Suite Solution

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. ( 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 them.

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 available?

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 features?

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 tools?

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 of things.

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, as well?

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 safety training.

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 & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the November 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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