The Ab Cs Of Ehs How The Industrial Safety Profession Is Evolving

EHS trends: Is the industry prioritizing environmental regulation over safety standards?

May 19, 2023
"If you don't have everybody at your leadership level of your company at least knowing what the other teams are doing, then you've got problems because they all are interweaving with each other and overlapping in many cases."

Dave Blanchard is editor in chief of Material Handling and Logistics and EHS Today. During his career, Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including Industry Week, Logistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance, in addition to the two titles he currently manages. He also serves as a senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference and literally wrote the book on supply chain management, which is called Supply Chain Management Best Practices. He is also a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Plant Services editor in chief Thomas Wilk recently spoke with Dave about the evolving fields of safety and logistics, and what companies can do to keep supply chains and workers healthy and productive.

Listen to Dave Blanchard on The Tool Belt Podcast

PS: Let me shift over to EHS today if I could, because that's also a topic that's taking center stage in a different way. In my experience with my readers, everyone's focused on the “E” right now. They're always focused on the “S” for safety, safety first, which is good. But the “E” is getting extra attention these days, as regulations either are coming down the pipeline or are already with us, asking for reporting and a greater awareness of how the carbon footprint of plants might change. So, as the editor of EHS Today, what are some trends that you're seeing in this area? Some of the key themes that are happening in 2023?

DB: Well, regulatory compliance for safety people is nothing new. What is becoming new is, how many more regulatory issues are being put on the safety leaders' shoulders. The EHS “E” is environment, “H” is health and “S” is safety. Like you were saying, the “E” part, I wouldn't say it's new, but the emphasis of it on the safety profession is one more hat that these safety people have to wear. A lot of times it's the safety person that the CEO is coming to and saying, “we need you to help us figure out how we're going to comply with these regulations from the EPA” and everywhere else that not necessarily you would think would be a typical safety problem. The old stereotype is there: the safety cops, they're the ones that make sure you you're wearing your hard hat and you're wearing your gloves and you're wearing your boots, and you’re not running around when you're in a warehouse, you're keeping your eye out for things.

And now the safety profession, oh gosh, the number of things they're being asked to do besides the ESG regulations. Diversity, equity and inclusion is a big thing now, in terms of psychological safety in addition to physical safety. And you're talking about environmental safety, drug abuse in wellness programs, mental health awareness – these are all things that people didn't historically think of as a safety leader's job. But these days, it really is becoming part of what they're being asked to look at.

PS: That's a fascinating take on it, I guess I hadn't put together exactly how expansive the role is becoming, but as you say, it's added up and it’s added up pretty quickly.

DB: Yeah, and sustainability, it's a whole profession in and of itself, but though the inclusion of the EHS role within a company’s ESG initiatives, it is becoming a bigger and bigger issue. We're doing more webinars at EHS Today on this topic and more articles, and we're getting a lot of, I wouldn't say confusion, but more in terms of, “how do we manage a whole other set of regulatory issues that aren't necessarily under the province of OSHA?” which is the typically what the safety leader would be concentrating on. But now the role of a company in managing its carbon footprint and keeping that in a measurable way, how does the safety person take on that role as well? In many cases it's not just the safety person, I think that would be speaking a little bit too broadly. But they certainly are involved, they’re being asked to come to the meetings and be part of the solution.

PS: In the Plant Services neck of the woods, we've seen a lot of reliability engineers embrace safety initiatives. The old truism that “a reliable plant is a safe plant” because the more the machines do what you expect them to do, the less surprises there will be on a safety level especially. But we're also seeing these people sometimes reach out to the finance teams, because the finance officers are in charge of the risk management portfolio. And so you look at these issues –diversity and inclusion, safety, reliable machinery – the more you can reduce the risk across the plant, the better that portfolio is going to look. So I'm always interested when I hear stories about different teams working together unexpectedly in positive ways.

DB: That really is the key, I think, is you have to have a team that works together, and that goes back to the supply chain story we were talking about earlier. If you don't have everybody at your leadership level of your company at least knowing what the other teams are doing, then you've got problems because they all are interweaving with each other and overlapping in many cases.

PS: Let's move our focus over to the Safety and Leadership Conference. That's sponsored by EHS Today and it's the kind of place where people from all walks of plant life can come together as you're talking about, and collaborate and communicate. Tell us about the conference for 2023. Where is it being held? What can attendees look forward to?

DB: This is the 12th annual Safety Leadership Conference that we're holding this year. It will be in Orlando, FL, September 18-20. The conference explores best practices, processes, and strategies that safety professionals have adopted and are adopting, to develop and sustain a culture of safety in their workplaces.

So what does the conference look like? We have a full program this year, five different tracks on risk management, safety technology, regulatory compliance, training and engagement, and a new track this year called “ROI of safety” for safety people to learn to talk the language of risk management, talk the language of finance, talk the language of the C-Suite so that they can advocate in the best interests of their workplace to make sure that safety is front and center. We also have a couple keynote sessions. Our keynotes historically (and this year’s no exception) have featured senior-level safety professionals at major corporations who offer their insights into what safety looks like at their companies, and what they're seeing in terms of latest trends in safety management.

Also, it being a conference, we've got things like tabletop exhibits and workshops that feature best practices and solutions from some of the leading companies that cater to safety professionals. We'll have safety tours that offer behind-the-scenes looks at world class safety and action at some companies and organizations and venues throughout the Orlando area. And then I guess that for me, the highlight of any safety leadership conference, we have a night out celebration where we honor the 2023 class of America's Safest Companies. That's a competition that EHS Today has managed for more than 20 years. We focus on companies that have demonstrated through kind of a benchmarking competition what they've done over the past several years to really become one of the safest companies in the United States. Anybody interested in the conference or interested in the America's Safest Companies competition can learn all they want at our website:

PS: Awesome. And that's coming up later in Q3, in September, correct?

DB: That's correct, September 18-20.

PS: OK, so for those listening who are interested in the conference, you've got plenty of time for planning. Dave, I think that wraps up today's podcast.

For those listening to the Tool Belt you're going to hear Dave more frequently, as he does his own episodes of the tool belt for MH&L and EHS Today. On behalf of the Tool Belt in general and our listeners, Dave, great talk with you today, thank you.

DB: Absolute pleasure, Tom, especially since I didn't have to be the one asking the questions this time, so it was a nice change of pace! Thanks a lot Tom, for all you're doing with your brands and with The Tool Belt.

About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University

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