A Missing Link?

We all know there are many components to a comprehensive Business Continuity Management (BCM) program; BIAs, BCPs, Crisis Mgmt, Media Relations and many, many more but there is one that doesn’t usually fall under the BCM umbrella. A program can help BCM with many aspects of risk mitigation and other areas.  It’s the Health & Safety (H&S) program.  I don’t know where you – the reader – may reside but up here in Canada many organizations are required to have one and depending upon the province, there are various aspects that a H&S program is involved with.  For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on how it can be related to BCM and how it might be a missing link.

The H&S might not be utilized for BCM because in the majority of cases, the H&S committee is made of volunteers, not permanent members or a formal department.  Of course, if you’re in a manufacturing environment there is probably a well established committee with full time members, as these environments need to ensure safety of their workers is priority #1 at all times.  If many are volunteers, they are going to focus on their daily operational activities – those they are paid for – and not put a lot of focus on the H&S committee. 

From experience (as a co-chair of a H&S committee for a location with 500+ employees), management and employees didn’t take H&S seriously because it was a voluntary position and no one had actual claim or ownership of the process.  This is a shame because the H&S can help BCM.  How? 

Depending upon the provincial regulations, facility inspections performed by H&S members (must be a management and a non-management representative) occur on a monthly basis.  “Inspections?  What kind of inspections?” I hear you ask.  Well, these inspections help identify risk and hazards that can harm employees and cause potential damage to equipment and operations.  After the inspections are performed those committee members who had done the inspection write out their report and submit and ‘safety infractions’ to management for consideration; either to comply with recommended changes or – as is often the case – to be ignored. 

Not getting the connection yet?  Don’t worry, you will.  These inspections, as I alluded to ways to identify potential dangers and risk to employees and operations.  Though they may seem like small instances, sometimes the smallest risk identified can cause the largest impact; ‘From little acorns do might oaks grow,’ as the old saying goes.  Here’s an example.

Our facility is a large data centre, housing a large operations area but also has development personnel, finance employees and sales staff – all residing in the same facility.  One part of the facility also houses large printer to spit out reams and reams of cheques, invoices and statements – along with many other materials, such as marketing pamphlets.  During an inspection by the H&S committee members they identify a potential hazard where one of the large rolls of cheque stock/statement paper is not properly secured to the wall or loaded or stored on its wooden pallet properly.  The concern could be that it comes loose for the wall and injure an employee.  Now some may say that’s not a major business interruption – though without a doubt it would be a serious concern for employee safety – as one roll of paper injuring an employee will not hamper business operations.  Sales staff can still work and almost all other functions can continue. Well, in that respect its correct.

However, what if that roll of heavy paper – some being a few hundred pounds – came away from the wall and rolled into one of the high impact printers?  Now, you have a different situation on your hands.  The roll could potentially damage the printer, which means that finance teams can’t get their invoices printed, sales and marketing staff can’t get their marketing materials printed, and for those that are awaiting cheques – will now have a delay in getting their money.  Much more of an incident now, isn’t it?

What if BCM was involved with H&S?  How could BCM help to ensure that this type of situation doesn’t occur?  Here are a few recommendations:

  1. If your BCM program doesn’t have representation on the H&S committee, consider joining or at the very least, attending a few meetings. 
  2. If you can gain access to inspection reports, find out if there are any hazards that may need to be addressed by contingency plans. 
  3. From the same list of hazards, see if any mitigation processes can be put in place to ensure that the hazard doesn’t come to fruition – such as a better method to ensure rolls of cheque stock don’t come away from the walls.   
  4. Figure out how – when one of these hazards occurs – how the processes for emergency/incident management tie into the situation.  For instance, there could be a hazardous materials spill, which could cause the facility to be evacuated.  Isn’t this part of our emergency response processes.  The two should tie together so that they work in conjunction, rather than people instantly believing there is an H&S incident.  To clarify, there is an H&S incident but it triggers BCM responses – in many cases.  

So, is it possible that H&S is a lost or forgotten component of BCM?  Maybe, maybe not.  Still, in many ways the H&S process and committee can bring attention to hazards that can cause the activation of BCM components.  Wouldn’t it be a better idea to understand some of these triggers – these risks and hazards – before they occur, rather than give the classic Homer Simpson response after the fact: D’OH!

Many will identify risks that can harm operations but often those are external with less emphasis on internal hazards.   Oh yes, there may be instances where internal risks and hazards are identified during risk analysis but the H&S committee can help identify additional risk and review risks on a monthly basis – the results of which can be used to help bolster response plans and contingency strategies.  In this respect, is H&S a lost component of BCM….or could it be the new component? 

Be healthy. Be safe.

2 thoughts on “A Missing Link?

  1. Good post.

    I have always found that the HR and H&S people need to be fully integrated with the BCM Program.
    In many companies I have seen that the H&S people often oversee the Fire/Emergency Management process. I always find it disappointing when I see the two most common failings of evacuation procedures;
    – the “U” turn mentality (“when given the all clear return to the building” – assumes all evacuations are false alarms)
    – and no connection to the BC Plans (surely recovery starts as soon as your people are safely out of the building)

    Do you often see a conflict in some organisations between the BC and EM groups?

    • Thank you.
      From personal experience, I’ve found there’s been no – or hardly – any link between H&S and the BCM/EM program. It was a reason why I joined the H&S committee (of the company I was working for at the time) to try and bridge the two and get them working together. My current contract has their H&S program set up the same way, as you note above. The H&S is responsible for evacuations etc but there’s no link to when/how/who the BCM program processes. Again, I joined the committee to help bring the two together and for now it seems to be working smoother. It has been a challenge since one group is responsible for the BCM program (which ironically enough should include Emergency Response processes such as evacuation) but since the BCM program is mostly developed by a team under the “Technology” banner, evacuations and dealings with 1st responders falls to the H&S/Facilities team, which aren’t part of the BCM program and is a voluntary committee. Slowly but surely we’re getting that mentality changed.

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