By Zach Pucillo
We live in an age of real-time, data-fueled dashboards that help business leaders make forward-looking decisions—in some industries. In the world of environmental health and safety (EHS), though, the reality is that many organizations still rely on spreadsheets and binders full of outdated information.
If that describes your organization, I’ve got two pieces of good news for you: first, transitioning to an EHS culture focused on prevention and mitigation can keep your workers safer and save your organization money on insurance premiums, citations, and fines.
Second, there is software specifically designed for EHS that makes that transition feasible for any organization.
Here’s a practical look at what it takes to shift to a preventive EHS program.
Track Leading (Not Lagging) Indicators
Common EHS metrics include DART (Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred) rate and incidence rates—both measures that tell you what has already happened in your organization.
While lagging metrics are valuable for your insurance provider, they aren’t useful in preventing accidents and incidents that hurt employees. To do that, you have to track leading indicators: identification and mitigation of workplace hazards, completion of employee training, consistent and proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), modification of observed employee unsafe behaviors, etc.
That’s nearly impossible in a traditional EHS setup, where a single person is often responsible for monitoring and managing the safety of an entire facility.
To effectively shift to tracking leading indicators and therefore preventing and mitigating workplace accidents, organizations must implement a culture of safety, so that every employee is an active participant in maintaining organizational safety. Let’s look at how that can happen.
Make Everyone an Active Participant in Workplace Safety
When people who aren’t EHS professionals think of workplace safety, they typically imagine dangerous “stuff”: a frayed electrical cord that could spark a fire or a cluttered aisle that could trip someone.
In reality, the biggest single factor in a workplace’s safety is employee training. That’s because safety doesn’t happen behind a desk; it happens on the facility floor, when dozens or thousands of individual workers consistently make the best and safest choice possible. For example:
- Are employees using the right PPE for their work? Are they wearing that equipment properly?
- Do employees know when they need to use PPE?
- Can employees recognize something that’s not up to code, whether it’s behavior or physical surroundings? If so, do they know what action to take when they do?
- If something goes wrong, will employees know what steps to take, or will they have to wait for a manager’s instruction?
- Are chemical safety data sheets easily accessible?
An entire workforce doing small things every day to uphold workplace safety standards has a much bigger impact on a facility’s overall safety than any single policy or guideline can have.
This is borne out in the way OSHA compliance officers approach site visits. The first question they typically ask is whether the facility operator completes adequate employee training. If the answer is no, they’ll likely issue a citation.
So how can you provide employees adequate training?
The ideal system offers ongoing, role-specific, and in-context training. It also empowers employees to conduct random audits—e.g., by prompting them to take photos of their organized workspace that can be scanned and used as an example to others. Prebuilt digital inspection checklists, which an employee can use to inspect a specific area for safety hazards, are a great way to empower employees while training them at the same time.
Here’s how a best-case inspection scenario might look with adequate training:
An OSHA inspector asks to see the safety data sheet for the chemical an employee is handling. The employee takes out a smartphone, opens an application, searches for the chemical, and retrieves the requested sheet on the spot.
Digitize the System to Make it Easy
It’s one thing to recommend tracking leading indicators and implementing more robust employee training. It’s quite another to put those things into practice.
The only practical solution in most facilities is to digitize EHS systems so that they’re easily searchable, readily accessible, and designed to automate as much compliance work as possible. In other words, to adopt some of the custom-built EHS software I mentioned above.
But choosing software can be a daunting task. Facility managers looking to accomplish what I’ve outlined here should look for software that can do all of the following:
- Offer training modules designed specifically for various employee roles.
- Make those modules readily accessible and easy to complete (e.g., from a smartphone).
- Empower random audits from on-the-floor employees.
- Create a closed-loop system for hazard identification and mitigation.
- House an electronic chemical inventory with accompanying SDS availability.
- Generate OSHA 300 logs automatically.
- Indicate when an incident has been recorded, whether it’s reportable, and in what timeframe.
- Spot potentially problematic trends and make recommendations to mitigate the likelihood of future incidents.
- Facilitate mock inspections so facility managers can get a sense of where they’d stand if OSHA visited (and address any problem areas before they cause actual problems).
Of course, even the best software isn’t a magic cure-all. For meaningful results, employees need to adopt it and use it on a regular basis. That means they’ll require software-specific training and messaging from leadership about its benefits.
Data + Culture = A Safer Workplace
The information you already have about your workplace and employees is the information you need to mitigate future accidents. The two-pronged secret to making that happen is, first, finding a system that translates your data into actionable insights, and, second, cultivating a workplace environment where everyone is an active participant in improving employee health and safety.
By doing those two things, you can prevent incidents and accidents that would otherwise hurt your most precious assets, your employees. This, in turn, can translate to not only happier and healthier workers but also cost savings and less down time—i.e., many of the key ingredients for sustained growth.
Pucillo is a district supervisor at KPA, an Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) and workforce compliance software and services provider for mid-sized businesses. Its all-in-one EHS and workforce compliance software platform, Vera Suite, helps organizations maintain worker safety, streamline workplace compliance operations, and manage risk. KPA’s consulting field team is located throughout the U.S. and performs over 20,000 onsite audits annually across all 50 States, Puerto Rico, and Canada.