Reshaping the EHS Domain in a Post Pandemic World

To adapt to the new world post-COVID era, companies must aggressively implement best practices within their operations that align with the global industry standards.

The Covid 19 pandemic has led to a renewed focus on Environment, Health & Safety (EHS), potentially more so than ever. The global nature of the threat implies that no industry or business is spared from financial and operational impact. During these testing times, the immediate priority for organizations lies on the wellbeing and governance of their workforce, while they simultaneously try to head on the road to financial recovery. Operations have been shut down, worker migrations have been undertaken, and the available workforce has also reduced – all due to the fear of the virus being spread. A report by FICCI showed that on average, companies are now operating between 28% to 63% of their pre-COVID capacities with workforce deployment ranging from 33% to 57%. 

Bringing people back to work and creating an environment of trust and confidence is the need of the hour. The correct use of personnel protection gear, hand washing and sanitizer usage, temperature monitoring, continuous disinfection and social distancing at work practices have become norms in today’s time. These practices have added more work to the everyday duties of EHS practitioners. Also, maintaining safe working conditions, disseminating reliable information on COVID-19, including preventive-protective measures and monitoring protocols has become of utmost importance. 

Regular contingency plans guarantee operational adequacy following events like natural disasters, digital episodes, and force blackouts, among others. However, most business continuity plans did not address control measures and responsiveness needed during an unanticipated pandemic. The responsibility of creating standard operating procedures for safe workplaces and seamless resumption of operations fell upon the business’s EHS teams. 

Often, even one system failure can lead to greater damage within the workforce, and subsequently impact the organizations’ reputation and trust. Thus, enterprises and businesses must move past customary EHS data collection, analysis, and reporting procedures. Traditional practices do not provide an understanding of potential operational dangers or insights anymore. Moreover, they do nothing to improve EHS performance within the stipulated time frame. To guarantee business congruity and workforce prosperity, it is now time for organizations to integrate learnings from this rude awakening into their EHS readiness. 

EHS experts are thus attempting to formalize and standardize new techniques, processes, and tools to keep the workforce safe. They are also focusing on building capacity to react constructively towards COVID-19 concerns and envisioning possible scenarios in this rapidly evolving landscape. The evaluation of current EHS compliance practices, integration of management plans with relevant risk mitigation strategies and modernized reporting in real time is important to keep all stakeholders on the same page. Remote working practices and limited workforce availability has pushed organizations to embrace digital technologies in order to improve EHS operations and performance.  

A global survey done by Verdantix in 2019 showed that among the 411 senior EHS executives interviewed, when asked about the elements that played a key role in EHS processes, user interface quality, ease of integration with other business applications, and ability to configure EHS workflows and forms were most important. With mobile first applications, daily EHS processes and data collection activities have also become fast, accurate, economical, and unbiased. Equipping employees with technology that facilitates active engagement of EHS processes, such as behavior-based safety and occupational health & safety, helps an organization to build the desired safety culture. 

It is also crucial to note that while focusing on EHS solutions, there needs to be a proper emphasis on Regulatory & Operational risks as well. On the regulatory side, a centralized digital platform for EHS keeps track of key performance indicators like employee trainings, H&S incidents, contractors/vendors compliance, material consumption-emission data, waste management data, etc. in real-time. Furthermore, EHS software platforms also include features like law libraries, and compliance guidelines to notify violations while managing, tracking, and analyzing data. In-built Predictive Assessments and AI led programs can help EHS leaders in identifying hidden risks, automating mitigation strategies, and generating detailed insights from various data points and their sources. 

On the operational side, EHS platforms can streamline data capture of incidents, observations, audit findings and daily H&S data. They can also track operational data from process forms like Permit to Work (PtW), Job Hazard Assessment (JHA), Management of Change (MoC), etc.  Along with this, EHS platform integration with Industry 4.0 systems & operational controls can enable organizations to track operational risk eliminations, predictive maintenance processes, and savings due to operational failures much more efficiently. With a SaaS platform’s support, EHS practitioners can generate automated reports with analytics and dashboards, that are easily accessible online, and can be shared with all the stakeholders. 

Organizations with digital EHS information management systems, have responded to the pandemic better. Digitally led platforms have made it easier for organizations to track and trace their employees and assets on global maps, and take necessary actions to combat the spread of COVID-19. The Verdantix research also found that the core market for firm-wide EHS software will continue to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 9.2%, to reach $1.9 billion in 2024. 

To adapt to the new world post-COVID era, companies must aggressively implement best practices within their operations that align with the global industry standards. Also, organizations need to prioritize EHS indicators according to their compliance and operational risk levels while trying to reach full capacity in a post-COVID-19 environment. Further, to bring back the earlier point of digitization, the evolution of technologies like SaaS platforms, Industry 4.0 applications, and data at the fingertip has completely transformed the way companies and practitioners look at EHS operations and reporting. 

This is not the first nor the last Black Swan event, hence organizations and EHS teams need to ensure they are more resilient in coping with greater volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Digitally transformed businesses will not just be ready for the new normal post-COVID-19 but will be better prepared for similar pandemic events through their operational resilience. On a turbulent voyage, digital transformation is the pivotal compass to reach a safe and resilient harbor!

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