takeaways that any EHS manager can adopt or adapt to help strengthen their own program.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: A Scrappy Approach to Health & Safety
One area where event participants found common ground was in dealing with the challenges of creating and maintaining a robust health and safety program across a global tech company, often in the face of tight budgets or staff shortages. EHS roles often are as much about relationships as they are about the work itself, and managers rely heavily on stakeholders and partners who, though they may be willing, are often time and resource constrained themselves.
In many cases, a local facilities person is tasked with on-the-ground health and safety responsibilities beneath the corporate EHS umbrella, but this is often not a formal part of their role description. This patchwork approach can give companies a false sense of security, allowing them to believe the bases are covered. But without solid processes and consistent monitoring and communication, gaps remain that can lead to safety risks.
For example, many health and safety concerns heavily overlap with HR and facilities functions (such as building maintenance and safety equipment), yet these groups often work in organizational silos—simply assuming that communication is taking place won’t be enough.
So what can you do? It all comes down to understanding your organization in all its complexity and advocating for EHS to have a seat at the table before there is a serious incident. How can EHS be a business partner rather than a support function? To achieve this, you’ll need traction at the senior level (one participant suggested allying with company lawyers—they have a vested interest in risk management too!) and a strong support network across all levels and departments in order to achieve your objectives and keep your workers, spaces, and customers safe.
More than an Ounce of Preparation: Active Threat Management
No one wants to dwell on it, but the reality of the world we live in now is that active threat situations are a risk that cannot be ignored, and no industry or facility type is exempt. Important questions for an EHS team to consider include:
- What do your risk assessments and action plans look like? Are these owned by security teams, safety groups, or someone else?
- Can you offer proactive, real-life training? There is no substitute for the power of learning by doing.
- Does your business have a retail component? If so, you’ll have additional considerations regarding location(s), staff, and customer safety.
Reactions from tech employees who have been offered real-world active threat training have been very positive—aside from helping them feel prepared for any situation, it increases trust in the company and makes them feel valued. Make sure you also consider post-event planning, both for victims and those impacted indirectly, perhaps through an existing EAP. Most of all, never think it can’t happen to you.
Managing Psychosocial Risks: The New Frontier of H&S
The EU has begun putting regulations in place equating psychosocial stress with physical risk. This change can present a major risk to brands operating there, and may be a sign of things to come in other locations as well. It’s crucial that you understand the culture and regulatory environment of the places where you are operating, and in parts of Europe that now means that psychosocial risks must be mapped and mitigated just like any others.
Usually, psychosocial risk is assessed via employee questionnaires regarding working conditions and stress levels. The resulting processes and plans will need to be customized to your company since different organizations will have different employee demographics, stressors, locations, and cultural nuances; however, manager training and work/ life balance are key components across the board. Your human resources group will be a key stakeholder and may even agree to take the lead in assessing psychosocial risks and putting appropriate plans into place!
The risk assessment process can help build trust between employees and companies, but it doesn’t have to be “fluffy” or involve hiring counselors—instead, it can be helpful to focus efforts on the gap between a psychosocial need and relevant support services, directing and connecting people to appropriate next steps. There is a real business driver to get this right, since employee retention, productivity, and brand reputation are all on the line.
Learn, Share, Lead
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the day was that we’re all working for the same things—but it can be a real challenge to define EHS leadership in a changing world. The tech industry, in particular, is in a unique position, growing quickly and fostering innovative company cultures while also dealing with office environments, data centers, retail spaces, and research and development spaces all on a global scale.
We know the industry is up to the challenge, and sharing and collaborating at events like EHSxTech will continue to play an important part in facing (and forging) the future of EHS.