Tools for Environmental Health and Safety Program Management

Anyone faced with the task of managing an environmental health and safety (EHS) program has a number of resources to call on to make it easier. There are thousands of good (and bad) examples of how to do things. Managers must think about the needs of the organization and its occupants, delve into finding out what works with others through investigating and networking, and then put together the EHS program elements that seem sound. It is a process of merging successful tools and documents, not just seeking the perfect formula or “holy grail.”

With the intersection of the workplace and people, managers have the opportunity to ensure that tools are relevant, realistic, and sustainable on a day-to-day and year-to-year basis. Finally, no EHS program endures without a spirit of continuous improvement, correcting non-compliances, and seeking better results. A manager is an integral player in this process.

For managing safety, OSHA recommends that building owners and employers set up their safety and compliance programs based on a continuous improvement cycle such as Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA). A continuous improvement cycle acknowledges the dynamic nature of the EHS effort in the face of constantly changing conditions. It makes an EHS program measurably effective in reducing the number and extent of work-related injuries and illnesses, along with their costs to businesses.

PDCA—Plan-Do-Check-Act—is a four-step cycle that helps develop or improve processes, products, or services. Those steps are:

PlanOnce a problem or opportunity has arisen, a series of planning activities should be explored and developed to address the problem or opportunity.
DoThe plan should outline a series of steps that can be implemented as a small-scale study.
CheckAssess the results of the small-scale study for effectiveness and desired outcomes.
ActIf the small-scale study achieves the desired results, implement the initiatives throughout the facility. If it doesn’t, return to the planning stage.

What makes PDCA such an invaluable tool is its ability to show continuous improvement. The PDCA cycle allows facility managers to monitor, evaluate, and improve on a given facility’s performance in any area. It is also an excellent tool for data collection, analysis, and prioritization of problems or discovery of root causes.

These four steps are intended to be repeated, perhaps indefinitely, in pursuit of an ongoing objective. Rather than thinking of the cycle as being circular, think of it as being a spiral, taking the facility to incrementally higher performance levels. This allows for a starting point to be created and for implementation with incremental and continuous improvement, rather than positing one definitive solution or result. The PDCA will also help to identify opportunities and better plan for the change.

The first step of PDCA is to identify a problem, some sort of change, or a new opportunity. The manager and team will carefully review the situation and brainstorm implementation strategies. Once agreed on a plan, the team will assess the plan’s strategy by trying it out on a small scale before instituting it in the facility. This important step will determine what is feasible. A specific PDCA cycle for a complicated facility like a hospital may be more or less feasible than for a standard office building. Often a problem, change, or opportunity will affect one aspect or area of the facility or organization more than another.

As noted, before proceeding with the implementation of the plan throughout the facility, PCDA should be applied to a small-scale study targeting a problem area. This will help determine whether it works or not. If it doesn’t, then the process must begin again. If the small scale study produces positive outcomes, the plan can be implemented throughout the facility.

A key element of the PDCA cycle is its continued use. It enables a facility manager to set up routine evaluations of personnel duties and responsibilities, operations and maintenance, and regulatory compliance, and give specific attention to opportunities for improvement. The PDCA cycle can be applied to multiple levels of facilities management, including team building, performance evaluation, and strategic planning. For addressing the development of an EHS program, PDCA is especially useful because it accounts for the ever-changing nature of environmental concerns.

This article is excerpted from the newly updated 2013 edition of the BOMI International course Environmental Health and Safety Issues, part of the RPA®, FMA®, and SMA® designation programs. Classes begin in January. More information regarding this course and BOMI International’s education programs is available by calling 1-800-235-2664. Visit BOMI International’s website,