Maintaining records, integrating data, and tracking trends, this Web-based management tool is no mere electronic filing cabinet.
Editor's note: All but gone are the days of EH&S consultants' reports
being delivered in three-ring binders with accompanying Polaroid prints.
Instead, consulting firms such as Kansas City, Mo.-based OCCU-TEC Inc. (www.occutec.com) are delivering
data in "living documents" that are easy to maintain, always up to date, and
available 24/7 from any computer that has online access. OCCU-TEC President
Skuli Gudmundsson discussed this transition and how his company employs a
Web-based management tool called AutoTrak™ in an August 31, 2005, conversation
with Occupational Health & Safety's managing editor. Excerpts from
the conversation follow.
What kind of consulting firm is OCCU-TEC?
Skuli Gudmundsson: We do consulting in occupational safety and health and
environmental protection. We do the standard consulting, and then we've added a
host of what we think are unique products, with the AutoTrak suite being one of
In a nutshell, what is AutoTrak?
Gudmundsson: It's a suite of electronic databases that enable companies
to collectively access and update their EH&S programs on a real-time basis,
24/7, via the convenience of the Internet.
There seem to be many Web-based, "paperless" management tools on the market
now that are essentially programs that tie together a company's MSDS or worker's
comp databases with their occupational and environmental health & safety
databases. How does AutoTrak go beyond this capability or differ from the others
Gudmundsson: Not only does AutoTrak fully integrate the management of key
environmental programs such as asbestos, lead, indoor air quality, and hazardous
waste with key safety programs such as electrical safety (lockout/tagout),
machine guarding, confined space entry, PPE, and MSDS, but it also integrates industrial hygiene
program data to assess worker exposure hazards and employee training records. It
also provides critical back-office management functions, including the ability
to generate sophisticated data reports, CAD drawings, project specifications,
regulatory notifications, warning labels and signs, and tracks training
schedules and records.
By using AutoTrak as our internal client data management system, we are able
to manage and deliver client data much faster and in much richer formats than
our competitors, which is a huge customer service issue.
What do you mean by "much richer formats"?
Gudmundsson: What we have managed to do is to totally integrate a suite
of these programs and then at the same time allow the client, through the
building of a homepage, to attach or link to that homepage their own internal
documents--safety policies, procedures, work practices, and those kinds of
things--so they will have basically in one location access to all of their
pertinent safety information.
Other Web-based management tools don't allow those types of
Gudmundsson: I'm not familiar with all of them, but I don't think I've
seen the concept that we're trying to set up, which is to create a homepage
that's accessible from anywhere, through the Web, that has our programs on it
and also allows clients to link their own, if you will. It creates kind of a
"safety central". . . . The distinction here is this is not an electronic filing
cabinet. What these are, are interactive databases that you can query for
information. With the machine guarding database in AutoTrak, for instance, we
set up a hazard matrix--it's based on severity and frequency--and we will assign
a number based on the hazard. And then the client can then say, "OK, give me all
the high-hazard locations," and that's what they'll work on, putting the machine
guarding program into place, and then go on to the second-tier, third-tier,
fourth-tier hazard locations, and so forth.
With the confined space database, for another example, AutoTrak will manage
the confined space entry program for a client by determining whether the space
is a confined space and then whether it's a permit-required confined space. And
then, when a person needs to enter a space, it'll issue the work permit, it'll
track it, it'll keep the records. . . . So, it becomes much more than a hosting
program for data. It's really an interactive database.
With that kind of multi-functionality, is it safe to say AutoTrak is a
comparatively "higher-end" system than most other Web-based management
Gudmundsson: We don't sell just the database. What we do is, we perform
the work and deliver the work product in the database format. These are not
standard, off-the-shelf databases that you populate yourself. When we do, say, a
lockout/tagout survey for a client, we go out, we perform the survey, we provide
the data to the client in this format, and we let them know when their data has
been uploaded, and they simply access their data through the Web from anywhere.
And from that point on, they can look at it, they can print reports, they can
prioritize risk, and things of that nature.
So while it's not an off-the-shelf product, it is how we deliver our end
product. In the old days, we delivered three-ring binders and a bunch of
Polaroids, and what we've found over years is those programs are very difficult
to maintain. The data when something changes in the field isn't brought back to
the master document, it isn't updated, the data integrity starts to suffer, and
eventually people throw it away and start over. So what we have created is a
series of what we call "living documents" that are easy to maintain, always up
to date, and are never going to lose their integrity and cause our clients to
start over. And we have built into those programs some of the key features that
are needed to manage the program from a safety or environmental management
standpoint, whether it's for OSHA programs or asbestos, lead, mold, those kinds
Many of our readers are in small safety departments--many, in fact, are
safety departments of one--with the associated resource limitations. How does
AutoTrak compare from a cost perspective?
Gudmundsson: This is really no more expensive than us coming out, doing a
survey, and giving you a paper product. . . . Mostly what we do is charge for
our time on site to do the work, but the benefit of getting our end product in a
database format as opposed to just a three-ring binder is enormous, because then
they have a living document, as we say, to work with, and they can then take it
and drive it from that point forward. So it is not expensive at all. With the
one-person example you use, they're busy maintaining the day-to-day program,
and, oftentimes, they don't have a chance to say, "OK, we'll take a week out and
do a lockout/tagout survey of the entire plant." They just can't do that. So,
they'll hire us to do that, and then we turn the program over to them.
Is AutoTrak used as a predictive tool? Is it capable not only of tracking
various occupational and environmental exposures, but also of preventing them,
Gudmundsson: It does when used to proactively track and respond to trends
such as elevated IH monitoring data to certain worker exposure hazards. Once the
trend is spotted, then the EH&S or safety manager can take action to
redirect the trend toward normalcy by implementing appropriate administrative or
engineering controls, modifications to assigned PPE, and/or additional employee
So the system is intended primarily for companies that have seasoned EH&S
or safety managers?
Gudmundsson: Because of its highly simplified, read-only format and
navigability, AutoTrak easily accommodates the seasoned EH&S professional as
well as the casual, non-professional end user. And if there is a problem, the
system help buttons are plentiful, informative, and easy to understand.
Being a Web-based system, are the latest governmental initiatives available
as immediate/continual updates? Is the program based primarily on regulatory
requirements, or does it also include things such as best practices?
Gudmundsson: In actuality, AutoTrak is built probably more as a business
EH&S program management tool than a regulatory compliance tool, per se. In
other words, AutoTrak is not necessarily an audit tool that determines
compliance or non-compliance with explicit facets of regulations, but rather it
allows companies to comply with more broad EH&S regulatory requirements
while maximizing efficiencies and minimizing costs due to effective, proactive
EH&S program management.
For example, by using AutoTrak to track asbestos containing materials in its
buildings, a university will not only be able to comply with federal EPA,
NESHAPS, and OSHA regulations if any of the ACM must be disturbed as part of a
planned renovation, but it can also eliminate the cost to perform an asbestos
survey or bulk sampling to determine if any ACMs exist in the affected space if
that information is already available, and substantially shrinking the timeframe
by which to obtain this information, produce the ACM abatement project
specification and drawings and get the ACM abatement project out to bid and
completed. All of which will save the university time and money.
Using AutoTrak to store such information--ACM data, along with other
potentially sensitive things like facility blueprints, other building diagrams,
and survey or inspection results--it would seem the program's security features
would be all-important. What sort of security features does it use?
Gudmundsson: OCCU-TEC maintains an integrated series of security measures
designed to protect the integrity and security of its clients' AutoTrak data,
including password protection and secured file server storage, which further
includes firewall protection, routine and redundant data backups, etc. As a
measure to further increase security protection, OCCU-TEC outsources its file
server housing and physical security to a professional server management
company. . . .
What we are trying to do as a company is to really improve safety and health
through the use of technology, and this is one way to do that. It's certainly
the way of the future, in our estimation.
This column appeared in the November 2005 issue of Occupational Health
This article originally appeared in the November 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.