Using Software to Unlock Your Health & Safety Potential

Looking at most "world class" health and safety organizations, technology plays a vital role in their success. They view software as one of many tools, not the sole solution.

In today's technology-driven world, many aspects of an organization can be managed better by people using software. We have seen it in the HR arena with the introduction of payroll and performance management systems. In the training space, learning management systems now drive training compliance. And safety and health is also starting to make the turn into technology.

More organizations are abandoning their outdated, paper-based health and safety management systems and purchase software to reach their true, leading indicator-based health and safety potential. However, the biggest mistake organizations can make is to believe that by a flip of the switch, health and safety software will solve all issues. Purchasing software is the easy part of the decision. But does your organization have the culture (and patience) to support this transition?

There are some steps an organization can take prior to and during the software implementation to put themselves in better position to succeed with this investment.

Designate a Beta Location
Designating a beta location—an individual, group, or branch that acts as the first adopter—is a crucial first step for future organizational-wide software utilization success. Organizations with designated beta locations quickly learn that software is not only a health and safety management tool, but also it can drive improvement in their current health and safety processes. It also helps to create software subject matter experts (SMEs) within the organization; that is essential in training new users as user sites expand, as new employees come on board, and for future sustainability.

Beta test locations should:

  • Identify goals for software utilization and establish milestones so expectations can clearly be communicated to all future users at roll-out.
  • Examine existing EHS Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), identify improvements, and make changes to processes and procedures that incorporate the software capabilities.
  • Develop training curricula that teach users about functionality and lay out expectations on when to engage the software.
  • o Ensure that you have different version of curriculum based on user permissions.

    o Focus only on the functionality you will utilize, not the capabilities of the whole system.

  • Conduct situational exercises to map workflow through the software. Determine what needs to happen to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Develop detailed roll-out plans that include training dates and a list of designated internal SMEs.
  • Develop future training teams to be dispatched to other locations/departments.
  • Assist executive leadership with understanding the benefits of the software and outline the level of support needed to ensure software success.
  • Conduct periodic surveys of user groups to determine whether changes to the software workflow (or safety processes or procedures) are needed both during the beta test phase and periodically for all locations throughout the life of the software use.

Get Executive Leadership Buy-In/Support
Without executive leadership buy-in or support, any effort to successfully roll out software organization-wide is futile. With any introduction of a new process, procedure, or tool, "top down" and support messaging must occur. In our experience, the likelihood of failure increases if an initiative is promoted only by a certain department (e.g., EHS, HR, etc.).

Executive leadership should:

  • Send written or electronic correspondence to all employees reaffirming their support for EHS activities to ensure that their organization remains a safe and healthy workplace ("Safety Statement").
  • Send separate correspondence to middle and senior-level management about expectations to promote and maintain a safe and healthy workplace for their employees, require all levels of management to be active participants in health and safety management, and encourage accountability for established EHS goals and benchmarks.
  • Dedicate time in all management-level meetings to discuss safety and health, activities, and results.
  • Give authority to EHS professionals or designated safety liaisons for all health and safety matters.
  • Initiate discussions with internal teams to incorporate leading indicator-based performance metrics into employee and management evaluations (e.g., observation reporting, near miss reports in less than 48 hours, overall employee utilization at each site, time of training completion averages).
  • o All incentive and performance evaluation should avoid lagging indicators (Days Since Last Recordable, DART rate, Incidence Rate, Days Since Last Injury, etc.). Bottom line: have no performance metric that discourages reporting. That is why world class health and safety organizations use leading indicators . . . because they promote reporting.

'Spoon Feed' the Base
Organizations that gradually introduce software into their health and safety processes usually experience higher user retention and sustainability. In addition to slowly adding locations, you should slowly add functionality. For instance, when a location has been designated to start using the software, avoid requiring them to use every function at once. Focus on little pieces of software functionality and clearly communicate how, when, and why you want them to use it. Once they master that functionality and the organization starts seeing results (goals, benchmarks), introduce additional functionality. It will build confidence to master the easy things first and, before long, they will become comfortable using software as part of their health and safety efforts.

Develop an Internal Marketing Plan
Employees who have ample time to prepare for changes tend to be more comfortable when those changes actually occur. Internal stakeholders should dispatch a series of correspondences and announcements that not only announce the future use of a new system (software), but also the benefits that will be realized. After full implementation, stakeholders should continue efforts to market the software's success to users and be transparent about what needs to improve.

Incorporate Software Utilization into Performance Evaluations:
A majority of the software users are front-line employees. They are simply instructed by management and other leadership that use of this tool is expected and they will be held accountable. However, management and other leadership must also be held accountable for ensuring that their direct reports are engaging the software to the organization’s expectations. Safety and health performance should be a part of each employee's performance evaluation, regardless of job description or level.

    Establish benchmarks for reporting (company-wide, location, departments, and individuals). Hold leadership, management, and employees accountable.
  • Avoid solely using lagging indicators as part of incentive-based programs (Days Since Last Injury, Days Since Last Recordable, etc.)
  • Incorporate leading-based indicators (percentage of employees submitting observations, near misses reported in less than 48 hours, higher "on time" training completion percentages).

Looking at most "world class" health and safety organizations, technology plays a vital role in their success. They view software as one of many tools, not the sole solution. They invest much time and energy not only in ensuring compliance, but also truly raising employee awareness on health and safety programs centered around leading indicators.

Reporting doesn’t happen just because you have software; a culture has to exist. Sure, it might be easier to report when you use software, but there will still be problems with non-reporting if the culture doesn’t reinforce activities. Focusing on building or improving your existing health and safety should start well before introducing technology into your processes. When you decide that the time is right for software, take the advice above to better position your organization for success.

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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