What is HSE? The “E” in Health, Safety and Environment

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Environmental Management

This article extends my What is HSE? series. It completes the trilogy of articles outlining what I see as the core mission—and business benefits—of each of the titular acronym’s three pillars. Follow the links to the Health and Safety articles.

However, even as I write this, ideas about The Silent “P” in HSE are percolating. Any guesses? I’m sure there’s little risk of bated-breath-related incidents until then.

For now, back to Environment.

 

How does Environment differ from Health & Safety?

In order to differentiate the occupation from the subject, I shall refer to the former as “environmental management”.

Most industrial environmental incidents, like Health & Safety, are linked to unsafe acts (caused by people). Another example, climate change, is an industrial environmental impact spanning—despite denial and protestation—the global community. These make people a critical subject stakeholder.

Whilst Health & Safety combat hazards, environmental management deals with aspects. Whereas hazards are uni-directional (our safety poses zero risk to heavy machinery), aspects are a two-way relationship; they are the mutual interactions between a company and its surroundings.

For example: a hotel is built on a beach with a nearby coral reef so it can help attract guests (positive business impact). Because of limited freshwater, equipment is installed to make seawater drinkable; the wastewater is pumped into the sea near the reef. Because the wastewater is so salty, it kills the reef (negative environmental impact). The hotel’s business decreases (negative business impact).

Overall, like Health & Safety, environment focuses on prevention and the avoidance of legal, moral, social and economic liabilities to the advantage of businesses.

 

What is Environmental Management?

Firstly, this is about businesses mitigating their environmental risk. But what are they managing?

A visual approach is to think in terms of spheres: atmo, hydro, geo and bio. Respectively, these represent: air, water, soil and rock, and all plant and animal life. Some examples of impacts to these include deforestation, over-fishing, and water acidification from mines.

Environmental Management

If the term spheres confuses more than it clarifies, here are a few nouns: climate change, biodiversity, pollution, resources, and waste. These about sum up business environmental management’s key topics.
There is also the anthroposphere. This includes all human activities such as communities, harbours, and other businesses, like tourism. Air pollution, toxic spills, and industrial odours are some impacts.

Lastly, we have the organisation in question, how it interacts with each sphere, and how they in turn interact with the company (such as fires, droughts and floods).

Business-oriented environmental management is about minimising two-way impacts and identifying opportunities. Impacts tend to have costs-to-company, whilst opportunities might set it apart from the competition, possibly providing competitive advantage of some kind.

Whilst business sustainability is far wider than the subject of environment, without responsible environmental management, business sustainability is left to chance.

 

Environmental Management’s Central Mission

My view of environmental management’s core mission is to:

Ensure operational environs are managed, impacts prevented, and resources used responsibly.

Let’s expand on these…

Operational Environs are Managed

An operational environ is wherever a company is in contact with the aforementioned spheres.

To steal from Hippocrates, organisations have a duty of care to do no harm. Businesses must assess how their activities, products or services interact with the environment, and then work to eliminate, prevent or offset impacts. “Offsetting” is to make good an impact elsewhere.

An example of offsetting is a company that emits greenhouse gases. Capturing the gas will cost $2M. The valueless captured gas must be disposed of (more cost). Alternatively, planting $90k worth of trees can improve biodiversity, have good press, and negate the company’s climate change impacts.

But environmental management is also about assessing impacts posed to business activities.

For example, a site is in an area that is flooded, on average, every 100 years (but more often has happened). If flooded, the site could not operate for 1 month. It would lose $10k per lost working day ($300k total). However, building a $50k strategic wall would reduce the lost days by 90%.

In both examples, HSE managers evaluate and provide relevant information to the business, but it is the business that decides what action—if any—to take.

Impacts Prevented

Environmental management’s goal is to prevent impacts by controlling risk. But not all environmental impacts are avoidable. For example, using potable water or electricity is totally unavoidable despite clear environmental impacts (dams, mines, distribution, climate change etc.). Again, targeted offsetting projects might be a responsible alternative.

For a preventable incident, such as a chemical spill, the costs-to-company might include: loss of purchased materials; environmental clean-up costs; fines; delayed production or client complaints (depending on the chemicals’ destination); and possibly worker and third-party injuries.

Prevention, clearly, is preferable—prevention of environmental impact, non-compliance, reputational harm, and cost-to-company.

Resources used Responsibly

Resources include potable water, electricity, and the raw materials that make up everything around us—and which links all industries back to fishing, forestry, agriculture, or mining (the environment).

Society’s use of resources makes us dependent on the environment. Using resources always has an environmental footprint—a pleasant way of saying “impact”. Using resources efficiently not only reduces that footprint, it also reduces the purchased amount and, typically, waste disposal costs. The less waste a company generates, the lower its disposal expenses, risk of accidental pollution or fines.

Resources cost companies money. Be it electricity or inputs to their manufacturing process, any avoided waste or offset use translates into company cost savings.

 

In Summary

Although there are differences between health, safety and environmental management, their core goals are the same: to prevent impacts and to avoid cost-to-company.
Environmental ManagementIn order to achieve this, business environmental impacts must be identified and controlled. Doing this effectively necessitates the organisation understanding how its activities, products or services interact with the various environmental spheres. It is also important for business continuity to understand how the environment impacts the business.

Controlling impacts and acting on opportunities supports business continuity, can set the organisation apart from its competitors, and has other legal, moral, social or economic benefits.

 

Afterword

In theory, this draws a line on my What is HSE? series. Missed any? You can find them under “Articles” here.

However, as noted above, I believe there’s still one more crucial pillar—the “Silent P”—to come.

 

 

Photo credits: Brian Jackson; EdwardSamuel; danmir12 via fotolia.com.

© Nick Hart (2017) All rights reserved.

Nicholas Hart Nicholas Hart

Engaging within companies to avoid unplanned and avoidable costs. Helping businesses get their employees safely home to their families each day, and seeking to prevent wider impacts such as pollution and climate change. Working to support business continuity, including within the supply chain, so the company can focus on what it does best.

A senior Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) risk specialist with more than a decade of corporate, operations, and consulting experience from agriculture to manufacturing, and from Andorra to Zambia.

Nick writes HSE articles based on his experiences, skills, and professional passion aimed at protecting people and responsible organisations.

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