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Managing the Modern Workplace
V&E International Labor & Employment Resources

Stop, Prioritize, and Simplify – the Mantra for a Better Health and Safety Program

Over the past year, we have held several roundtable discussions with safety and operations managers in which we have talked about the challenges of improving safety and health systems at the same time that top managers are trying to cut costs. Based on the helpful feedback that we received from many of the safety managers and operations managers who participated in these discussions, consultants from ERM helped us come up with a three-step mantra for addressing this problem: Stop, Prioritize, and Simplify.

The "Stop" step challenges the company to first look for cost savings on activities that have no direct impact on risk or performance. Maybe this means jettisoning or reassigning some of the administrative and other non-health and safety activities, like security and logistics management, that have been added to the health and safety role, or eliminating duplicative or overlapping safety programs and training. Outsourcing tasks that lend themselves to using third parties, such as employee assistance programs and drug testing, can also result in cost savings.

The "Prioritize" step has the company evaluate its own risk tolerance level and determine what is central to its program versus what would merely be nice to have in a perfect world. One way to get better at assessing priorities is by creating channels within the company for key health and safety folks to discuss lessons learned and expertise gained in a particular location or business line. Setting priorities across business lines by using this shared knowledge can lead the company toward a better understanding of how best to spend its limited dollars.

We added the final "Simplify" step in response to the complaints that we heard from health and safety managers. Many felt that they spend so much time sitting on various committees and in meetings that they don’t have the time to focus on more important safety and health issues. Too often they are overwhelmed with audits and self-inspections to the exclusion of the safety and health function. Cutting out the bureaucracy can not only lead to cost reductions, but a safer workplace where HS managers can focus on health and safety compliance rather than making records of past non-compliance.

The overall goal of this three-step mantra is to fit the health and safety function to the purpose for which it was created. At Vinson & Elkins’ Hydraulic Fracturing Symposium this week, Paul Stefan, President of ERM, and I discussed this mantra and the program goals it embodies in the context of the hydraulic fracturing industry, which presents some unique challenges. This symposium is among the many fracking-related issues addressed on V&E’s Shale & Fracking Tracker, V&E’s interdisciplinary, industry focused publication for the hydraulic fracturing industry.

Roundtable discussions with clients on these issues should continue. We want to learn more about the challenges you’re facing and talk about what we’ve seen work in similar situations. If you have an interest in roundtable discussions like these, please contact Tom Wilson at twilson@velaw.com. In the meantime, be safe out there and remember to always look for opportunities to stop, prioritize, and simplify.

Tom Wilson_Symposium

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Author

Thomas H. Wilson

Thomas H. Wilson Partner