When do you need a dedicated EHS staff

One major question for most industrial operations is when to designate EHS staff to oversee the EHS management system. Are you prepared for the answer?


by Elaine Ye

In most countries and localities, industrial operation facilities that have certain numbers of employees, are required to have at least one employee designated as an EHS manager/officer, either full-time or part-time. To determine whether it is necessary to have designated EHS staff at a particular facility, the scale and the nature of the site’s operation is at the center of the assessment.

What will trigger the requirement for designated EHS staff?

Threshold number of employees

The number of employees is a threshold but its level to trigger the requirement of appointing EHS staff varies from country to country. For example, in the United Arab Emirates, at least one full-time EHS officer is required for a facility that has over 150 employees; while in China, the threshold number is 100 for industrial operation facilities.

When “part-time” EHS staff is sufficient under the law for small-scale operations, facilities may select existing employees, who are qualified to take on partial EHS managerial responsibilities while continuing their regular job duties, to fill this need part time.

High risk industries

Moreover, designated EHS staff may be required if facilities are part of certain industries, such as “high-risk industries” like hazardous chemicals manufacturing and storage, mining, and construction. A lower threshold is often found for facilities handling hazardous operations or materials, or for those considered as “major hazard installations”.

For example, a provincial regulation (Henan) of China specifies that a facility with less than 50 employees, which is far less than the general threshold number, may need a full-time EHS person if it has a high-risk operation that could constitute a major hazard installation.

Ratio of EHS staff to other employees

Regulators often set particular ratios of EHS staff to employees for facilities. For instance, under the Poland Labor Code, facilities must have at least one designated EHS staff for every 600 employees. Likewise, under Shandong (China) provincial regulations, facilities with more than 1,000 employees are required to have a ratio of 3:100 of the EHS staff to employees if they have high-risk operations, such as handling hazardous substances or constructions.

Sometimes, the regulations may even specify the minimum ratio of certified safety engineers/technicians to the entire EHS safety management department. Under China’s national rule, facilities with more than 1,000 employees and high-risk operations are required to have 15% of their designated EHS staff qualified as certified safety engineers.

Companies may have the option to hire external EHS management services in lieu of the designated EHS staff, for example, in Malta. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that having competent external EHS professionals does not discharge the facility from their own EHS responsibilities.

In addition, it is worth noting that other settings, like offices, may also be required to have designated EHS persons under local rules.

What are the qualifications needed for designated EHS staff?

If you have determined that you need designated EHS staff (and the minimum number), the next step is to select qualified persons for this role. What are the minimum qualifications for designated EHS staff?

Educational requirements

Generally, companies can find the minimum qualifications of the designated EHS staff defined in the relevant EHS regulations from the local authorities. For example, a person is qualified as a waste manager of a facility in Czechia if the person has a University diploma and has three years of experience in the last ten years, or alternatively has a secondary education and five years of experience in the last ten years.

Certifications and continuing education

For EHS staff in charge of a specialized area, such as electrical and mechanical safety, the relevant training and technical certifications are also required. Companies, as employers, are required to provide regular health safety training and, in some cases, continued education for the designated EHS staff to maintain the persons’ qualification in the area of expertise.

The continuous training for designated EHS staff is getting more regulatory attention lately. Starting this year, several provincial regulations in China specifically require employers to provide regular safety training for their health and safety managers, even though the national safety regulations (including the Occupational Health Laws) are dormant on training requirements for the designated health and safety staff.

As employers, companies are not only responsible for selecting the qualified EHS persons with the right expertise, but also to provide continued education and training to maintain their EHS expertise in the field.

What are the responsibilities assigned to designated EHS staff?

Designated EHS staff are commonly authorized and tasked with performing a large variety of responsibilities depending on the applicable regulations and the scale and nature of facilities’ operations. The typical responsibilities, as mandated by regulators, include:

  • developing and implementing EHS compliance measures;
  • monitoring the progress of the EHS management system; and
  • conducting an assessment to ensure continuous compliance.

For instance, Kenyan law explicitly requires EHS staff to carry out self-inspection of the facilities as part of health and safety management responsibilities.

Designated EHS staff may also be required to be specialized for a specific part of the processes. For example, a facility in Taiwan needs to appoint specialized air pollution control staff to plan and implement air pollution control installation and improvement projects. This designated person must also supervise and ensure the regular operation of air pollution control installation, develop and implement the emergency response measures for urgent accidents, and so on and so forth.

Companies should assign responsibilities to designated EHS staff clearly, with proper documentation. They should always refer to the applicable laws and local authorities to ensure compliance.

What are the implications for having designated EHS staff?

The fact that you have EHS staff may result in several liability implications. In some cases, the designated EHS staff could be held legally accountable in case of injury or damages resulting from a facilities’ wrongful operations or accidents. The liability could be significant depending on the laws and regulations, or companies’ internal protocols. There is a regulatory trend of forcing companies and their facilities to clarify the duties and consequent accountability of their designated EHS persons in case of major accidents.

In recent years, there are several regulatory amendments explicitly imposing either criminal liabilities or administrative penalties on designated EHS staff for failing to fulfill their supervisory duties and subsequently causing major environmental damages or safety accidents. For instance, most of China’s provinces have adopted the national provision of having facilities designate EHS managers as the principally responsible person for accountability purposes.

Key takeaways

In general, companies need to be up to date on specific requirements both for appointing designated EHS staff and for the resulting liability.

Companies should:

  • Check the local regulations to make sure they have the required number of designated EHS staff at their facilities based on the scale and type of their operations;
  • Ensure that the designated EHS staff have clear responsibilities;
  • Provide appropriate EHS training to maintain EHS staff’s qualification and expertise in the field;
  • Provide better visibility and clarity of the designated EHS staff and their responsibilities to maintain an effective EHS management program and assure continuous progress toward EHS compliance.

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