How BCM and EHS can Successfully Work Together through the Pandemic Recovery


The coronavirus pandemic has not only changed the way the world works. Covid-19 has forcefully demonstrated that there’ll be no going back to business as usual.

Employees are working remotely, almost indefinitely. Staffing, budgets and operational teams have been reduced and, in some cases, eliminated. And departments that may have occasionally collaborated before now find themselves partnering more closely than ever, which brings us to the functions of Business Continuity Management (BCM) and Environmental Health & Safety (EHS).

Why has it taken a pandemic for organizations to notice the synergies between these two disciplines?

The good old days

To better understand how these two vital departments in your organization should be working together, let’s look at where each has been.

In the not-so-distant past, a traditional crisis might have lasted a few days or, at the most, a few weeks, followed by disaster recovery within a reasonable short period of time and the restoration of critical business functions, also in a reasonably short time.

Now Covid-19 has transformed the crisis management timeline to months, business quarters and possibly years. For long-term business recovery, operationalizing the new normal will involve addressing numerous business continuity issues and EHS concerns and protocols. The new normal now means getting operations up and running while prioritizing the healthy, safety and wellbeing of your workforce and contractors.

Covid-19’s impact on EHS and BCM functions

Let’s first consider how COVID-19 has changed EHS:

  • COVID-19 has thrust EHS into the spotlight in every industry, elevating the focus on health as much as safety.
  • Workplace restrictions have increased regulatory scrutiny and dealing with an invisible enemy has challenged traditional approaches to health and wellbeing.
  • Collaboration, agility and resilience have become key risk management skills for EHS practitioners — and these skills are here to stay.

Now let’s consider how COVID-19 has changed BCM:

  • The pandemic could well be the longest business continuity event in history and has forced industries to think on their feet in an economically fluctuating environment.
  • History shows that pandemics come in waves and viruses mutate. There will be ongoing and changing hot spots and lockdowns in different parts of the world that will impact current operations, so plans must be in place.
  • For many organizations whose employees and contractors are working remotely, almost every daily function is now a data security and privacy issue.
  • Business continuity planning is now perpetual. Risk management strategies need to be considered at the highest level of a company and a culture of resilience must be embedded in your workforce’s existing processes. Your BCM plan must be continually updated so that organizations can better adapt in real and act should another major disruption occur.

Why work together now?

Returning to work or to the workplace during Covid-19 is different than returning from a traditional business continuity event such as a hurricane. You only need to look to schools to understand the myriad challenges facility management teams face, too – from mask mandates and daily health checks to seating, workstation and meeting room configurations, to hallways and elevators that enable social distancing, to airflow and HVAC management. When and where an outbreak occurs, reopening plans must be adjusted. And sometimes they have to change overnight.

Most importantly, every BCM issue is now an EHS issue because the health and wellbeing of your entire workforce is on the line. Returning to work and the workplace are all about life safety, which is a philosophy both BCM and EHS share.

As David Smith, head of EHS solutions at SAI Global, said during a recent webinar on how business continuity and EHS overlap, and why that intersection is so important: 

“It’s about the ability to keep each other honest. As functions we’ve collaborated in the past, but we have different outlooks; EHS is operational and BCM has a longer, predictive view. But both functions focus on people.”

With all this uncertainty caused by the pandemic, organizations can’t afford to work in silos – what impacts your business now also impacts your employees’ families and their communities. People are stressed, both on the job and in the home, exacerbating the potential impact personal resilience has on organizational resilience.

A BCM-EHS partnership creates a more robust and sustainable position for your organization and the skills that both functions bring to the table complement each other very well.

How BCM and EHS can successfully work together

Working collaboratively to efficiently monitor and assess issues, both functions together can:

  • Re-establish structure. There will be a need to re-engage a returning workforce and manage hybrid teams of on-site and remote workers. Enhanced communication will be increasingly important to ensure safety from both disciplines.
  • Challenge one another. The pandemic has shown how dated many organizations’ crisis management response plans are. There are layers of documents and controls that are redundant. How can things be done differently to make them more efficient, more productive, and more relevant?
  • Digitize for agility. Agility to react to risks will depend on how digital your processes and workflows are. This will make operations run much more smoothly, more synergistically, and more cohesively. For example, maintaining digital records of vendors and suppliers enables you to understand contracts and monitor in real-time the readiness of the third-party partners that your companies rely on up and down your own online and offline supply chain.
  • Share data and insights. The more data collected and shared, the better the decisions that can be made.
  • Have an open and honest dialogue. Once the collaboration begins, meaningful conversations start. Both disciplines will better understand each other’s pain points, strategic goals and objectives.

Why collaboration between BCM and EHS is so important to your organization’s future

While BCM and EHS don’t need to be on the same team, or in the same reporting structure, they do need to collaborate to be effective contributors to risk management in the future. The way forward when it comes to evaluating the performance and health of a company is by measuring intangibles such as customer satisfaction, internal processes, and a company’s ability to educate and innovate. Results achieved in these areas will help to keep the organization in balance, ensuring that it is able to meet its future financial and strategic goals.

Covid-19 has elevated the need for EHS to be at the center of safe operations and business resilience, making it an essential part of any new BCM strategy. By evaluating operations, now and in the future, through both EHS and BCM lenses, your organization will gain a holistic view of risk, allowing companies to review and measure past actions while building a roadmap for recovery.

With SAI Globals SAI360’s cloud-based software packages, BCM specialists and EHS managers can take advantage of adaptable, agile, and risk-informed workflows and assessment metrics in easy-to-understand dashboards. With a successful collaboration in place between these two departments, your organization will not only be better prepared to apply the lessons of this global pandemic and its recovery processes, your organization will be better prepared for any crisis.

Hear more from the experts at SAI Global

To learn more about successfully integrating EHS and BCM, watch SAI Global’s on-demand webinar, “Why Integrating BCM and Health & Safety is Critical for Long-Term Business Recovery” featuring business continuity expert James Green MBCI  and EHS thought leader David Smith, as they discuss how aligning BCM and EHS can bolster business continuity plans and help businesses return to work safely and efficiently.

Visit SAI Globals pandemic information center, which includes reading materials, podcasts, videos and best-practice guidance around managing business continuity, compliance, workforce safety and health, and risk management amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Or, contact SAI Global to request a demo.

About the Author

James Green is Director, Risk Advisory Services at SAI Global. He is passionate about life safety and helps the C-Suite understand the importance of business continuity not just during an emergency, but as an integral part of day to day operations. He has worked on risk events that have occurred all over the globe, including civil unrest in Egypt during the Arab Spring, executive travel and protection in the Pacific Rim, and the effects of destructive tornadoes in Oklahoma.