To integrate, or not to integrate…

Though environment, health, safety (EHS) and quality management issues are often handled by individual management systems, the guiding principles behind each of these areas share a common link — W. Edwards Deming. The American quality guru is most commonly associated with the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, an iterative problem-solving process used to resolve quality issues and improve business performance. But it is important to remember the foremost EHS and quality management standards — including ISO14001 (environment), OSHAS 18000 (health and safety) and ISO 9001 (quality) — are all rooted in the PDCA or Deming Cycle.

Businesses that encounter regular overlap between these areas ought to consider the potential benefits of an Integrated Management System (IMS). An IMS coordinates all of an organization’s procedures, systems and processes within one complete framework and, in an ideal scenario, allows the organization to operate as a seamless whole, with unified objectives across all departments.

But a fulsome IMS is not for every company. Any business of any size does not necessarily stand to benefit from adopting an integrated management system. Instead, businesses should integrate management systems not just for the sake of integration, but where there is a clear business benefit that can be tied to integration. The principle benefits of integrated EHS and quality management include both cost-effectiveness and collaboration between intrinsically related EHSQ concerns.

Imagine a business that uses a hypothetical hazardous material in the manufacture of a product at one of its plants and consider how this hazardous material can create near equally significant issues within each EHS and quality realm:

  • Environment: The hazardous material may be toxic to the environment at large and necessitate consideration within the organization’s air emissions monitoring.
  • Health and Safety: The same hazardous material may compromise the health or directly endanger the lives of employees in the plant.
  • Quality: The handling and use of the hazardous material may be governed explicitly by existing quality standards.

As an example, consider last year’s string of recalls associated with the cadmium content in children’s toys manufactured in China. The extended direct exposure of factory workers to the highly toxic heavy metal would necessitate an internal health and safety policy governing safe exposure and use. Also, given the targeted end user of the toys are children, quality management mechanisms would have to ensure the cadmium content of the toys did not exceed federally regulated maximums affecting the markets in which the product would be sold. But further, since improperly disposed cadmium is known to leech into and contaminate groundwater, provisions would have to be put into place to ensure proper disposal of the material at the plant level.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss the pros and cons of implementing an IMS.

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