According to the UK Government, the estimated costs of injuries and ill health from working conditions, as of 2018, was 15 billion pounds. This large figure may be attributed to organizations being hamstrung by an abundance of information and struggling with the complexities of managing EHS amid stronger quality standards and competition. But a lot is changing! In this article, we observe the importance of EHS professionals and the increasing growth of digitalized EHS systems. We also examine 5 areas where these systems are improving EHS outcomes in the manufacturing industry.
EHS: A brief overview
In March 1911, there was a fire at the Asch building, New York City’s Greenwich Village that killed 146 employees of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. Investigators concluded that the high death toll was a result of blocked stairwells and exit doors (done to prevent unauthorized breaks and theft) which made it difficult for employees to escape the building. In addition, there was no audible alarm or mass notification system in the building.
This factory fire united organized labor and the subsequent outcry led the U.S Government to take action to protect workers – resulting in new workplace safety laws. The promulgation of these laws transformed the landscape of work in America creating professionals devoted to the health and safety of employees. In modern factories, the role of these EHS (Environmental, health, and safety) professionals includes the following:
- To promote a working environment that’s physically, mentally, and socially conducive for workers
- To minimize the risk and hazards associated with the work and individual job tasks
- To adapt workers to their work – ensuring that capabilities are consistent with job tasks
For them to carry out their job, the factory’s management sets out a written policy furnished with strategic objectives and plans. Also, action steps are outlined and progress is periodically reviewed to determine the effectiveness of these actions. These steps – elements of a health and safety management system – require efficient resource allocation, easily accessible documentation, and quality decision-making for success.
The rapid growth of digitalized EHS systems
Nearly 90% of spreadsheets contain significant errors – University of Hawaii study
In a recent cross-company webinar hosted by Verdantix and Origami Risk, Yaowen Ma the Principal Analyst of Verdantix pointed out some trends in the digital EHS space.
According to Mr. Yaowen, a survey of EHS leaders showed that a huge number have either implemented a digitalization strategy or are currently developing one. This statement is backed by a 2020 Verdantix EHS software market forecast that showed investments in EHS digitalization growing at 10% annually with positive trends towards mobile adoption.
The pivot towards digitalized systems is not a surprise. In manufacturing, for example, rigid manual processes do not provide the visibility, control, and efficiency needed to tackle the core aspects of EHS, not least in faster-paced shop floors with high-quality standards and stronger regulatory requirements. Besides, sorting and analyzing entries upon entries of manual data is a time-consuming process out of step with the ‘instant, on your fingertips’ nature of modern life.
EHS best practices cause a 52% decrease in the average number of claims
Through a wide range of use cases, digital technologies gain application in EHS. They solve a variety of problems and aid teams in compliance, data analysis, and process efficiency. Data collection is streamlined with sensors, can be stored via cloud computing, and subjected to advanced, predictive analytic techniques to quickly establish patterns and gain insight for proactive decision-making. Through the duties of EHS professionals, the data collected and important information can be categorized and properly sorted in a cloud platform to make it easily accessible in case of audits.
Moreover, digitalization tools provide instant, ‘real-time’ reports on asset conditions which can translate to ‘instant’ resolution of issues – helping factories to quickly identify unsafe workplace conditions and avoid the direct and indirect costs of accidents.
Applied to EHS: How digitalization can improve EHS outcomes
Here are some areas where digitalization gains application in EHS
- Quick documentation and robust document control
- Incident management
- Risk management
- Audit management
- Permit to work
Quick documentation and robust document control
Documents – including standards, procedures, and guides – can be digitized (converted from hard copy paper into a soft copy format) and categorized in a single platform so that workers and stakeholders can easily access them at any time. This enables teams to better control the access and distribution of safety documentation.
The management and safety team can easily update these documents when digitized. They can also quickly share soft copy documentation regardless of distance barrier to guide workers and ensure that expected safety standards are followed on every project.
For every serious injury accident in a workplace, there were 600 previous near misses that if reported and properly investigated will have significantly reduced the likelihood of the accident. – Frank Bird (after analyzing 1,753,489 accidents)
Incident investigation and reporting is a core component of a successful EHS program and one in which digitalization provides a lot of benefits. EHS professionals can use a digitalized near-miss reporting tool to simplify the creation, formatting, and submission of incident reports. Digitalized reporting will also eliminate paper bureaucracies and hierarchical bottlenecks that characteristically hinder an incident investigation.
Also, the enhanced visibility of a digitalized incident management system builds accountability and enables factories to easily track reports right from when they are logged up until when the root cause has been corrected.
The risk assessment process is one in which analytic capabilities play a vital role. Here, hazards are identified and assessed based on the likelihood of their occurrence vis-á-vis the severity of their consequences. The risk of the hazard is then determined to be either high risk, medium risk, or low risk with priority and resource allocation given to the former.
Besides the obvious benefits in streamlining risk ranking and assessment, a digitally enabled risk management system will add value to safety inspections and help manufacturers thoroughly examine the injury, near-miss, and accident records/ trends. The effect is a more comprehensive profile of hazards that takes into account newer, as-yet-to-be-identified hazards.
Audits are complex, time-consuming procedures that can be riddled with inefficiencies, if not properly managed. These inefficiencies can negatively affect a factory’s internal perceptions and cause them to inaccurately assess the condition of their safety and quality system. In the event of rigorous external audits, the likelihood is that the factory will come up stuck as sharp-eyed auditors recognize the gaps in their process.
A digitalized audit management system markedly improves the visibility of audits and automates the cumbersome procedure into a series of easily manageable steps. Factories can monitor the status of internal audits in real-time, promote strong accountability and easily follow up on the procedures to observe whether recommended measures were taken. Furthermore, robust document control will ensure that audit procedures are timely distributed to key stakeholders.
Permit to Work
A digital permit to work management system helps factories to fast track the approval of permits. The system contains pre-configured templates that streamline the permit creation process and e-signature capabilities so that permits can be approved by management teams in remote locations.
Digitized management enriches permits with audio and visual multimedia that deeply illustrates the risk of hazardous procedures and guides workers on the appropriate safety controls to employ. Also, compliance to safe work procedures can be induced (and monitored) in real-time with easy-to-access digitized checklists serving as reference points for action.
Maximl’s EHS solution provides organizations with robust digital tools to manage workplace health and safety.