Can the environment be brought under the same umbrella as health and safety? Dr David Thomas CFIOSH, chair of IOSH’s Environment and Waste Management Group (EWMG), explores.
Why is the word ‘environment’ tagged on to ‘health and safety’ and is the amalgam relevant today? It’s a concept that the EWMG has been looking at. Since 2018, the EWMG, one of the largest IOSH groups, has been challenged by supporting two distinct interest groups with limited crossover: environmental management professionals, and those who work in the waste management sector providing health and safety advice. As part of the general conversation about the scope of each IOSH group, EWMG has been thinking about the meaning of E.
The meaning of E
Many people identify the ‘E’ in the initialism HSE as standing for ‘Executive’, as in the Health and Safety Executive. But in job titles using the same three letters it represents ‘environment’ – health, safety and environment (HSE) or environment, safety and health (ESH) – often followed by manager or adviser. Ad hoc surveys and the IOSH jobs website indicate that up to 40% of roles incorporate an ‘E’; many tagging on a ‘Q’ for quality, as in QESH. This leads to a question: are these roles about operational management with operational responsibility, or are they audit or compliance roles? The other interesting ‘E’ is that in EHO – environmental health officer – a professional required to have working knowledge of noise, chemicals, occupational hygiene, environmental impact and public health. So perhaps the E here is too narrow in its implications.
In the academic sector, we see a number of HSE degrees, which often include an environmental management module. Yet a review of the EWMG points out that there are many areas of professional interest spanning all sectors, including:
- Members whose roles include environmental management practice advice – in all sectors – who may also be members of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment and/or are chartered environmentalists
- Members who provide OSH advice in waste management companies, who may be members of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management
- Members involved in extraction and manufacturing, industries with a high environmental impact, who may be members of professional bodies such as the Institute of Quarrying.
This leads to a question of where ‘environment’ sits within our profession. As professionals move into management roles, they become responsible for other areas of business. Many of us have worn more than one hat, with environment joined by wellbeing, business continuity, emergency management, risk management and audit, so should IOSH support members in all of these disciplines?
As part of the drive to improve the employability of its members and the profile of the profession, IOSH’s EWMG continues to explore the ‘E’ question. (See Defining your role, below, for some more questions to consider.)
Your call: Defining your role
- Should acknowledging the environmental professional organisations and skills such as business continuity be core to IOSH and the profession?
- With whole degrees in environmental engineering and sustainable environmental management, what technical knowledge should be contained in a health and safety-focused degree and what should be left out?
- Are ESH and QESH roles primarily compliance, management or leadership roles?
- If the role is an audit or compliance one, what are the routes available to reach a head of audit role?
- If you work in an audit role, what non-health and safety qualifications/professional memberships do you have to complement your own professional portfolio?
- What does ‘industry’ want?
- Are employers confused about the myriad of technical competencies?
What it says on the tin
OSH professionals need to learn about equipment and processes: without this knowledge it is difficult to offer safe advice. Risks must be understood and controlled. But does adding quality, business continuity, fire safety, environment, waste and others extend the boundary expectations of safety too far?
It depends on whether we are talking about technical know-how or the power to influence. OSH has moved into the territory of leadership and management long ago. It reinforces the importance of the competency framework to drive better integration, influence and inclusion.
I have concerns about employers and managers who don’t understand what professional roles entail and the vast skill-sets available – and maybe that is caused by umbrella terms underselling what’s really in the tin. Could it be time for change?
With thanks to Duncan Spencer CFIOSH, head of advice and practice at IOSH, for his input.