Delivering a Safe Energy Transition: Navigating Operational Risks of Labor Shortages, Upscaling With EHS Tech

R. Mukund

by | Mar 30, 2023

Delivering a Safe Energy Transition: Navigating AI People working

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The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic may be behind us, but many of the adverse business conditions it left in its wake are still here. Chief among these challenges is talent recruitment and retention.

These circumstances impede organizational productivity and output, not to mention any aspirations for growth and expansion. However, executives shouldn’t miss the less obvious implications of the cross-sectoral worker shortage—environmental and occupational health and safety (EHS) risks.

Faced with more job openings than persons to fill them, enterprise functional leaders have little choice but to demand more of themselves and their teams. This ideally stopgap approach exacerbates the risks of workplace injuries and fatalities, regulatory noncompliance, quality control mishaps, and employee burnout. Should these risks go unchecked, they will only intensify the challenges of employee recruitment and retention, especially as workers continue to demonstrate their preferences for welcoming, safe, healthy, and otherwise sustainable workplaces.

Yet with the EHS profession facing labor shortages of its own, managing these risks, mitigating their effects, and, ultimately, getting out ahead of them will take improved operational data management, analysis, and reporting capabilities. The EHS leader will need more granular insight into the nature, severity, and probability of event occurrence for the unique hazards their organizations face, regardless of where they present themselves. They’ll also need improved protocols for assigning priority to these risks, analytics to support their selection of corrective actions, and advanced, cross-functional workflows to see to their management and mitigation.

Cloud-based enterprise data management and reporting platforms equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) empower EHS leaders to achieve these ends by maximizing the utility of the operational data and, importantly, human capital resources at their disposal. Equally important, these robust digital systems equip business leaders with the means to activate their employees as conscious contributors to a cooperative EHS program, helping them to cultivate the healthy, safe, and sustainable workplace that their existing and prospective employees demand.

To appreciate the immediate and enduring advantages of these robust digital systems, the present dilemma of the fossil and renewable power, buildings and construction, manufacturing, and mining sectors, among other industries at the center of the energy transition, offers a useful case study.

Business leaders in each of these industries face the unenviable task of navigating significant labor shortfalls at a time when sizable new opportunities to fund growth and expansion are on the table. Beyond the investment brought by capital markets, there’s the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which makes available hundreds of billions of dollars in tax credits and other funding opportunities, albeit with restrictive eligibility criteria, varying periods of availability, and irregular sizes of allotment.

But swift action needn’t come at the expense of EHS performance and compliance management—nor should it. The IRA not only equips federal and lower government regulators with additional means for governmental oversight but has been followed by news of peripheral plans for more intense regulatory enforcement by OSHA and other agencies.

Consider an industrial manufacturer pursuing the competitive advanced energy project credit (Sect. 48C). To claim it, the company will either need to re-equip or establish a facility capable of producing or recycling eligible goods, such as electric vehicle components, or retrofit existing facilities in a manner that reduces their operational greenhouse gas emissions.

Both pathways present clear EHS risks. Retooling an internal combustion engine assembly plant for electric vehicle batteries or reducing facility emissions with onsite renewable power generation and energy efficient equipment merit more than a comprehensive health and safety audit and new product quality controls. Adapted risk management and mitigation protocols and workforce retraining are essential.

It’s a tall order. But with a cloud-based data management and reporting platform, the EHS leader of our manufacturing plant needn’t worry.

Complete with an automatically filled digital system of record, AI-driven analytics, and remotely accessible cross-functional communication channels, these platforms enable EHS leaders to administer, monitor the completion of, and analyze the results from reskilling programs.

The descriptive analytics provided by AI can determine whether employees’ descriptions of the hazards they identify are accurate and complete before they’re run up the flagpole. Predictive analytics will not only assist operations and equipment maintenance teams in evaluating the risks posed by identified hazards, but alert them to hazards undiscovered. And prescriptive analytics will aid their selection of mitigation measures against a range of factors.

The advantages provided by these cloud-supported tools compound over time. For instance, as more facility-native and EHS performance data are entered into the AI-equipped, cloud-based system of record, the platform will improve its descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive analytics outputs to aid everyday decision-making. And for EHS leaders and other executives, a growing operational dataset enables them to monitor trends in EHS performance, including the effectiveness of their historical hazard identifications, risk evaluations, and mitigating actions.

Other prospective IRA funding recipients stand to benefit from these technologies, too. Renewable energy project developers seeking “bonus credits,” including those that are contingent upon installing projects in typically rural “energy communities,” will need advanced, cloud-based data management and reporting systems to support workers in challenging site conditions with unpredictable schedules. And businesses jockeying for energy infrastructure reinvestment financing, awarded to projects with exceptional technical complexity, will need advanced equipment data monitoring, alert, and control systems.

This level of insight and control is critical to a more proactive and resilient operating framework. Better-informed and better-protected employees are more likely to buy into enterprise success, regardless of whether they’re in the corner office or on the factory floor.

Guest Author

R. Mukund CEP Benchmark. Man in a suit

(Credit: R. Mukund)

R. Mukund is the founder and CEO of Benchmark Digital®, which enables companies to implement robust, cross-functional digital systems for EHS, Sustainability, and ESG Reporting through the Benchmark | Gensuite® platform—locally, globally and across diverse operating profiles.

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