What is EHS and why is it important

In the corporate world, companies often have an EHS department that focuses on regulatory compliance. But what is EHS? And why is it so important?

What is EHS?

EHS stands for Environment, Health & Safety. Environment is the natural world around you and in thcontext of compliance, the “E” of EHS indicates the regulations that are designed to protect the environment. The “S” refers to regulations intended to protect the safety of employees on worksites and the “H” is the health of employees. Often H and S are merged together and regulated by the same agency, whereas, the E is regulated by a specific environmental agency. 

In the corporate world, companies often have an EHS department that focuses on environmental, health and safety compliance. Jobs that fall within this department are typically Environment, Health & Safety Specialists or other similar titles. There may be EHS managers placed at different facilities around the globe and these managers may report up to a high-level EHS Director. 

EHS, SHE, HSE: what’s the difference?

EHS is a North American term, specifically AmericanHealth, Safety & Environment (HSE) and other variations such as Safety, Heath & Environment (SHE) are found in Britain and European countries. Some organizations add quality to the mix, so you might also see EHSand other variations. This is simply a difference in acronyms meant to represent the same concept. However, when working in different parts of the world it is wise to be sensitive to the acronym conventions used.  It is likely that the reason for this difference is the translation in native language, however, another alternative is that the terms match the names of the agencies that govern the regulations in each countryFor instance, in the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the relevant agency. In Great Britain the Health and Safety Executive is the relevant agency.

Why is EHS so important?

EHS is important because it protects the environment  

EHS departments, and their corresponding policies, are important because they enable companies to conduct business in an environmentally responsible manner. Many “dirty” industries such as heavy manufacturing, produce valuable products but at the same time impact the cleanliness of the air, water and land in the vicinity of the industrial facilities. EHS departments have a goal of managing compliance with the vast array of environmental laws that protect environmental resources for all citizens. 

EHS is important because it protects employees  

The safety component of EHS is meant to protect employees from the hazards of their worksitesEmployers in the United States are bound by a general duty to protect their employees from hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm (OSH Act 5(a)(1)) and there are more specific requirements that employers must follow to ensure employee safety.

The French Labour Code similarly protects employees by allowing them to notify their employers of dangers to their health and safety. The laws in different countries vary, but the basic principle is the same: employee safety and employer responsibility to keep employees safe at work. EHS Policies are an Important Part of Corporate Responsibility.

EHS departments will often have an overarching EHS policy that governs the corporation’s approach to EHS and sustainability generally. This policy is similar to Human Resource policy in that it sets out guidelines for the company to follow. EHS policies align with overall EHS management systems within the company. Thus, EHS is important because it has become the fabric of many companies’ approach to sustainability and corporate responsibility.  

EHS is dynamic. With an abundance of regulatory developments each year, practitioners must stay up to date on changes that affect their job duties and their company’s EHS performance. EHS is important, more now than ever, because there is a global awareness of the need to reduce the corporate environmental footprint, a sensitivity to workers’ rights and an emphasis on healthful work environments.

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