A Holistic Approach to Risk, Part 3
This article is the third in a series that focuses on the concept of risk throughout various industries. The content in this article stems from separate interviews with risk leaders from the technology industry. To preserve their anonymity, the article refers to these leaders by initials only. Their responses have been edited.

WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO RISK MANAGEMENT? A.F.: I’m at a large and diverse company, so the EHS department tries to standardize our risk management approach as much as possible. We strive to get a consensus across the board. There’s no magic to our specific approach—primarily we just try to prioritize the hazards. We focus on a qualitative assessment first and try to create a framework of standards and alerts. If X happens, we know to look into things further. If Y happens, we take a different approach.  But while standardization is important, we also allow for some freedom to account for local facilities’ differences, the circumstances of the issue, and specific product development. M.L.: Rather than focusing on one type of risk, like safety or machine guarding, I see how we can approach all aspects of EHS at a high level before I pinpoint specific types of risk. I always try to take a very quantitative approach that is data driven and consistent. Depending on the audience or scenario, I then tailor my risk management approach. I may communicate in one way to an employee, and then draw on the financial aspects of incurred workers’ compensation losses when communicating to other stakeholders.  B.C.: Our first step is to collect and analyze all data. Then our process becomes a little more qualitative. We weigh one set of risks against another and then prioritize. That distinguishes good risk managers from others—you need to be able to weigh your risks and determine where to apply your efforts. For most companies, managers prioritize risks within their domain (for example, EHS, human rights, labor/social, and sustainability). There’s a growing interest in weighing risks within individual domains against enterprise risks throughout your company’s value chain. Decision makers need to decide which risks have the highest priority, and these enterprise risks are a little harder to quantify. There’s no quick formula to use, and if you misjudge, there might be financial implications down the road. WHAT DO YOU FOCUS ON TODAY THAT WAS NOT ON YOUR RADAR FIVE OR TEN YEARS AGO?  A.F.: That’s hard to answer because everything I focus on now was on our radar five years ago. For example, nanoparticles are a big deal, but they’ve been around for a while now. For other potential hazards, the chemicals themselves are not new, but the ways we use the chemicals or processes are changing, and the way we’re looking at them is different. For instance, we continue to use types of acutely toxic gases. The hazards are well known and have been very well documented for the way we have used them in the past, but we’re changing the quantities and sometimes the ways we use them, which means we’re reevaluating our approach to make sure it is still effective.  The tech industry always moves at a fast pace, and we have to move quickly in order to stay on top of our competition. This puts a lot of pressure on EHS—we need to know how pending OSHA regulations are going to affect our industry or be able to use these regulations to accommodate our needs. It is essential that we operate safely and have a positive impact on the communities we work in, but we also need to understand how to work within these regulations to ensure that we can continue to make our products. This leads to a lot of collaboration within our industry for EHS, even among competitors. We’re often running into the same problems at the same time. Many of us belong to organizations where we discuss EHS issues and work toward our common goal of maintaining a safe workforce. 
“The tech industry always moves at a fast pace, and we have to move quickly in order to stay on top of our competition. This puts a lot of pressure on EHS.”
RACHEL ZISOOK, MS, CIH, is a supervising health scientist with Cardno ChemRisk, a scientific consulting firm, and is based out of San Francisco, Calif. She is a member of the AIHA Risk Committee.

NEVA JACOBS, MSPH, CIH, is a supervising health scientist with Cardno ChemRisk, and is based out of Arlington, Va. She is a member of the AIHA Risk Committee.   Send feedback to The Synergist.

Editor’s note: Read part 1 and part 2 of this series in the digital Synergist.

M.L.: Five to ten years ago I was in the early part of my career. When I focused on risk, I looked just at a specific issue—I was only trying to understand a workplace exposure, or the likelihood of an outcome or event. I took a very specific and siloed approach. My risk assessments were very regimented and tailored to the scenario.  My current work is much broader in scope. I think about environmental risks, business continuity, how the neighboring community may interpret or misinterpret risks, and how my organization will act on my results.  Specifically for the tech industry, there is heightened attention on risks beyond EHS, and we are expected to understand the implications of our supply chain. We are much more cognizant of what makes up our supply chain, the impacts these products and chemicals have on the environment, and labor and health and safety issues during production and transport. Tech companies have absorbed the social and environmental responsibility for their suppliers, and we need to be sure that we are supplying a product back to the industry that meets an environmental and ethical standard. Consumers now, more than ever, are cognizant of making sure that products are manufactured in a responsible manner. B.C.: Human rights—that’s a huge part of sustainability management, especially for companies with extensive supply chains and a growing number of B2B customers. It’s also somewhat trickier to assess risk in this space because it is not entirely data driven. We try to educate ourselves on potential issues—we interview individuals to get information on what they experienced in their job and how they perceived their work environment. On the EHS side of things, a lot of our risks are issues we’ve worked on for a number of years, although the speed at which business is moving has put a premium on lasting, effective management. And of course, we now have new chemical mixtures and materials. People are constantly searching for things that are new and effective at producing a desired result, and we need to fill gaps on chemicals that haven’t been evaluated. An example of this is nanotech—the work is cutting-edge and therefore presents some risk that is difficult to evaluate. DO YOU FOCUS ON “TOTAL” WORKER RISK?  A.F.: Our company is trying to focus on total worker risk because it can significantly impact productivity. If we can eliminate all accidents or injuries, we’re more productive. It has been interesting to see upper management buy into this, and it has been wonderful to be a part of a company that has a sincere desire to get behind this concept. And it is not just the EHS department that has taken this on. Staff in operations, management, and workers on the floor are pulled in to work on these teams and make this a company-wide issue.  We also have a mechanism for discussing risk with senior leadership, particularly at a site level. It can even be mandatory to bring an issue to senior leadership if the issue crosses a certain risk level. Even for mid-level issues, it’s easy to bring things to their attention.  M.L.: Total worker health is going to be immensely important. You need to understand the risks that are inherent in your workforce. Then you can figure out how to set your workforce up for success and make sure they will continue to be healthy in their work environment. An example of how we’ve addressed this is with ergonomics in a heavy manufacturing setting. We determined that musculoskeletal injuries were driving our workers’ compensation costs and OSHA recordability. We looked at work center design and rotation schedules to relieve line workers. One thing we lost sight of was the workers themselves. Do we have a robust understanding of their health? How do we drive early detection starting with minor strains? We shifted our focus to early-symptom reporting. We brought in athletic trainers who observed our workers and detected issues, irrespective of whether the line work was driving the ultimate injury. We seek early-symptom intervention rather than waiting until there is damage and a compensable injury that needs to be medicalized.   B.C.: Total worker risk is not a concept I’ve used in my work, but we do evaluate a wide variety of risks to workers, inside and outside of our operations. In some parts of the world, workers in our factories are migrants, so we are also housing and feeding them. This presents a totally different type of risk than for workers who have a completely uncontrolled environment outside the factory.  We have developed tech-driven resources that not only enable workers to educate themselves on healthy lifestyles but give them access to online well-being and health assistance. We offer access to self-directed care, psychological counseling, and video chats with registered nurses or physicians. 
Interviews with Leaders in the Technology Industry