Risk management is an integral part of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) operations. Properly mitigating risk and preventing incidents is the best way to keep a high level of safety within your operations. The challenges of EHS Risk Management can be easily overcome by utilizing the proper tools and models.

Challenges of EHS Risk Management

One of the most common challenges of EHS Risk Management is ineffective collaboration. Some EHS organizations still rely on email chains or spreadsheets to create, collect and share information. Gathering information from many different sources rather than having a centralized place decreases the visibility of the information. When not everyone is informed, it is difficult to work together and collaborate efficiently.

It’s not just communication issues that can prevent proper quality and risk management. When processes are outdated and not in line with today’s needs, there is an increased margin for error in your operations. To keep up with quality and compliance, you need a modern, automated tool that can handle the complexities of risk identification and management.

EHS Risk Management Basic Elements

The elements of risk management all work together to identify, reduce and prevent risk. The first is hazard identification, designed to find potential risks. Next is risk assessment, where you can use tools to determine how severe certain occurrences would be. This is important for prioritizing actions and allocating resources. Once risks are assessed, training and controls can be implemented to reduce risk and increase safety. Finally, monitoring controls takes a look back and see if the implemented systems are working to reduce risk.

Common Risk Models

Depending on your organization’s needs, you can utilize different tools for different risk management situations:

The Risk Matrix is probably the most common risk assessment tool because its flexible nature makes it a good choice for many different scenarios and businesses. With a Risk Matrix, you can quantify risk based on assigning numerical values to the frequency (likelihood of occurrence) and severity (impact of occurrence) of a situation. Depending on the types of events and risks involved, organizations can determine which value ranges represent high, moderate and low risk.

An event with high frequency and high severity would be considered high risk, while an event with low frequency and low severity would be considered low risk. It’s up to the individual organization to fill in the middle by deciding what ranges are safe and acceptable for them. The defined ranges serve as decision making guidelines: low risk events are usually safe, moderate events may pose some harm and should be addressed and high risk events require high-priority safety precautions to prevent them from happening.

A Decision Tree is a useful tool for situations that have many variables or many possible outcomes. It outlines the possible outcomes that would result if a given course of events took a particular path. This way, you can be prepared for a number of possible scenarios and take preventative measures for those that would cause the most harm or damage.

This tool is often used for situations that have special procedures, such as a hazardous materials spill. Those types of EHS situations can become dangerous or deadly if not handled quickly and properly. That is why it’s important to understand all possible outcomes of the event based on a number of different factors. Is the material easily containable? Did the spill happen inside or outside? Are there people nearby? Being prepared for a situation with any variable is important in taking preventive actions. When you know which scenarios will cause the most harm or damage, you can prioritize system implementation to cater to those scenarios.

The Bowtie Matrix is perhaps the most complex risk management tool. It is used for risk management in terms of unlikely but potentially catastrophic events. The two-part matrix visualizes a complex and sensitive risk environment with different variables that can be connected. The left side shows preventive controls that could or should be in place. The right side shows recovery controls that would be implemented if the event were to happen. This lets you outline many potential paths if the event were to happen.

A Bowtie Matrix would be designed for a high risk and potentially harmful event like an oil spill. In a situation where oil is being transported, there should be many controls in place to prevent a spill from happening. However, since this is a high risk situation, there would also be a number of possible outcomes that would require different recovery procedures if something were to go wrong. Outlining each possible course of action lets you be prepared; furthermore, you can reduce risk by seeing which path would have the most undesirable outcomes and putting controls in to prevent them.

Technology and Risk Management

Recently, there has been a shift towards proactive, technological strategies for risk management to replace emails and spreadsheets. One area where technology improves quality management is in Incident Management and Job Safety Analysis (JSA). For both areas, incident data is used as a good decision-making and learning tool, where you learn from your past issues and take measures to prevent their recurrences. The Risk Matrix and other tools can be used to prioritize the most dangerous jobs and situations as well as the scenarios most likely to have incidents. The situations go through a cycle of risk analysis, putting in controls, preventions and trainings to reduce the risk, then reanalyzing to see if risk has been reduced. This process is repeated until the risk is at an acceptable level.

A good QMS will also have a Corrective and Preventive Action feature that can also be used for continuous improvement. You can prioritize which issues to correct based on risk, determine the root cause of the issue, correct the issue and implement preventive measures. The risk management tools are a good effectiveness check to see if the risk has decreased from those measures.

Closing Thoughts

Risk Management should be a priority within EHS organizations. However, many organizations don’t utilize the best practices to achieve total safety. By using Risk Management and QMS tools to identify, reduce and prevent risk, EHS organizations can promote a total safety culture.