The COVID-19 pandemic and fast-moving environmental disasters due to climate change have gravely affected our business landscape while highlighting the critical importance of effective risk management systems. For some organizations, existing Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) systems have helped them to better respond to the impacts and challenges of 2020. Many others have been caught completely off guard by these ‘Black Swan’ events, only now coming to terms with the need to identify and implement improvements to their risk assessment, planning, and preparedness processes.
ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems and ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems, along with similar systems, are built on a foundation that prioritizes an organization’s activities to prepare for risks and opportunities. These risks and opportunities are continually assessed as part of ongoing checks, reviews, and change management to keep businesses up-to-date, meeting obligations on schedule, and systems primed for whatever comes next. This has allowed them to more quickly implement next steps, backups, and alternate plans to move forward on critical path items, rather than facing significant disruption like so many others. In particular, organizations that had fully integrated EHS systems with their overall business structure were better able to adjust and more readily realign critical functions to the new paradigm without a fundamental interruption of operations.
Events like the unprecedented global pandemic can never be fully prepared for, and no organization, whether locally contained or internationally reaching, has been unaffected in this moment. But the elasticity of operations and how quickly a company can bounce back from the initial jolt can and should be a part of overall strategy. Big events, like this, can often spur wide reaching change.
For instance, the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that caused the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant meltdown in Japan in 2011, caused mass disruption to businesses that impacted the global supply chain and was the catalyst for a systemic restructuring of Japan’s energy sector. The proudly nuclear dependent nation lost public and political support for their 54 reactors almost overnight and instead put faith and strong subsidies toward renewable energy sources with strict new guidelines and time limits for their remaining nuclear facilities. Furthermore, this incident sparked major changes in business continuity planning with respect to supply chain management that impacted numerous industries well beyond Japan.
Although the current global pandemic is much broader in scope, companies that adapted learnings from this 2011 event, and the earlier SARS pandemic, have been more agile in adapting to the present challenges. For the many other organizations that were not primed for such disruption, we are seeing signs of rapid change on a wide scale as industries are forced to overhaul preparations for the risks and opportunities presented by such events. Technology has proven to be a key change maker in moving things forward and reestablishing a new baseline of operations. Tools that enable online meetings, remote audits and assessments, and an aggregation of pertinent data in one easily accessible, centralized hub with powerful real-time analytical capabilities have proven vital.
Technological tools can also be a key factor in preparing for future ‘Black Swan’ events, and as the current fires in the West Coast and repeated landfalls of hurricanes and tropical storms in the Gulf and along the Atlantic have shown here in the U.S., severe weather and climate change impacts can no longer be regarded as unpredictable or an outlier phenomena. Risks, opportunities, and implications for sustainable practices need to become a planning factor of core business operations in every organization.
Tools like the EHS-Dashboard™ from Capaccio are specifically created to streamline data flow of EHS management systems and to help readily access and respond to risks and opportunities aligned with core business concerns. Integration of risk management keeps critical processes moving forward when the next unprecedented event comes. By designing and implementing systems in a manner that meets the intent of these standards, organizations are better able to meet expectations of stakeholders, engage employees, and be more competitive through timely response to risks and opportunities.
COVID and the climate have demonstrated with resounding clarity that it is time for organizations to think more broadly about EHS impacts to their business and incorporate stronger risk and opportunity assessment and planning processes for long-term sustainability.
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