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By: Thomas Carson

Don’t Forget to Fly the Plane

We talk to lots of safety professionals every week. Some are current customers of Sospes, some are soon-to-be customers, and some are just good people sharing their stories. We love to connect and hear what’s going on with champions and leaders in the safety world. With ESG (environmental social governance) being a hot topic lately, we’re frequently hearing discussions about new expectations for EHS groups to support their organization’s sustainability reporting initiatives.

This blog has talked in the past about how safety professionals are actually well-suited to take on some parts of this responsibility.

Safety professionals are some of the most accommodating employees I have ever met, often seeming to enjoy the challenge of finding ways to get more things done with no additional resources. Case in point, I had a recent conversation with the Director of EHS of a 2,000-employee manufacturing company who was running a safety program on paper forms, Excel and SharePoint with a total EHS staff of two! Herein lies the cautionary note.

Can current EHS teams absorb additional compliance management tasks – with planning and appropriate resources? Absolutely, and they would be good at it! But, since safety professionals rarely tell me that they have idle time on their hands and wish they could find a way to keep their teams busy, I urge you to proceed with care.

The core of what you do is: first and foremost, ensure that employees have safe workplaces. Anything that distracts from that responsibility is a problem for you and your organization. Why, you might ask, would that be something to worry about? There have been several high-profile examples of what happens when even well-intentioned people get distracted from core missions. Here are just a few:

Silicon Valley Bank – They had been awarded three years in a row with high ESG and DEI scores for their staffing and education efforts in those areas. This did not save them from ruin. Preliminary evaluations by regulators and the financial press have concluded that management relied on a business model that depended on low interest rates and continued deposit inflows from newly funded tech companies. As interest rates began to rise and new tech funding dried up, the bankers had not modeled fundamental risk factors in the business—while being praised for ESG, their eye was not on the ball of running their core business well.

Pacific Gas & Electric – Two years ago there was an investigation into the widespread damage caused by fires attributable to aging and poorly maintained PG&E equipment. Michael Peevey was the president of Southern California Edison and CPUC president from 2002 to 2014. A vocal champion of renewable energy, he said that compared with green energy, “Safety is not a glamorous thing.” This is a disturbing comment. PG&E is not only responsible for the safety of its employees, but effectively responsible for the safety of all the residents of California. PG&E electrical equipment started more than one fire per day after 2014, and over 400 in 2019 alone, and killed over 100 people during that time. Safety may not be glamorous to Mr. Peevey, but it was his job.

Adam Air – On New Year’s Day in 2007, an Adam Air Boeing 737 went down in the Indian Ocean and all 102 souls on board were lost. The investigators concluded that the pilots became so involved in trying to help troubleshoot a glitchy navigation system (not a life-threatening issue at the time) that they forgot to fly the plane. Talk about catastrophic results of losing focus on your core mission.

The point here is that it is easier than you might think to get distracted from your core mission. You can overcome this risk with a specific plan to prioritize the results that are important, and then ensure that you have the resources to execute your plan and responsibilities in priority order. Software that leverages the skills and knowledge of your EHS team can be an enormous help in responding to the growing challenges of your job. Rather than further loading an already busy EHS staff, turn to Sospes for easy technology that streamlines both your EHS program and sustainability reporting. You don’t have to go it alone as you’re assigned more work. Let technology help you. Your training, skills and years of accumulated knowledge have prepared you for this time. Embrace the challenge, but don’t forget to fly the plane! Call us and let’s talk about how to give you automation to make it easier.

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