Common Environmental Health and Safety Acronyms

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EHS, ESH, HSE?  You say potayto

In our peculiar and sometimes perplexing world, coming to a consensus on as simple a task as unifying an acronym seems to be much harder than it should.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OHS) was America’s initial attempt to address workplace safety. An estimated 14,000 workers were killed on the job that year. That number dropped to 4,340 in 2009- and during that time span U.S. employment doubled. That number has increased slightly since 2009, with workplace fatalities reaching 4,693, 4,628, 4,585 and 4,821 from 2011-2015 respectively. The Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 in the UK, much like OHS, set rules for managing health and safety.

During the same period, federal, state, and local governments enacted environmental laws that requiredcompanies to monitor and reduce air and water pollution and to focus on safe practices for the disposal of waste. Corporate entities were forced to look at these issues or face fines and have their corporate image tarnished. The position of Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) Manager was thus created, but different organizations chose different acronyms Environment, Safety and Health (ESH), Health, Safety and Environment (HSE), and, believe it or not, many others.

From a professional perspective, environmental health and safety (EHS, EH&S, HSE, ESH, or SHE) is the group or organization responsible for environmental protection, safety at work, occupational health and safety and compliance, and best practices. The group’s aim is to improve safety and security, prevent and reduce workplace accidents, emergencies and health issues.

A List of Environmental Health and Safety Acronyms

Aren’t three-letter acronyms (TLA’s) confusing?  What about four and five letter acronyms?

Here is a list of acronyms that, in the majority, cover the same areas of responsibility:

OHS Occupational Health and Safety
HSE Health, Safety and Environment
EHS (or EH&S) Environment, Health and Safety
SHE Safety, Health and Environment
QHSE Quality, Health, Safety, and Environment
HSEQ Health, Safety, Environment and Quality
HSSE Health, Safety, Security and Environment
QHSSE Quality, Health, Safety, Security, and Environment
HSSEQ Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Quality

These additional acronyms became necessary as security was added to the list of EHS, HSE, ESH responsibilities as violent threats entered the picture. HSE became HSSE (Health, Safety, Security and Environment) soon to expand further to HSSEQ (Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Quality) or (HSEQ/HSSEQ/QHSE/QHSSE) as quality principles were added to the responsibilities of the EHS manager.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR, or HSE&CSR/ HSSE&CSR) was soon added to the mix, followed fairly quickly by an intense focus on sustainability. We can’t even come up with a single acronym for the Environmental Manager, but we’ve relentlessly added a bunch of additional letters to their titles.

Not to be forgotten, numerous regulatory agencies and regulations with their own acronyms were added to the mix:

  • Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
  • Mining Safety & Health Administration (MSHA), etc.
  • European Union (EU standards) – Health & Safety At Work Act (EU-OSHA)
  • The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB)
  • Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)
  • The US Department of Transportation (DOT)

More recently, the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals was added (with the acronym GHS, thank goodness!). And oh, so many more…

As a colleague recently wrote, our industry has morphed into Alphabet Soupization!! It may or may not be a coincidence, but the acronym EHS also refers to Exploding Head Syndrome (EHS), alternately termed episodic cranial sensory shock, a benign condition in which a person hears loud “imagined” noises (such as a bomb exploding, a gunshot, or a cymbal crash) or experiences an explosive feeling when falling asleep or waking up. I think I just got EHS, or was it HSE?

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