Keeping the workplace safe

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 May, 2010, 12:00am

Multinational corporations, from power companies and airlines to construction firms, are waking up to the importance of dealing with environmental, health and safety (EHS) issues in the workplace. This has driven demand for EHS managers, a relatively new role in Hong Kong.

'As the name implies, the role of an EHS manager is to make sure that a company complies with all relevant government regulations and industry best practices that are related to the environment, health and safety,' says Andrew Chung, managing consultant for engineering, supply chain and manufacturing at recruitment firm Manpower.

EHS is a derivative of the traditional safety role and is similar, but distinct from the related field of occupational health and safety, with the difference being that EHS is more focused on health and safety issues as they arise in manufacturing and construction settings, Chung adds.

EHS managers conduct site visits to take measurements and make observations to ascertain if all possible precautions are being taken to provide a safe and healthy working environment. For example, they will check whether staff at a construction site are wearing the proper protection gear, such as safety hats and steel-toed boots, and to check for stagnant water which is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

They report their findings and propose solutions on how to improve safety and health in the organisation's operations.

Eva Wong, director of human resources at logistics company IDS Hong Kong, says some EHS managers have additional duties to ensure environmental sustainability. They include finding ways to reduce a company's carbon footprint, improve energy efficiency, reduce waste, set up recycling, or even optimise transport facilities.

She adds that EHS managers need excellent communications skills, having to deal with all levels of staff from frontline operators to senior management. They also need to keep up with new developments in environmental sustainability.

Chung says that it is of utmost importance for an EHS manager to have experience in, and an understanding of, the environment and issues encountered by frontline workers in their daily routines, and be able to make practical suggestions to address such problems.

Route to the top

EHS managers typically begin their careers as safety supervisors, overseeing on-site safety for their organisations' operations. After about two years of on-the-job training, they can apply to become registered safety officers.

Those opting to receive additional training in environmental issues can, with another two to five years' experience, apply for EHS manager roles with salaries of about HK$15,000 a month.

Those with more than 10 years' experience could eventually become EHS directors, establishing a company's EHS strategy that needs to be implemented. An alternative route for seasoned EHS veterans is to become a company's quality director.

Safety officers are often engineers

EHS managers are typically registered safety officers, licensed by the labour department under the factories and industrial undertakings regulations.

In addition to their training in safety, many are also registered professional engineers specialising in environmental issues.

A number of universities in Hong Kong offer courses in the field, including the University of Hong Kong's School of Professional and Continuing Education which runs a two-year, distance learning postgraduate programme in safety, health and environment in conjunction with the University of Greenwich in Britain.