Sometimes it's a real advantage to have been in this business for so long.

What all that time has given me is perspective. I've been around long enough to know where we started in terms of EHS Records and Information Management (RIM) and how things have evolved. Just how long have I been at this? Well, let's just put it this way: the first dashboard I ever saw was the one my head bounced off because the car didn't have (or require) seat belts.

And, no, I'm not here to get all wistful and nostalgic about the olden days of EHS data collection and analysis. I bring it up because we really have come a long way with these fabulous – and I do mean fabulous – tools we have available. Our work is made easier, and our colleagues are safer, because we have software that helps us avoid assumptions and estimates and gives us cold, hard facts instead.

These days, just about everyone carries around a mobile device that is capable of recording and communicating safety info in real time. Anyone one the shop floor can use apps in their decision-making process, store the results in the cloud, and interface it with the rest of the organization's ERP or business intelligence systems.

That puts us far ahead of the curve in terms of using data both actively and reactively.

In this article, we'll talk about managing these digital tools to optimize worker safety and provide greater insight into business operations.

Two Sides of the System

There are two sides to managing safety software: the business side and the technical program side.

Having worked on both sides of ERP installs, I can say that the successes were due to an understanding of the relationship between the two. And the wrecks? Well, they were most often caused by the business side not understanding what the technical people were doing or were capable of doing.

If you're on the business side, you need to work closely with the people on the technical end because they're the ones who are building the tools you'll be using. And good safety software management starts by making sure you have the right features and that you know exactly what they do.

What You Need to Manage

So, what do you need to manage when it comes to implementing an EHS system?

Here's a partial list from a Gantt chart for an EHS ERP system install I was involved in. The EHS manager’s roles and responsibilities included:

  • Relationships: Building and maintaining a positive and transparent relationship with the technical side, internally and externally
  • EHS Risk: Understanding the aspects and impacts of the system on the business success of the organization, including data entry and reporting
  • Communication: A critical path subject, and one that requires the EHS manager to follow a communication and a RIM model
  • Leadership: Of the build, the testing, the install, and the go-live
  • Compliance: With applicable regulations, standards, and codes
  • Performance and System Evaluation: Does the system work as advertised? Does it integrate with your other systems? Are support services and upgrades available?
  • Cost and Cost-Benefit: To the organization and clients, the supply chain, the value chains, and yes, society
  • Workflow: Another performance aspect, and one that is critical to end-user acceptance and participation in the process
  • Education: Of the software supplier, the organization's senior managers, the users, and the customers
  • Finance: Budgeting, payroll, forecasting, and planning
  • Human Resources: Hiring, placement, claims, and return to work
  • Integration: Of the system into the organization's EHS culture, quality systems, business intelligence (BI) systems, and overall management system (including links into its mission, vison, and values)
  • Data Entry and Integrity: Ensuring that data entry, apps, and web-enabled user interfaces are being used, and are performing to spec
  • SMT and Board Satisfaction: Ensuring accessible real-time reporting features are available and working
  • Security: Internal, external, and real time – 99% of EHS data is not only private, but personal and confidential, including medical and investigation information
  • Software Features: Smart forms, closed loop tracking, alerts, flags, and use of existing login credentials, clearance levels, and layered access
  • Scheduling and Process Flow: For issues, upgrades, shut-downs, test versions

That's quite a list, and one that omits a lot of the fine-grained details, too. But please, don’t be intimidated. Regardless of your definition of what management is or means, and what a manager can and cannot do, remember that there is always a team of experts ready to provide services and support.

That's why it's important to work with a good software company. Their input and assistance will be invaluable during and after the implementation process.

(For related reading, see Don't Get Blinded by the Big Fish: How to Overcome Pushback from Upper Management When Acquiring EHS Software.)

Closing Thoughts

Managers have a tremendous responsibility in an organization. Their decision-making and the span of their control impacts daily operations at all levels. Making sure your company has the proper tools in place makes the job of managing far more efficient, especially when it comes to EHS.

These next generation products are a critical element to business success. They're no longer optional extras. The real-time responsivity they give you is priceless, and getting your workforce engaged through their mobile devices is a must have.

Historically, EHS has been all about planning for the worst and being prepared to react quickly in order to control and remediate an incident. It's not that safety professionals didn't want to be proactive and work to prevent incidents instead of responding to them; it's that this kind of prevention requires a lot of knowledge and information. Unfortunately, the data we had available was quite limited in scope.

Software that allows us to gather and track events, report them immediately, gather worker input, and analyze performance in real time have changed the game. We're no longer just planning – prevention is now the norm.