EHSxTech: Fostering a Strong Company Culture Through EHS

May 23, 2024 11:30 AM ET
Campaign: Antea Group Brand
EHSxTech Attendees

Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) professionals are faced with increased pressure to demonstrate value to leadership while maintaining employee engagement in health and safety programs. In the beginning of May, EHS professionals gathered at a one-day EHSxTech event facilitated by Antea Group to discuss ways to foster a strong company culture through EHS. Hosted at LinkedIn’s London office, the event offered a chance for the group to discuss, network, and dialogue about best practices.

Stephen Lynch, Senior Global Health & Safety Manager at LinkedIn, set the tone for the day with a keynote speech discussing the evolution of health and safety at LinkedIn. From there, other topics discussed included Works Councils and employee engagement, workplace safety initiatives, monitoring progress through EHS metrics, and managing occupational health programs and psychosocial risk. Below, we give a more in-depth look into some of these discussions.

Collaboration and Challenges of Works Councils and Employee Engagement

Increased engagements with works councils has led to the establishment of new groups and stakeholders. But how can EHS professionals best collaborate with and leverage the impact these groups can have, while maintaining compliance with differing legislation? The primary purpose of a works council, elected by employees to represent the workers, is to ensure that employees have a formal channel to voice their concerns, contribute to decision-making processes, and collaborate with management to improve safety and workplace conditions.

These employee focused groups were put on the back burner during COVID as EHS teams helped their companies focus on mitigating COVID related risk. Following COVID, employers have discovered that there is a need to be more intentional around implementation of requirements related to works councils. Works councils are required in a number of countries across EMEA.

Panelists Michael Fleming (Director, Health & Safety EMEA & LTAM - Salesforce) and Eithne Clinton (EMEA Environmental Health & Safety Manager - Google) offered insights into how they are engaging and collaborating with Works Councils and the common challenges they see.

The discussion initially centered around the difficulties of getting hybrid employees to engage and participate in works councils. The hybrid work environment makes it hard to find employees willing to engage in improving physical workspaces, when they don’t spend as much time in the office as they used to. To make it worth employees time, the Works Council’s needs to provide tangible value and impact.

Participants noted that the forums are often used as an opportunity to raise non-EHS issues and grievances. As a result, EHS teams must be diplomatic and act as conduits for this information, channeling it to the appropriate internal departments for consideration and action.

Secondly, the challenges posed by remote and hybrid work models make it difficult to get meaningful engagement. Works councils specifically expect concrete actions, so EHS teams must be well-organized and prepared to provide updates and progress reports at each meeting. In certain situations, works councils and health and safety committees can be real allies, proactively organizing local compliance audits and other initiatives.

Despite the challenges of the new hybrid and remote workplaces, the works councils remain vital communication tools that ensure employees engage and contribute to helping EHS teams identify real concerns and opportunities to make the workplaces better.

By collaborating with these councils and being well-prepared for meetings, EHS teams can effectively address concerns and foster a productive workplace environment.

Promoting Workplace Safety through WELL Health Safety Rating

Next, the discussion moved to WELL Health Safey Rating, also known as WELL HSR. Jess Beckwith (Senior Project Manager - Antea Group UK) and Alex Hammonds (Global EHS Program Manager - LinkedIn) shared their approach in establishing a WELL Health Safety Rating across the global LinkedIn portfolio.

WELL, launched in 2014 in the USA, is a building standard and certification system developed by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) that focuses on enhancing human health and well-being through the design of every building. In a response to COVID, IWBI took a sub-set of features from the main standard that were more closely related to health and safety and created WELL HSR.

The idea was that during the era of return-to-work post-COVID, WELL HSR could help companies commit to and demonstrate that their buildings were safe and healthy places in which to spend time. The strategies were informed by over 20,000 researchers and practitioners, including 600 experts from the IWBI Task Force on COVID-19. The Rating comes with a physical Health-Safety seal that can be displayed at the front of a building to prove it follows these evidence-based strategies.

In addition, it is scalable globally for any organization with many different offices, it links to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and it integrates into WELL, with reduced fees and streamlined effort if a building is already WELL certified.

All in all, WELL HSR is a great way of proving that your organization has initiatives in place to make the buildings safe. It also promotes top-down buy in, can boost onsite engagement among employees, and continues to remain relevant as it can be updated as the EHS landscape changes.

EHS Reporting and Metrics

Next up, the group discussed the use of EHS Metrics to demonstrate value of EHS programs in an organization. EHS metrics are crucial for fostering a culture of safety, ensuring regulatory compliance, and promoting sustainable and efficient business practices. Gareth Evans (Vice President, Health, Safety, & Environment - Yondr) provided a presentation on “Rethinking EHS Reporting Metrics.” Evans challenged the status quo of simply trending leading and lagging indicators and emphasized the importance of digging deeper to understand both successes and failures. This included a process that considers monitoring, anticipating, and learning from EHS metrics to track progress and movement.

This approach can help companies better prepare for failures, if, and when they happen. Monitoring what actually happens can provide better context and understanding. 
See Yondr’s recent “Safety Differently” article for more details on this philosophy.

The consensus from the group discussion is that while there is a clear need for better metrics to showcase the value of EHS programs, most companies lack proactivity around metrics. They often focus on lagging indicators, although a shift may be happening here. In addition, while few companies are currently using digital solutions to track and report metrics, most want to get to this point. They view “effective use of metrics” as a critical strategic element, that must be leveraged to demonstrate the value of EHS across the organization.

Occupational Health Requirements and Challenges

Finally, the conversation moved to occupational health. Occupational health (OH) is increasingly becoming a topic of concern among global professionals. However, challenges surrounding this topic remain. Challenges include:

  • Inconsistent OH Definition – The definition of OH varies and is becoming broader to include ergonomics, first aid, industrial hygiene and psychosocial risks, and it often sits separate from wellness/benefits.
  • No Current Globally Consistent Program – Creating a globally consistent program is filled with challenges due to the vast differences in legal and cultural norms across countries. Because of this, many EHS leaders believe a global OH program isn’t feasible, and that local focus is the most efficient approach.
  • Unclear Who Should Own OH – Organizations are also grappling with questions of internal ownership and timely implementation, as these programs can take months to launch—time that employees facing immediate risks do not have.
  • Employee Mental Health Challenges – Organizations are struggling to determine where they should draw the line when it comes to how work impacts mental health when there are clear outside factors in an employee’s life that are contributing to mental health issues?
  • New Challenges with Hybrid Work – The advent of hybrid work environments has also introduced unique new challenges, such as increased accidents during commutes, causing the employee to arrive at the office in need of first aid because of the pressure to get there quickly.
  • Unclear Emergency Response Ownership – The definition for emergency response can get muddied with “incident response” associated with an employee medical situation. Is this OH and does it fall into EHS, Security, HR or the workplace’s ownership? Due to hybrid working and resource constraints, this question doesn’t always have one clear answer.

How to Manage these Challenges

The key to managing these risks is the engagement of multiple stakeholders.

“We as EHS professionals don’t have the keys to unlock everything,” says Mike Fleming (Salesforce), so cross functional collaboration is required during both planning and implementation.

Fleming went on to describe how EHS professionals may start by identifying the risk, but from there it’s crucial that other groups in the organization with additional subject matter expertise, such as Human Resources (HR) support driving necessary changes. Such partnerships not only enhance the execution of health and safety programs but also elevate the profile of EHS within organizations. 

As mentioned above, the question of whether to manage psychosocial risks on a global or country-specific basis remains disputed. While many advocate for localized handling to accommodate regional nuances, finding a unified approach to maintain consistency is still important. The truth likely lies in a balanced strategy—global oversight with local adaptation.

Final Thoughts

The EHSxTech event provided valuable insights and ideas for those that attended. By discussing topics such as utilizing works councils for employee engagement, relying on onsite teams for EHS coverage, the importance of communicating with internal stakeholders to determine who owns what piece of the program, implementing site health and safety initiatives, and utilizing metrics as a way to demonstrate value, industry EHS leaders were able to share best practices and strategies for addressing the challenges of tech company workplaces.

As EHS professionals continue to navigate the complexities of remote and hybrid work models, these discussions and shared experiences will be crucial in shaping the future of EHS practices.

Interested in joining our next event? Connect with us to learn more.