State of the art health and safety programs

July 2014 » Feature Articles » Firms in Focus
A management system provides a strong foundation for improvement.
Carl Johns

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Additional information on Environmental Health and Safety Management Systems is available on the following websites:

Typical approaches that some companies take regarding health and safety, such as policies and procedures or strict top-down management processes, have exhibited varying success. A Health and Safety-Management System (HS-MS) is an overlaying management tool that can tie regulatory and management aspects together. It is a holistic approach that brings together many elements of a health and safety program into a single, cohesive system. 

Whether your company has an established health and safety program or is just beginning to develop one, adoption of a management system will add several benefits, including:

  • Reduction of incidents, 
  • Strong foundation,
  • Improved structure and process,
  • Consistent approach across the company,
  • Continuous improvement as the HS-MS evolves and matures, and
  • More proactive approach to health and safety. 

The management system chosen should be based on specific long- and short-term health and safety goals and objectives. If your company is multinational, consider an internationally recognized HS-MS. However, if your company is looking for U.S. regulatory recognition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s version of a HS-MS may be the preferred option. It makes no difference if your company is small- to mid-sized; you can contract to work for a mega-firm. 

Implementation of a health and safety management system can develop over time, culminating in a complete HS-MS. Pieces of the management system may already exist in your current health and safety program. For example, your current safety program may have a policy, various procedures for inspections, audits, incident investigation, training, rules, and risk assessment/control, but may lack other aspects of a HS-MS such as an official procedure or process for program evaluation, planning, leadership, oversight, and responsibilities. Creating a documented HS-MS program can identify where gaps exist and help to continuously improve your program.

Sources of ready-made health and safety management systems can be found in the public domain. A few of the more well-known are:

  • Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Services (OHSAS) 18000 
  • U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (US-DOL-OSHA-VPP)
  • American National Standards Institution (ANSI) Z-10 Management System

The OHSAS standard is currently morphing into a true International Standards Organization standard. It already has international recognition, but its adoption by the ISO will take that a step further. HS-MSs also can be developed internally or by third-party safety professionals. 

Environmentally Oriented Management Systems are available, depending on your company’s business, environmental health and safety goals, and objectives. Two of the better known are the European Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and the ISO 14000.

ISO 19011:2011, Guidelines for Auditing Management Systems is a related standard that can be useful when creating a health and safety management system, since auditing is an integral part of the HS-MS.

The elements of a HS-MS are inter-related; when one component is not performing correctly, it will affect some of the other elements. Risk assessment and controls are the focal point of the HS-MS and affect all other elements if a feature is missed or mistakenly corrected. Consider the following:

  • A risk assessment is completed for a facility or particular operation. 
  • Corrective actions are then put in place to control the identified risks. 
  • The identified risks and controls are used to define the items for inspections and audits, etc. This helps ensure that controls are working and effective.
  • Rules and procedures are written to formalize the risk controls and to define who, what, where, when, why, and how the controls will be implemented and maintained.
  • Training and education programs on the risks and controls, inspections, audits, and procedures help involved employees identify their roles and responsibilities. Training and education that is required by various regulatory groups or your corporation are also included in this section. 
  • Communication is needed to make everyone aware of what was found and what the plan is moving forward. 
  • Planning for resources (monetary, facilities, and human) ensures the controls can be implemented.
  • Accountability and responsibilities are designated for all levels of the organization so that actions will be completed in a timely manner.
  • Incident investigations occur when there is management element failure. During the incident investigation, one of the corrective actions should ultimately indicate a failed element of the management system as the root cause, such as a missed risk and its control, resulting in an injured employee.
  • Documentation and record keeping are kept as per company, legal, and regulatory requirements. Many times, safety programs focus on lagging performance indicators such as incidents, but a management system can have you look at leading indicators such as inspections, tool box talks, audits, and training.
  • The management system is reviewed periodically and corrective actions from the review serve to continuously improve the HS-MS and the overall health and safety program. The reviews can be done as a whole system or in parts.
  • The information generated by the various Management System elements — incident investigation, inspections, audits, training, etc. — of the management system can be trended or tracked to completion and used to show improvement, with some as proactive indicators.

At their core, all HS-MSs have the same basic structure and there are many similarities between them. Each of the management systems has a requirement for hazard identification and ways to control the hazards. Training is a recurring theme as is accountability and having proactive and reactive performance measurements in place. Trend analysis is another similarity found in each HS-MS. 

If you have a management system in place, for example, OSHA-VPP, and you want to add OHSAS 18001, look at the differences between the two health and safety systems by performing a gap analysis to see what needs to be added to the existing OSHA-VPP HS-MS and ultimately have a HS-MS that meets both criteria with one program. 

To add an environmental component to an environmental health and safety program, combine the requirements of ISO 14000 or EMAS into your existing HS-MS with a gap analysis and meet the criteria of both systems with one document. An overarching trend for several years has been to consolidate management systems into an overall management system approach. Many firms now combine quality, environment, safety, and sustainability under one management system. There are many benefits to this for certain companies, not the least of which is efficiency. All management systems work the same, so why have four separate organizations within a company to individually manage or audit?

A HS-MS is an important piece of a successful health and safety program. The HS-MS is beneficial to all organizations regardless of the size, type, or location. Check your health and safety program and determine if a management system is in your future.

Carl Johns is a Division Health and Safety officer for Palmerton Group, LLC and Laurel Oil and Gas Corp., the Oil and Gas Divisions of GZA GeoEnvironmental. GZA, a 500-person engineering firm that offers a wide scope of services to the oil and gas, construction, industrial, and commercial industries, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. GZA recently acquired Laurel Oil and Gas Corporation, providing completions supervisors and engineers to Appalachian Basin operators. 


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