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Some EHS Issues Are Really Production Issues

Updated: May 17, 2022

EHS Difficulties Can Stem From Production Inadequacies

If you're someone who works in operations or production, you may think that this is a garbage claim. I'd ask you to hear me out before passing judgement. It can seem like in attempting to improve in environmental, health, and safety (EHS), that it just becomes more and more tasks taking attention away from production. And to be fair, production is one of the two key elements that make a company viable. The other would be sales.

Example EHS Issues

Machine Safeguarding

Let's look at an example. Your manufacturing equipment was made in the 1970s. It's not really been updated, and its design doesn't meet current safety standards for machine guards. Some may think that it doesn't need guards or what it has is adequate. But, a look at your incident records shows that not to be the case. Additionally, when you look at the purpose of machine guarding, you probably can agree that dangerous equipment (saws, presses, rollers, etc.) need something to keep people from getting caught in them. Common sense and caution aren't so common as the saying goes.

So, now you are faced with needing to improve your machine safeguarding so that it's compliant and effective. Yes, you do need to tend to both the practical and compliance side of things. A major point of contention with trying to improve on existing equipment is that to meet standards and be effective it often means that the improvements will be costly and will somehow interfere with production. There is definitely some truth to this depending on the specifics. However, some of those issues come from the way that production may be tackling problems to begin with.

First of all, effective guards SHOULD get in the way of employees so that the equipment doesn't harm them. That will slow production down for sure if the injury is bad enough. Second, sometimes production only sees the problem and doesn't look at reasonable solutions. You need to secure guards such that they are not inadvertently or accidentally removed. That will make it take longer to clean the equipment. But, we've had battery operated handheld tools for a long time. And if the concern is that employees won't keep up with the tools... is that an EHS issue? Or, is that a general employee management (or similar) issue? Often, if you have problems with employees following the rules, what ever they are, that is a management issue.

I'm not saying that management is deliberately doing anything wrong. I'm not saying they aren't trying either. But why is the issue an EHS one for failing to follow EHS rules, but it isn't considered a Quality, IT, etc. issue if employees don't follow any other rules? If you do consider it an issue for the specific department, why is that the case? In my experience, it's usually operations/production management that has authority over their department employees. They are the ones typically able to ensure their employees follow the rules. Right?

Mobile Equipment Operations

Here is another example of a topic heavily covered in EHS but that is first and foremost a production concern. Mobile equipment, such as forklifts and loaders, are used in material handling. For many processes, this method is the simplest, most cost effective means for transporting materials from point A through point Z. Many of them are at least as heavy as some cars, with some being the size of houses. So, you absolutely don't want pedestrians getting in their way. That's a very bad day waiting to happen if you don't deal with this. Get this, mobile equipment can have some significant blind spots!

There is also the concern of equipment operators damaging other stationary equipment or product. While many would agree that you need trained operators that can perform the work with no or minimal issues, you need to get things done in a hurry. Some training may be given, but not necessarily what's needed to ensure the operators are able to do the job within the EHS rules and without damaging things. And you've seen a rash of equipment damage and some panic-inducing near misses events between pedestrians and equipment operators.

Doing everything by the book appears to mean production slows down. But you can't ignore the substantial damages you are starting to rack up, and you really don't want someone to get crushed because operators are effectively feeling the "cracking of the whip" of production. Again, the EHS issues, being property damage and near injury of pedestrians are squarely EHS concerns. But, the effects of trying to do things correctly are pressures of production. The resistance in no small part comes to thinking that it will negatively impact production. Wouldn't this make mobile equipment issues production related issues as well?

Production is Multifaceted

The reason EHS issues are really production issues, or at least affect production substantially, is because production isn't just one thing. Sure, it has a primary focus to produce a product such that sales can sell it more than it cost to make. But there is a lot that goes into being able to do that. You can actually think of production as one big cost aggregate. Let's take a look at why that's the case:

  • Cost of raw materials to produce the product

  • Cost of utilities to operate (energy, internet, phone, etc.)

  • Cost of labor force

  • Facilities and equipment purchase or rental/lease costs

  • Cost of supplies (uniforms, personal protective equipment, office supplies, etc.

  • Maintenance costs

  • Waste costs

  • Regulatory costs (permits, applications, etc.)

  • Product quality costs

  • Insurance

The above list are just the cost for normal operations. Now let's look at some of the costs with not tending to EHS:

  • Increased waste costs

  • Spills of raw or finished materials

  • Damage to raw or finished materials

  • Increased insurance/medical costs due to increased employee injuries

  • Increased labor costs due to remaining employees compensating for missing injured employees via overtime

  • Increased legal costs due to potential regulatory fines and court costs

  • Major losses related to equipment in the case of damage by mobile equipment or fire.

The above list are just some significant to substantial examples of what a company can face. But it is by no means meant to be exhaustive. The thing of it is, is that production is the part that gives sales something to sell. But it's quite costly to produce. The only saving grace is if you can sell your product for more than it cost to make it. EHS, quality, and other departments do have an inherent cost to them. But done correctly, they minimize the huge potential costs you could be paying. Heck, if you check your records, you may find that you are currently paying those higher, unnecessary costs.

A Blended Approach to Problem Solving

To those of us who can be prone to tunnel vision, remember that EHS is there to support production. So, while solutions should address the specific EHS concerns and compliance requirements, they need to fit in with production. The less intrusive EHS solutions are, the more likely that production will do it. That said, sometimes production and operations need to be shown why a seemingly cheaper option isn't the best one.

For example, if you have a fall protection issue on a work platform, there are at least two options open to you. The first one would be to build something for employees to tie off to. All parts of it would need to meet OSHA standards. But it requires that your employees change their current behavior. Which can be quite hard, especially if they are already legitimately busy. It also requires more training, inspection, blah, blah, blah! Oh, and your contractors who might work on it would also have to follow all that stuff.

On the other hand, you could build a platform that is compliant and safe. Employees and contractors don't have to do anything differently than what they normally do to do the job. That saves time and it's a lot less effort on the workforce when it's completed. The only problem is that to fabricate the platform, it would be significantly to substantially more expensive than having workers tie off. So, it can seem like a waste of money by some in operations/production to do that.

That's why they need to be shown why this is the better option. Do you want your workers doing more and more EHS related work? Or do you want them to focus on what they were hired to do? I figure it's the latter. The more that EHS management and production/operations management can look at things from the other's point of view, the more effectively issues can be solved. Data can also be a very useful tool to show which approach is likely to bear the most and best fruit. The more issues solved is good because it generally means more productive, money-making work can be done at less overall cost. That's a huge win!

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