5 Underestimated EHS Software Features
Instead of writing a post on the most important EHS software features and capabilities, we will highlight five that are underestimated and that deserve their place in the sun. These features are important, but they’re not getting as much attention as they deserve.
1) Management of Change
Let’s start by clarifying “Management of Change” (MOC). There are two different types of MOC. First, OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard defines 14 elements that are part of a PSM plan. MOC is one of them (paragraph (l) of the standard). Second, MOC is used in a more general context, not just defined within the scope of PSM, and applies to any type of change, whether a change in people, processes, equipment or products. It’s the second type that we’re talking about.
Any type of change can potentially create a risk of an adverse event, such as a worker injury or an environmental incident. To reduce the risk of incidents, a change introduced in the workplace has to be properly managed through workflows that track approvals, validations and notifications. The appropriate approvers must review the change, assess whether there are risks of incidents, identify steps to mitigate potential risks, and make sure that all affected personnel are notified. Managing change requests and checklists manually is time-consuming, and introduces the risk of human error. The use of a Management of Change software solution is a better approach.
Changes can introduce potential risks of non-compliance, operational inefficiencies, workplace incidents, and equipment failures. An EHS software platform that includes MOC functionality can help to mitigate these risks.
2) Contractor Safety
Organizations that use contractors have responsibility for the safety of contracted workers as much as their own workers. Also, the safety performance of a contractor has a direct impact on the safety performance of the contracting organization. The result is that any incident or safety management system should ideally include functionality for contractor safety.
What are the practical uses of a module for contractor safety? First, contractors can report incidents, near misses and observations in the same EHS software platform used by the contracting firm. This also applies to a mobile safety app. Second, the EHS software platform would distinguish between data entered by contractors and data entered by the contracting organization. This allows safety performance to be measured in general, for the contracting organization only, and for each individual contractor. Third, contractors can be benchmarked for safety performance based on incidents or other metrics, which allows organizations to evaluate contractors for future projects.
There are other uses of a contractor safety application, such as getting contractors to acknowledge company safety policies, and storing documents submitted by contractors about their safety performance. The growing use of contractors is a reality for many companies today, and it’s a reality that must be reflected by the EHS software system.
3) Data Quality Checks
For asset-intensive industries (e.g. petroleum refineries) that have to measure air emissions to comply with air quality regulations or improve environmental performance, there can be millions of air emissions data records to capture in total, at the facility level and all the way down to each equipment. Unfortunately, the more data that is collected, the greater the risk of inaccuracies and data quality issues. For many processes, such as air emissions calculations, data collection and data quality must go together. It’s not enough to collect large quantities of data. There must also be validations and checks to make sure that data is accurate before being processed for calculations, reporting, etc.
There are many ways to perform data quality checks on air emissions data or other types of data. For example, the distribution of data values can be checked to see if there are any outliers that may be anomalies as opposed to correct values. Also, data ranges can be verified to ensure that they correspond to what is expected based on historical values or best judgment.
With millions of data records, manually checking for data quality is not an option. The EHS software system must include data quality checks that automatically go through all data records to flag those that may require extra validation.
4) Objective-Driven User Interface
When most people think about different user interfaces (UI), they think about dashboards for executives and managers, and different screens based on access rights (read-only, edit, etc.). These types of UI are common in EHS software, and we will soon reach a point where they are taken for granted by EHS software buyers. But EHS software buyers must move beyond their traditional expectations regarding UI. They must learn to appreciate the value of a sophisticated, objective-driven UI because it increases productivity and promotes user adoption.
An objective-driven UI goes beyond dashboards and different screens based on access rights. It shows metrics, information and tasks directly pertinent to the objectives a user wants to achieve, and supports multiple domain-specific objectives (e.g. environmental compliance, occupational health and safety, process safety, product stewardship, etc.). It doesn’t prevent a user from accessing other information, but rather provides the option of seeing only what they need to know. For example, a compliance manager would see the progress on audits that need to be completed, while a safety manager would see the number of workplace incidents and be able to report new ones with just a few clicks.
5) Mobile Tasks and Action Plans
The use of EHS mobile apps is growing, and there is a greater awareness of their benefits among EHS software buyers. Mobile apps allow workers to report incidents in the field, receive safety alerts in real-time, and conduct audits and inspections from anywhere. These features are not underestimated and their value is increasingly recognized. Rather, it is what happens in the aftermath that people must take into account.
An incident or near miss, or the findings of an audit or inspection, can bring to light new hazards or opportunities for improvement. Discovering new information is only the beginning. What is done with the information matters more, which is why corrective and preventive action plans are important. EHS mobile apps can contribute to improve action plans by allowing users to create and assign tasks on the go, receive details of tasks assigned to them, and complete and close tasks.
Many workers will not be in front of a computer for most of the day. But they will have their mobile devices and check them regularly. Having access to tasks directly from mobile devices can help to improve the management of action plans and ensure their successful completion.
There are more underestimated features and capabilities, but these five deserve attention. If you’re in an EHS software selection process, be sure to assess whether these features are important for you, and to include them in your evaluation criteria.
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