EHS Opportunities due to COVID-19 – seizing the “new normal”

Oli Hakansson
Reliability and Maintenance Management Consultant
Dr. Robert E. Zoubek
Principal Consultant
Granzer Regulatory Consulting & Services, Germany
Matthias Renner
Head of Section Quality of Coagulation Products and Gene Therapy Senior Scientific Assessor for quality aspects of ATMPs
Paul-Ehrlich-Institut (PEI), Germany
Steve Ross | Fleming
Steven Ross
Senior Formulation Scientist
Custom Pharma Services, Brighton UK
Prof. Dennis Douroumis
Professor in Pharmaceutical Technology and Process Engineering
University of Greenwich, UK

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic. Black Swan events like the COVID-19 crisis are rare. But they do occur, with the potential to have massive adverse consequences for people, companies, countries, and the world. Although these are times of great uncertainty, they also present great prospects for innovation and transformation.

Every crisis offers us some opportunities too. The most popular of management standards, ISO 9001/14001/45001 have specific requirements to mitigate the risks and build on opportunities.

Suddenly, swathes of opportunities have emerged for environment, health and safety (EHS) discipline too. Looking on the positive side to the pandemic here, I will focus on only opportunities to EHS business. I have a count of fourteen (not one each for 14 days of quarantine). I am sure wise readers would find many more, large and small. My purpose is to instigate a thought process. Grab some or more opportunities from the list, implement, institutionalize, and sustain the gains.

1. EHS Leadership engagement

Seize the opportunity for the EHS to increase its value to the organization and influence.

Work on strategies spanning people, process, and technology that can help increase awareness of the EHS business function as a change agent.

Increase engagement of EHS as a vital business partner in not only responding to the current crisis, but in on-going

Operational Excellence programs. Engage with business objectives as envisaged in ISO 45001.
Work with operations and other groups to address nuts-and-bolts tactical issues like update preparedness and response plans, remote work, social distancing, etc.

2. Reinforce risk-based approach

Standards such as ISO 31000, 45001, 14001, and 9001, prescribe a risk-based approach to management including EHS. With the COVID-19 uncertainty, the EHS function is well positioned to apply logical, risk-based approaches to mitigate operational risk. And keep sight on EHS risks beyond the pandemic.

Engage workers in risk management discussions. Revisit Hazard Identification and Risk and Opportunities assessment (personal safety, environment, and process safety).

Undertake retraining and awareness.

The opportunity is the need to consider your risks holistically when contemplating the ongoing management of the COVID-19 pandemic without losing priority for routine risks.

Resort to advanced tools and techniques. For instance, digital options available to automate your entire EHS risk management framework.

3 .Enterprise resilience and crisis management

We have a great opportunity to build the business case for investments to improve safeguarding business continuity and increasing organizational resilience.

Re-enforce the strategic importance of effective operational risk management (ORM); rise above patchwork of fragmented, siloed management systems for risk management to intelligent risk management.

4. Technology

Without doubt, Covid crisis has placed IT as both the rescuer and gamechanger. Seize EHS opportunity for enhancing customer experience and employee satisfaction by implementing innovative and creative risk-mitigating technologies.

Adopt Connected Worker technologies such as mobile devices, wearables, augmented reality, etc. to improve quality and safety performance.

Effect improvement in arrangements – VPN connections, Confluence, office 365 services, helping secure remote access and other IT challenges.

Step up the policies and exercises for climate change mitigation (as travel is diminished and virtual work infrastructures expand), risk assessment and emergency response.

5. Digitalize and reorganize work

Help digitalization progress more efficiently. Learn to get better at EHS communication.

Ask IT vendors to become more resilient and innovative as they compete for your attention.

Enable and encourage remote working etiquettes among EHS employees and stakeholders. Resort to remote inspection, remote auditing, remote HAZOP, etc.

6. Consumers more willing to pay for safety features

An increase in risk perception makes consumers more willing to pay for safety features, which, in turn, provides producers greater incentives to develop and commercialize technologies that address consumers’ demands for safety.

People are prepared to pay for product designs that are particularly effective in mitigating risk and improving safety.

7. Reform political and administrative practices

Support opportunity to reform political and administrative practices. The most obvious, perhaps, is the accelerated adoption of what the UN calls “digital public goods”. These are the common digital “railroads”, which act as force multipliers for a range of business and governance operations.

This could open opportunities for extraordinary re-design of our work and cities, e.g. reduced need for commuting and other travel may allow stronger incentives (or even regulation) to boost mass transit.

8. Improved safety culture

Feelings of togetherness and solidarity have sprang up to support elderly people and financially weakest in various ways. This is building safety culture.

Extend the above practice at workplace. When everyone is involved in identifying hazards, control measures, taking responsibility we have better chances to reduce infections and also accidents and ill-health at work.

Help to deal with the psychosocical overload.

9. Innovation and remote work culture

The crisis may help firms become smarter and more flexible. This leads to remarkable innovations that can be maintained after the crisis.

Coronavirus has triggered a sudden need for remote work. Notable developments are:

  • A better understanding of remote work, increased productivity, reduced commute time, and a lower quit rate
  • Social bonding and other ways of connecting to and helping people

10. Stress and wellbeing

Everyone is under stress. Sustained levels of stress, ‘Crisis Fatigue,’ can do serious damage.

Look after yourself and your team members. The mantra is no secret – getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet.

Yoga and meditation are known to reduce stress.

Integrate the above tools into a sustainable habit even after the crisis.

11. Modesty and acceptance, values, and reflection

Reflect on things and to reconsider what we do, how we do it and why we do it. Rethink habits and routines and make changes. Whether you really want to continue doing so after the crisis.

This is also time to sharpen the saw, and to complete the list of all important but not urgent, quadrant II, tasks. There is plethora of online training courses, reading and viewing material, and discussion forums that can help. If you do not find one, make one.

12. Sustainability

The biggest opportunity presented by COVID-19 is to reset some of our economic methods developing a sustainable approach.

Organizations have to step in with their social leadership. Instead of taking the excuse of economic downturn, join hands for the larger ‘ends’ to prove your social responsibility.

13. Cleaner environment, reduced pollution and GHG

The COVID-19 crisis should also sharpen our thinking about climate change, reinforcing the fact that early intervention is vastly more effective and less costly than waiting until the crisis hits.

There is dramatic decrease of industrial activities, road traffic has reduced radically and air traffic collapsed, and the lack of tourism has emptied the streets. The result is a significant reduction in greenhouse gases and other air, water and land polluting outputs, and less noise – reduction in AQI index, harmful fine particulate matter PM 2.5 and nitrogen dioxide emissions. Nature is reclaiming its spaces during quarantine.

  • ‘Venice is the clearest it has been in 60 years, and dolphins have been spotted down in southern Italy, swimming in clearer water’
  • ‘Saharanpur, a northern town in India, Wakes Up to View of Himalayan Peaks 200 km away After 30 years as Lockdown Clears Up Air’

The opportunity is to keep some of this in place also after the crisis to make long-term improvements.

Support green deals, encourage cleaner modes of transportation — including walking and cycling.

14. Reduced road deaths

Not surprisingly, there is spectacular decreases in road crash deaths and disabling injuries across the world. This heightens the value of exposure reduction as an intervention for road safety.

For instance in California, a report estimates the drop in accidents has saved the state $40 million per day; fall in the number of deaths reported across India as a result of fewer crimes and a huge reduction in road fatalities. In Kerala, a total of 13 people have lost their lives this year, compared to 185 persons last year.

This offers the policymakers a real fact based opportunity to devise and effect mechanisms to limit road traffic.

In conclusion, there are EHS opportunities abound. You need to keep ready for your post-pandemic management plan. Choose all or some from the list above.

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