How to Survive the Shift from Compliance to Risk

You work hard to make your workplace safer and more sustainable.

In the past, that mean dutifully following EPA and OSHA rules, monitoring compliance, and staying on top of new regulations.  

Now, industry experts have begun to promote a different approach -- one that focuses on risk management instead of regulatory compliance. 

Fortunately, the biggest hurdle in making the shift from compliance to risk is changing your mindset. 

Since you're here, we know that you're already committed to following industry best practices. This article offers some helpful tips to make the shift from compliance to risk less of an ordeal -- even if you're not a risk specialist.

1. Look at the data

If regulatory compliance was working, you'd expect to see safety and environmental performance steadily improving.   

In reality, the opposite is true. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of deaths per 100,000 workers has been steadily increasing over the last decade. And the EPA reports that US greenhouse gas emissions have also increased 7.4% from 1990-2014. 

Don't take our word for it. Look at your own near miss, incident, accident, and injury rates. Look at your own air, water, waste, and GHG emissions data. If you're still struggling to achieve your safety and environmental performance goals, it's time to start focusing on risk rather than just compliance. 

Reviewing your data serves as more than just a reality check -- it will be important as you begin to identify new performance indicators (as we'll discuss in a minute). 

2. Get buy in within your organization

Of course, you can't make this shift alone. You'll need to get senior management and employees in your organization on board. 

Says Victor Lipman, a leadership expert, in Forbes: "It's easy to think of risk as a niche issue residing in some distant specialized area. It's not. It's everyone's issue."

The good news is that organizational risks are already on most executives' radars. In fact, Forbes Insight and Deloitte found that 26% of executives think the responsibility for overall risk management belongs to the chief executive officer, while 23% think the responsibility lies with the CFO or treasurer. 

One simple way to help your boss and teammates make the jump from compliance to risk is by reframing the conversation around your EHS activities. Next time you're tempted to say "OSHA says", think about how you can approach the conversation from a risk management perspective.   

3. Choose a risk management system

The good news is that there are many risk management tools available that you can leverage to your advantage.

These tools can help with identifying risks, creating a risk register, developing mitigation plans, and more. Some are separate software systems, while others integrate compliance, risk, and sustainability. 

The tool that's right for your organization depends on your unique goals, needs, and resources, so you'll need to spend some time learning which type of software is right for your team.

4. Identify new performance indicators

In the past, EHS departments have relied heavily on lagging indicators like accidents, injuries, or days away from work to measure and report on their organization's performance after-the-fact.

Shifting to a risk management mindset means recognizing that you have the power to identify problems and correct them long before OSHA or the EPA does. 

In order to do that, you'll need to identify new performance indicators that can help predict and prevent future incidents. 

We recently wrote about the 6 leading indicators that significantly lowered recordable injuries — regardless of company size or type of work. These included new hire orientation, daily toolbox talks, and near miss tracking. 

5. Learn 

There are so many resources available to help you make the shift from compliance to risk, even if you're not a risk specialist by trade. 

Reading EHS blogs, attending conferences, and subscribing to our weekly newsletter are just some of the ways to learn more about risk management. 

Next steps

With this list, you'll be able to successfully make the shift from compliance to risk. Don't forget to  subscribe to our weekly newsletter to stay on top of the latest industry news, regulatory changes, tips, and resources. Then download our free guide to climate risk management to help you tackle one of the newest - and most challenging - organizational risks. 

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