EHS Managers: The Evolution from Necessary Evil to Vital Leaders

Dr. Christy Cole

Considering the dedication most companies now have to environmental and safety compliance and the extra sustainability initiatives they pursue, it’s hard to imagine a time when businesses treated such matters as burdensome obligations. But such a time existed not long ago; so recently, in fact, that many EHS managers can recall it with clarity and maybe not-so-fond memories.

Many businesses and their compliance officers were ill-equipped to contend with increased federal environmental and safety oversight starting in the ‘70s. Making matters more difficult, firms often viewed EHS as an afterthought, forcing managers to fight to convey their value to the business and their essentiality as risk mitigates and operations innovators. Furthermore, the fledgling EHS field was a volatile one, with companies quickly increasing and reducing EHS staff based on the latest enforcement actions or lack thereof.

While that attitude is less common among businesses today, some organizations have still not fully embraced the subject. Even with notices of violations, consent decrees, diminished investor confidence, jail time for executives and the possibility of an employee fatality all remaining clear and present dangers, some managers are still not fully supported. To understand the risks related to noncompliance and appreciate the regulatory twists and turns compliance officers have to deal with, they need a glimpse into the world of EHS professionals.

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