Dear subscriber,

In our lastISHNezine (2.23.06) we touched on the case of the missing EHS benchmarks. What is the appropriate ratio of EHS professionals to an employee workforce? What EHS services are most typically outsourced?

What metrics define superior EHS performance for a business?

The lack of defining benchmarks makes life in the EHS world unpredictable, as we heard from several subscribers. An EHS manager in the automotive industry saw his resources go from "highly effective" to "woefully inadequate" in 12 months when a new management team swept in. With 26 years experience, this vet knows how to negotiate with executives. Still he's vulnerable to volatile swings in support. He has no consensus benchmarks to hand new managers to guide their decisions.

"One of their first decisions was to reduce my department to a 'department of one'," he said.

A federal incident investigator said staffing levels and internal expertise are factors evaluated during investigations, but "the problem we face is that without a consensus on what is considered to be adequate, it is difficult to make recommendations."

This subscriber pointed us to several sources of EHS benchmark research, and we heard from representatives of other services as well. In this week'sISHNezine we'll describe some of what is out there.


Benchmark voids in the EHS field create markets for private services. Here are four we are familiar with. Keep in mind each represents a different model for benchmarking EHS practices, with different sets of questions, response categories and participant populations.

  • Early this year the Wisconsin-based training company J.J. Keller added a benchmarking survey to its Keller Online EHS subscription service. When we checked it on March 8th, 767 subscribers had completed the survey.

Fifty-eight percent of the survey participants manage workplace safety for one location only, and 57 percent manage sites with 250 or fewer total employees.

Among the results we gleaned:

- Monthly safety meetings are the frequency of choice for most respondents (60 percent).

- Video training dominates over online offerings (80 percent vs. 23 percent).

- Behavioral observations are more popular than perception surveys (52 percent vs. 30 percent).

An $800 annual subscription (for one user license; other pricing structures exist for multiple licenses) allows you to take the online survey and compare your EHS activities to companies of similar size or in similar industries, plus gives you access other KOL safety program tools and updates.

  • In 2004, BNA, Inc., a Washington D.C.-based newsletter organization, teamed with the National Association for Environmental Management to produce an 80-page report (priced at $626) that surveyed an unspecified number of companies on EHS expenditures, budgets, staffing, job responsibilities and program priorities.

From the free executive summary we learned:

- Per capita EHS outlays range from $13 per employee to $14,423 per employee, with a median per capita outlay of $268 per employee.

- The median ratio of EHS department staff members per 100 employees is 0.3 per 100, or about one EHS staffer for every 300 employees.

  • ORC Worldwide, an international management and human resources consulting firm, regularly conducts in-depth benchmarking among the more than 150 corporations that pay an annual membership fee for ORC's Washington-based EHS consulting services.

These corporate elites - from Alcoa and BP America to Verizon Communications and W.W. Grainger - annually exchange and compare data on program elements such as leadership commitment and support, employee involvement, risk reduction, OSHA recordables, and perception surveys, according to ORC's Jim Nash.

ORC also conducts single-topic benchmark surveys. For example, ORC's member survey on EHS hiring practices conducted in 2005 found almost all respondents require an academic degree for safety and health positions, but not a specific GPA or specific course work. Almost all give weight or require accredited certifications such as the CSP and CIH.

  • A Washington neighbor of ORC - the Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI) - bills its mission as "business helping business." That includes benchmarking and sharing best practices. After one year, benchmarking presentations are transferred to GEMI's public web site.

GEMI's 41 current members (paying annual dues of $20,000 after first-year dues of $10,000) are brand name giants, with combined annual sales of some $915 billion. Deep pockets allow many of these corporations - 3M, DuPont, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer among them - to join both ORC and GEMI and double their benchmarking opportunities. GEMI surveys tend to be more environmentally focused. Recent surveys cover sustainability metrics, practices and reporting.

A 2003 GEMI survey of EHS performance measures determined most firms rely on lagging indicators (such as OSHA recordables) for EHS metrics. GEMI found these results "somewhat surprising, especially considering the years of work on metrics," according to a presentation that can be downloaded from the GEMI web site.


The Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association's (VPPPA) 1,400+ member companies and work sites are all involved in OSHA and Department of Energy VPP programs - creating a grassroots network of EHS programs. But VPPPA does not engage in systematic benchmarking similar to ORC, GEMI or KOL.

What it does offer is an annual directory of best practices. The directory gives contact names and phone numbers for approved VPP sites with particularly strong safety and health program elements (such as behavioral observation processes) identified by OSHA during VPP onsite reviews.

The price of the directory is $25 for VPPPA nonmembers; $15 for members.


Upon further review, it's not a case of "missing EHS benchmarks." It's more a matter of what price do you want to pay for benchmarks?

Or you can decide on your own favorites.

Consultant Richard MacLean documented the scattershot use of benchmarks in an email survey to 1,030 EHS pros in 2002. He asked: What is your definition of superior EHS performance? Sixty-one pros responded - with 58 different definitions - as he reported in the Winter 2003 issue of Environmental Quality Management.

Most were lofty descriptions of corporate values and behaviors. Only two provided measurable thresholds, according to MacLean. This preference for vague goals over hard measures like staff ratios and per capita expenditures (which demand more accountability) creates inconsistencies even within the same company, as described by another subscriber:

Last year he moved from one plant to another within the same corporation (a member of both ORC and GEMI). His old location had two EHS pros (with graduate degrees and CSPs) for 200 employees. At his new plant, "I am one safety guy for 300 workers." He enjoys "great support" from management and supervisors. But "the only reason I'm keeping my head above water" is by working 10-12 hour days, with lunch on the run, and weekend visits back home. His family didn't make the move with him.