Early Career Challenges and the Shift to ESG Within the EHS Profession
Jill James, host of the Accidental Safety Pro podcast, recently sat down with Dolores Salman, CSP, Global Head of Corporate & Studio EHS at a tech media and entertainment company and past President of the ASSP Los Angeles Chapter.
In our conversation, Dolores talked about her accidental safety journey, years of safety consulting, early career challenges, and the shift in ESG factors within the EHS profession. Many EHS professionals are trying to understand what it means to implement Environmental, Social, and Governance factors into their programs and we hope the excerpt below helps shed some light on that challenging endeavor.
Listen to the full episode here.
From your early opportunities in dentistry and real estate marketing, how did you make the shift to Environmental Health and Safety?
I started my career as a consultant, and again, started on the environmental side. I spent several years as an industrial hygiene pump jockey. I did lots of air monitoring, both area and personal monitoring for oil and gas companies, manufacturing, and pharma. Just semiconductor. So the very traditional EHS.
I started very, very heavy environmental and IH, and then it just evolved into safety. So I say I'm a generalist. I think I'm pretty dangerous in environmental health, safety, and sustainability. I've consulted on all facets and different capacities for several multinational companies and organizations globally.
I was a consultant for close to 10 years, and Fox Sports was actually one of my named accounts. And the firm that I was at conducted EHS and sustainability audits for all of the sporting stadiums across the US.
The approach and the risks were not for the general audience, because obviously safety and stadium design, they take that into consideration very early. This risk identification and mitigation, they were basically for the broadcasters and the folks in camera positions, whether they are on the sideline or working from heights, access to ladders. So they were protecting the cast and crew who were working on behalf of Fox Sports and the other broadcasting networks.
Being in many different work environments over 10 years of consulting, were there any familiar challenges that you faced?
I think the challenging thing in media and entertainment is that when you're not familiar with the vernacular and you're not necessarily speaking the same language, it could be challenging to gain the trust of cast and crew and gain their partnership. So I don't necessarily think the difficulty is in the job and how we mitigate and identify risks. The difficulty and the challenges are in the relationships, because it is extremely nepotistic. And at the same time, there's not a lot of confidence if you haven't worked on a production your whole life.
I loved my job there, but it was extremely challenging to break into the industry and gain trust and confidence.
What advice do you have for a safety professional struggling to gain trust or "street cred" within their industry of work?
My first 30 days there, I really tried to understand the business. So who are the key players? Who are the key partners? What groups do you need to work with? There's so many different positions on a production, and you have to navigate which groups and which departments actually have the highest risk on a production, but also what are their pain points.
I spent a lot of time just really understanding the workflows, operations, key pain points, top five hazards, spending time with workers comp to look at where the incidents and injuries were occurring, and then also I did some benchmarking with external peers. So I met with other studios to learn more about their programs, what was working, what wasn't working.
It was a lot of data gathering at that point, too, before I could really frame up what a best in class program should look like, EHS, for television production. So it was a lot of learning and really understanding the business before diving in.
Environmental, Social, and Governance...what should EHS professionals prepare for?
I was seeing this shift and this change in how businesses were looking at ESG topics. And I thought, "Huh, well, what do I need to be doing in this space?"
I think as EHS professionals we should be aware of at least two things.
I guess a lot of the pain points from companies and organizations is that there is a lot of greenwashing happening, and companies are voluntarily sharing their CSR reports and voluntarily developing their reports, but there's really no unified reporting method. And last year, the ISSB, the International Sustainability Standards Board, was created and really charged with looking at, "Hey, we need common reporting standards on sustainability."
And then, two is what used to be voluntary is now mandatory, so in particular in the EU, I think EHS should stay close to the CSRD, so the new Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. And essentially, this is setting common European rules and essentially requiring companies to conduct a double materiality assessment and report on what is material to their organizations. And I want to say, don't quote me on this, more than 50,000 companies met the threshold and have to start reporting, and it will be mandatory starting next year.
There are sustainability experts, there are DEI experts, there are EHS experts, there are security experts, and there are audit and governance committees. And it's all elements that contribute to ESG. The EHS is not equal to ESG. We are part of that story, but we are not the whole story.