10 Top Tips for building a strong Environmental Health and Safety Culture across emerging markets

In February 2018, KEY’s International Facility Management (FM) team convened to share learnings on how to build a strong Environmental Health and Safety Culture in organisations and countries new to the concept.

Warning sign saying 'safety is KEY', highlighting the importance of a strong environmental health and safety culture in emerging markets

Informed by considerable experience at facilitating Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) culture change for multinationals across emerging markets, the conversation produced 10 Top Tips which may assist anybody facing similar challenges:

1. Communicate EHS as a principle, not a task-to-do.  It is essential to keep reinforcing the idea that EHS is about safeguarding life and health, not just corporate requirement and procedure.


Emergency evacuation drill in an emerging market office, helping to promote EHS awareness and ownership


2. Always lead by example.  FM’s should be seen to integrate the EHS principle into all relevant considerations and decisions, not only when required.  Truly walking-the-walk is often the most effective way to educate the uninitiated.

3. Hand-pick a local team that understands EHS’s importance.  Your most committed champions of Environmental Health and Safety Culture change are frequently those who have been affected by poor EHS, personally or via someone close to them.

4. Appoint an EHS coordinator with good communication skills.  To maintain EHS focus across a multinational, you need a strong-minded specialist adept at managing different perspectives, cultures and languages.

5. Routinely promote EHS awareness.  Seek ways to braid EHS into the day-to-day life of the organisation.  Tactics can include running regular emergency drills or presenting brief EHS progress reports before every client meeting.


Emergency EHS drill in an emerging market, helping to promote environmental health and safety culture change


6. Nurture EHS as a shared responsibility.  Conduct activities which build perception that EHS isn’t someone else’s job, but about everyone working together for the common good.  Monthly staff workshops for EHS education and discussion have proven effective at this.

7. Cultivate local autonomy for EHS problem-solving.  Effective Environmental Health and Safety Culture change is about coaching, not management. For example, when conducting an EHS site audit, leave it to the local team to propose solutions to the snag list.  The process of reviewing details of issues and regulatory environment has proved effective at promoting local self-education, ownership and responsibility.


Environmental health and safety equipment installed in an office in an emerging market


8. Leverage FM Technology.  Cloud-based FM technologies can transform your control, visibility and systemisation of EHS activities across a complex portfolio.  They also improve EHS awareness at all levels of the organisation by enabling historical and real time performance tracking.

9. Ensure the client has your back.  As a rule, KEY always favours the carrot over the stick.  Nevertheless, a clear mandate and commitment to consequences from Upper Management and Human Resources often helps to motivate local parties to action.

10. Patience and Persistence.  Don’t get discouraged by your rate of progress or setbacks.  A new culture isn’t built in a day, but stick with our Top Tips and you’ll get there soon enough.


Interested in learning more?:

Profile of Megha Joshi: EHS Specialist for KEY FM International

This week we’re in Dubai to profile Megha Joshi, KEY’s EHS Specialist for a major multinational.  Our aim is to learn how Megha came to the role, and about her experience facilitating a new EHS (Environmental Health and Safety) System across countries which typically lack a strong health and safety culture.

Also joining the conversation is KEY’s Chief Operations Officer, Jim Yorston; and our Programme Manager for the Middle East and North Africa, Walid Barhoumi.

Megha Joshi - Environmental Health and Safety Coordinator for KEY FM International

Megha Joshi – Environmental Health and Safety Specialist for KEY FM International


So to begin with, Megha, could you tell us a little about how you came to KEY and EHS?

Megha:  “Sure.  Originally, I was taken on by KEY as a receptionist and coordinator for a small United Arab Emirates office.  This was part of first generation outsourcing contract for a big multinational, which KEY had recently been awarded.  


My first encounter with EHS was early in that role, when we were asked to complete an EHS programme and policy template for the client.  Honestly speaking, at that time no one in the office knew what EHS was or where to get the information.  Until then I’d been lighting aromatherapy candles on the reception desk every day.  It had never occurred to me this was a fire risk!


Not long after that KEY conducted the first professional EHS audit of the office.  They handed me the snag list and said ‘those are your action items and we’re here if you need us’.  I really valued their combination of support and trust in my ability.  Also, digging into the detail of those issues, the relevant regulations and the remedies was my first proper EHS initiation. 

After that, I began to take a real interest in EHS, and to appreciate its gravity.  Off my own initiative, I started to read EHS manuals and to take online courses, thereby laying the foundations for my current role.


What was the background to Megha’s promotion to the EHS Specialist role, Jim?

Jim:  “Megha’s flair for project management and EHS came to our attention early on.  When I convened a workgroup to develop EHS strategy in 2013, she was the obvious lead.  In 2015, when it became evident that implementing the strategy required full-time coordination, I didn’t hesitate to nominate Megha.  By then, she had evolved into a health and safety guru and I knew she’d bring purpose and structure to the proceedings.”


And how have you found the EHS Specialist role, Megha?

Megha:  “I enjoy it very much!


I won’t pretend that trying to systematise requirements across 19 locations in 16 emerging markets isn’t challenging at times.  Prior to KEY’s involvement, EHS wasn’t taken that seriously because these regions lacked a strong health and safety culture.


Things still aren’t perfect, and when you know how important it is to get EHS right, it can be difficult to let go sometimes.  However, I’m a driven person, and the unconditional support I get from the team around me is always there to keep me going. 


I have an invaluable and innovative deputy, Tariq Bashir, who is achieving real progress in the more difficult locations.  Jim, Walid, the other Programme Managers, and KEY’s Shared Services Team over in Scotland are also on hand whenever I need them.  Despite being internationally distributed, KEY’s Integrated Operations enable everyone to work together as a single effective unit.


Another exciting aspect of the role is the travel.  I’ve visited Egypt, Jordan, and in 2016, I represented KEY at an IFM World conference in Austria.  It was great to share insights and strategies with the wider EHS community.  One thing I love about EHS is that it’s an area of business which is not about competition, or doing things secretively, or earning brownie points, but about working better and safer together.”



How do Megha’s managers feel she has performed as an EHS Specialist? 

Jim:  “Appointing Megha as EHS Specialist has paid off 1000%.  She has a genuine passion for EHS and the project has flourished under her guidance.  Examples of her many achievements in standardising EHS across the portfolio include monthly governance reporting, and a schedule of ‘toolbox talks’ which have been great at building staff awareness and ownership of EHS.  She also provides a vital link between on-the-ground teams and activities and Upper Management.  And the list goes on.  In short, she’s doing a great job!”


Walid:  “I agree, Jim.  In addition, I’d also emphasise Megha’s excellent communication skills.  She faces a lot of barriers in that role: different attitudes, languages, perspectives, levels of management, and so on.  Yet wherever I go I only hear nice words about her: about what she has achieved and how she is dealing with the team.”


So to finish, Megha, given everything you’ve learned as an EHS Specialist, what one recommendation would you give anyone facing similar challenges?

Megha:  “Firstly, can I thank my managers for the complements!


As for my recommendation, my advice would be to never forget the intangible side to EHS.  You will never change a health and safety culture if the people only view EHS as a task to be done.  They have to feel EHS is important to saving lives and to the effective functioning of their organisation. 


This requires integrating EHS into every little thing your team does, and to be seen to be doing so by your client.  Only through the persistent application of this approach is an enduring change in EHS attitudes possible.  Albeit intangible, I believe this to be the greatest achievement of any EHS system.”



Interested in learning more about KEY’s approach to EHS?: