Although no one has been hurt or killed, and no OSHA or EPA inspectors have paid a recent visit, your facility is wide open to expensive government citations and fines. Your gut feeling tells you that your luck will eventually run out -you fear that a fatality or serious accident is imminent. And if OSHA or EPA ever does show up, the fines will be significant.

Does this sound familiar?

Many safety and health professionals face this dilemma: How do you present (and yes, sell) both short-term fixes and long-term investments to a CEO and conservative line management team who face intense competition and have recently trimmed the work force to reduce costs? Since neither OSHA nor EPA has paid a visit in years and even minor accidents are rare, your manufacturing operation is perceived as "safe" by your superiors.

So what’s the best way to go about selling environmental health and safety to upper management -convincing them that significant investments are required now, even though it appears they’re unwarranted?

Top managers, as we all know, are looking for results for virtually all medium-to-large expenses, whether operations-related, maintenance or EHS. But inherent in this mind-set is perhaps a silver lining. If you can properly and convincingly present your case, and document meaningful financial returns, it’ll be hard for your top decision-makers to say "No" -and your EHS job will become easier because you’ll have the right "tools" in the right places.

This article presents eight steps to follow when selling EHS to upper management.

Do your homework

There is an abundance of available data via research findings published in many EHS trade magazines and insurance company reports that can help you get quick attention in a presentation. Also explore what data might exist on your own company. Don’t be afraid to use information on how companies have experienced large fines, worker fatalities, and subsequent litigation damages.

Real numbers have real meaning to executives. They can relate to what their peers have experienced, even if it never happened to them. If you use financial penalties or fatalities, do it tactfully. Don’t insult or intimidate.

If at all possible, use companies as examples that are within your own industry. Or use a workplace citation or accident that is common to your operation. Use the "tip of the iceberg" analogy to let them know you have investigated all of the ramifications of work-related injuries -including the hidden costs.

Establish your credibility

Preparing a solid case is a good first step toward establishing your credibility. You can do more by including something executives believe in and work with daily: a plan.

For example, during your presentation or "selling" a request for $50,000 needed to purchase and install machine guarding hardware and training materials for 80 affected workers, if you show that it all relates to Subparts O and P in CFR 1910 -and all are part of your written safety plan- you stand a better chance of getting the funds.

If you meet any resistance, you might (skillfully) interject "What would a severed arm cost us?"

Finally, take total accountability for improved EHS. It’s another excellent way to enhance your credibility. Start off by conducting an EHS audit. There are software programs available today that allow customization to your specific operations. Don’t hide the results -executives want to know the truth.

One final tip: clearly state your quantifiable and qualifiable objectives. This will allow you to better show tangible results after your improved EHS program has had time to work.

Get management involved

You might start by reminding your audience that Section 5 (a)(1) of the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970 requires that "Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing, or likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to his employees" (OSHA’s General Duty Clause).

You might also opt to use some recent research findings by Liberty International: 1) Worldwide safety programs are most often influenced by corporate culture than by any other factor; and 2) Safety professionals say the most important benefits of their worldwide occupational health and safety programs are a more productive work force and higher quality standards.

Insist that top management becomes involved and committed to safety or it will be very difficult to get workers involved. One suggestion might be to include a "Safety Mission Statement" as part of the corporate mission statement, thus sending a message to all workers by showing a corporate commitment to safety -from the top down.

Today, a growing number of CEOs insist that the safety director or manager report directly to the president -to prevent operations’ priorities from getting in the way of a safer workplace. That’s possibly the best way to let employees know: "Top management is involved." But be careful how you suggest it. It might help to use the analogy that many QA/QC departments now report to a CEO or COO -and not the plant manager. Most top managers have read about this somewhere.

Use the best technology

During an actual presentation to upper management, it’s okay to have the hard-copy guides and manuals on the regulations in the room, but utilize CD-ROM software to demonstrate efficiency, as well as your technological competence.

For presentations that go beyond the regulations, use overhead transparencies to show charts and graphs, and "how-to-comply" software to show your regulation-based solutions. Studies show that executives prefer overheads during a presentation. Be sure that the quality of the overheads is top-notch, because poorly drawn charts and unclear photographs can have negative effects on your presentation.

If you can get a PC with an MPEG board, and can interject even a small segment of video (on fire safety, for example), use it. Video with narration on a computer is very impressive and gets remembered and talked about -much to your advantage.

Another important medium to use during a formal presentation is the Internet. There is now a growing number of suppliers of EHS products and services that have home pages, some even have entire catalogs accessible.

Tie EHS to TQM

A growing number of businesses around the world are forging the ties between EHS and total quality management (TQM). For example, by integrating safety into TQM, a major power company in North Carolina reduced recordable injuries by 25 percent the first year and more than 40 percent the second year. The city of Arvada, Colo., applied quality principles to safety and saved $140,000 in 1994 on liability premiums and administrative expenses. Payments on claims against the Denver suburb dropped to $14,000 from $50,000 several years prior.

Most large companies have TQM to some degree already in place. And EHS is a natural fit with TQM. This idea is recognized by the Malcolm Baldrige Award, which the U.S. Department of Commerce annually gives to a company that best represents quality principles. In fact, about 40 percent of the Baldrige Award criteria covers employee, consumer, or product safety.

Your job is to work with your quality manager to make EHS a more prominent part of his TQM plans.

Consider outsourcing

If a certain function of your EHS program requires outside expertise that is not part of your company’s core competency, it may very well be cost-effective to look for an outside specialist. You’ll still have to manage their outside activities, but if it produces "value-added" and "cost-effective" results you can document, you’ll become a star. Your CFO and VP of Human Resources know all about outsourcing things like payroll, employee life insurance, and retirement plans. Outsourcing truly is more than just a ‘90s buzzword.

Stress empowerment

Rest assured that future research will continue to reveal that improved EHS starts with the individual. For example, you can be in total forklift driver training compliance, but if one of your operators is daydreaming about his upcoming vacation, he could become an accident waiting to happen. The guy operating a large press should be empowered to make safety decisions because his safety awareness on that machine can affect his life.

There is at least one training kit on the market that stresses this "safety starts with the individual" approach, and several companies that provide products and services based on behavioral safety training. Show your superiors that you want to take your EHS program beyond the OSHA, EPA and DOT requirements and you’ll make a good impression.

But be prepared: these concepts are still "soft" areas and you might encounter intense resistance from your top people.

Quality results

If you’re part of a highly centralized corporate structure and report to a risk manager, you’re likely to be pretty good at documenting results. Before you attempt to implement anything new in your EHS program, find some baseline quantifiable data (productivity, number of accidents, lost work days, number of citations, MOD, workers’ compensation costs, etc.). It also helps to get a feel for some intangibles like employee morale and "feeling safe at work" levels.

Then, after your EHS enhancements have had time to work, if you can show tangible improvements that go to the bottom line, you will have succeeded at selling EHS to upper management.

The eight points stressed in this article represent only one of many possible approaches to selling EHS. Depending on the line and staff structure, culture, and solvency of your firm, you may, of course, opt to alter your approach to make it more attractive -and successful. The combination of your EHS prowess, business acumen, corporate culture, intuitiveness, and presentation skills will result in your final sales "package" -hopefully, one that gets a big "OK."