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The Real Value Of EHS Software

Whether it’s to control risk, gain visibility, improve performance or all of the above, EHS management solutions are now, and will be going forward, an important resource in driving results in the manufacturing industry.

Manufacturing is at its most productive when environment, health, safety (EHS) and sustainability goals align with operational objectives. In the past, many companies saw safety, compliance and environmental concerns as being at odds with productivity, leaving those overseeing EHS activities with limited resources and minimal budgets. However, industry leaders in today’s manufacturing sector recognize that sound EHS practices benefit a company’s bottom line by controlling many of the operational risks that can sabotage productivity and bottom-line profitability.

Just as new technologies in manufacturing have helped streamline operations and deliver consistent, quality outputs, advancements in EHS software have made it easier than ever to manage regulatory compliance, reduce workplace incidents and lower workers compensation costs.

Following are three areas where simple and effective EHS software management solution delivers greater productivity and efficiency for companies in the manufacturing sector by controlling risk, providing visibility and improving performance.

Controlling Risk

While manufacturing companies face a variety of risks, EHS focuses on two in particular — regulatory risks and operational risks. A good EHS software solution can help manage both of these and more.

Regarding regulatory risks, a centralized EHS solution helps people throughout the organization manage employee training against standards, identify compliance gaps, meet reporting deadlines and ensure proper follow through is taken on items requiring special attention. On this latter point, a robust solution can send out escalating notifications when deadlines for permits and corrective action items are coming due. Additionally, a good solution has tools for easing compliance with standards related to injury and illness reporting, the management of chemical safety data sheets (SDSs), and more.

On the operational side, EHS software helps manage incidents and track near misses and related corrective actions, while also identifying and handling critical tasks like audits and inspections, job safety analyses, and change management. In short, EHS solutions are the backbone for finding and fixing hazards and issues before they become drains on productivity and revenue, or even more serious threats to your business. In manufacturing in particular, where many companies are running just-in-time, injured employees or work stoppages can create havoc throughout the supply chain.

Many of today’s best solutions go beyond aggregating information, and include robust solutions for training employees on a range of health and safety issues like ergonomics, powered trucks, chemical safety and lock-out/tag-out to keep your operations running smoothly.

Improving Visibility

At a high level, a centralized and automated EHS solution for managing hazards, incidents, inspections and sustainability information pulls together the data necessary to monitor trends and gain a true picture of risk across the organization. It can monitor regulatory and policy requirements, permits and associated tasks in a simple compliance calendar by location, while also building and maintaining a library of legal, regulatory and reporting obligations. This holistic, connected approach encourages company-wide engagement to ensure regulatory compliance and employee welfare is being managed and achieved at all levels.

One of the biggest differences between companies with a comprehensive, single point EHS software solution versus those companies clinging to older or outdated EHS management methods — like spread sheets, or cobbling together a disparate number of solutions — is visibility. At the center of any effective EHS software solution are people, and a good EHS system shares the responsibility for EHS with employees at every level. Instead of being the sole responsibility of a single manager or department, it involves all employees to provide deeper insight into every department in every facility.

Of course, that is easier said than done. To achieve that level of involvement, the EHS software must be simple and engaging or else employees won’t take the steps necessary to input data, and that greater level of visibility won’t be there. 

Some companies spend years and hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants and software to implement EHS systems that end-up failing to meet even the most basic objectives. This is because the complicated programs that are too complex to implement only deter worker usage and data input. And without this critical EHS information, the program becomes essentially useless. Luckily, with the development of mobile and cloud solutions, great EHS solutions can be implemented quickly, cheaply and effectively across the entire organization.

Many EHS management software vendors are beginning to introduce platforms that aggregate data from multiple workflows, including incident reporting, near miss data, safety processes and environmental spills. By placing all this data into a single solution, companies have better, more complete information to make risk management decisions. This approach helps industries with complex working environments, like manufacturing, view the organizational safety culture as a whole.

Improved Business Performance

While EHS management systems can help companies stay in line with regulations and prevent safety incidents, the real benefit of a comprehensive solution comes from leveraging safety and sustainability data to move beyond compliance and turn EHS management into a business asset. As discussed above, a good system brings together data from all levels of the organization and makes it available in real-time so leaders have access to the information they need to make the best decisions. This means, that best practices can be identified and shared across facilities faster. Additionally, critical issues to safety and production once identified in one location can be shared instantly across the organization, insuring new learnings and/or corrective actions are not kept in a silo.

Outside of non-compliance penalties, workplace injuries and deaths can significantly impact a company’s bottom line. While it’s impossible to place a value on a person’s health, in many cases injury compensation can result in substantial cost impacts and business disruptions. According to the 2016 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, nonfatal workplace injuries account for nearly $62 billion in direct U.S. workers compensation costs. Factor in any additional indirect costs due to lost productivity, and suddenly companies are looking at an expensive situation that could have been avoided had a safety management program and EHS software been in place.

Traditionally used EHS management tools like spreadsheets and other in-house systems only take you so far when it comes to driving performance. These tools often lack the ability to deliver comprehensive, real-time information in an easy-to-analyze format. They are also resource intensive, increase the time needed to collect and format data, and are prone to data errors and version management concerns. The real value of today’s EHS software is that it enables users to quickly collect and analyze information in a cost-effective way that makes everyone smarter.

A Final Word

Many companies struggle with keeping up with the complex and constantly changing regulatory landscape. However, staying in compliance is becoming even more critical considering the steps OSHA has taken to strengthen its enforcement. Most recently, OSHA was granted approval to enforce higher fines and more rigorous penalties to employers who willfully lie or mislead inspectors about matters related to employee safety. With an agreement between the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) which now prioritizes the prosecution of individuals involved in serious OSH Act violations — including worker endangerment crimes — EHS management just got personal.

Whether it’s to control risk, gain visibility, improve performance or all of the above, EHS management solutions are now, and will be going forward, an important resource in driving results in the manufacturing industry.   

Matt Airhart is a vice president of VelocityEHS.