What is HSE? The “Silent P” in Health, Safety & Environment

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Health, Safety, Security, Environment, Quality, Sustainability—the various core and additional responsibilities HSE professionals can have in operations—none of which begin with “P”.

What, then, is this “Silent P” I have in mind?

Performance Management

Performance management, the “silent P” in HSE. No, I don’t advocate a name-change to “SHEP” or some other variant. Yes, it is a supporting role—but don’t mistake that for meaning it’s unimportant.

Some readers might disagree that there’s a fourth pillar to HSE, or that its effective management can benefit from a dedicated performance management team member.

“Don’t fix what’s not broke,” they might colloquially say—except that’s exactly what HSE does in order to prevent incidents.

What is HSE Performance Management?

So what is performance management, and what are its benefits for HSE management? For starters, it’s about HSE achieving their stated goals. The potential benefits—a unified, more effective, results-oriented HSE team contributing to business continuity.

Let’s see why I believe this…

Targets & Reporting

Performance management is about numbers, targets and objectives. It is the measurable in HSE’s “SMART” targets and supports the team in setting achievable and realistic targets—in other words, not setting yourself (the HSE team) up to fail. That’s great, but what do I mean by this?

Most listed organisations set public carbon reduction targets. This could be “30/30”, meaning 30% less by 2030. But how was this target arrived at? Was there cross-business engagement, feasibility and costing studies? Does the capital expenditure maximum payback period need to be extended? This might all sound boring, but—depending on the outcome—god or the devil really is in the detail.

Setting a poor target happens. But getting wrong a publically disclosed one which then angers shareholders and costs the company money in terms of share price or expensive solutions is probably career limiting.

Progress Assessment

Performance also manages the “big data” important to impact investors and public disclosures (such as the Global Reporting Initiative). The same HSE database supports headline reporting on serious incidents—typically reviewed monthly by the executive committee. Even HSE programmes driving continual improvement (such as fewer injuries) must be measurable. If data indicates a programme is off track, it must be tweaked or culled to avoid wasted company time, money, and effort.

Common Systems & Strategic Focus Areas

Many programmes are specific to HSE’s individual pillars, but there are common ones too. Performance is well-placed to manage these shared programmes, including HSE’s ISO management systems. By collating this company-wide system, including audit observations and weaknesses, for example, performance management can identify strategic focus areas for incident prevention.

Effective Business Engagement

HSE has its own historic communication challenges, particularly when it comes to jargon and technical detail. Performance management can help because it is capable of speaking in terms readily digestible by the business as a whole: numbers and numbers changing over time (trends).

The Central Mission of Performance Management

Based on the above, I believe the core mission of performance management is to:

Provide HSE support facilitating: performance targets and reporting, the identification of strategic focus areas, overall progress assessment, and effective business engagement.

I know, I know—it’s nowhere near as punchy as the other HSE pillars’ missions. However, if a company considers HSE as liability prevention—and it also effectively manages its long-term HSE performance—that can only be good for the business.

As for emphasising support above, this is because the performance role doesn’t assume any of the responsibilities best left to individual health, safety or environmental colleagues—but it does give them the tools to effectively do their jobs.

Where does Performance Management Fit?

So does every level of HSE, from headquarters to regions to operations and offices, need a performance manager? Where does the role offer the business most “bang for its buck”?

In part, this question links to my theory of HSE Types (more to come in a future article) and whether HSE is seen purely as a mandatory operating cost, or an integral cost centre that reduces company liability.
As for operations, most site-based HSE managers will be doing some kind of performance management role. An additional headcount may, for many small-to-medium enterprises, be prohibitively expensive regardless of the returns. Operations are best placed to determine this.

The greatest potential returns, I believe, come from having an HSE Performance Manager within Corporate HSE—because this is where the HSE agenda and strategy are determined. This makes sense because the role is ideally suited to company-wide data analysis and systems’ ownership.

Without this position, its tasks are left to the rest of the Corporate HSE team in fragmented fashion, diverting them from managing risk to maintaining systems—to the detriment of HSE and the business.


It might seem like the dull, silent partner to its HSE sisters but, without performance management, the team’s focus will likely be less on doing and more on reporting and maintenance—not good for any function or business.

Having a dedicated performance role within Corporate HSE frees up the individual HSE leads to fulfil their individual missions, supporting the overall HSE strategy—and business continuity.

The role can be an important component in corporate HSE’s toolkit, one which can quantify HSE programmes’ efficacy over time in achieving the HSE strategy. It also provides objective performance data that can aid in the defence against continual pressure to cut programmes and reduce budgets.

In the ongoing effort to prevent incidents, to maximise HSE programmes’ effectiveness in supporting business continuity, and to continually improve headline metrics, performance management is key. Is your HSE management on-track to meeting its strategy?


This brings to an end my What is HSE? series of articles. Hopefully I’ve managed to clarify to non-HSE folks some of what we do, what our functional objectives are, and how we support the business and bottom line. For fellow HSE managers, I hope I’ve contributed to our profession.

I’ve discussed my view of the core mission of HSE based on its various drivers, which is to get the basics right first. I’m a firm believer of HSE “walking before running”—of laying the groundwork before targeting excellence—if, indeed, the latter is what the company wants. I believe doing this makes HSE excellence a readily achievable goal.

On that note, and coming up in future articles, I plan to expand on the drivers of HSE, the evolution of HSE within organisations (HSE maturity model), and my own theory on organisational “HSE Types”.



Photo credits: Jakub Jirsák; ivanko80; mizinra 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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