Do You Need A Safety Management System?
One of the biggest advantages is that it brings repeatability to safety operations. When processes are repeatable, they can be methodically improved.
- By Todd A. Brehe
- Jun 14, 2007
MANAGING workplace safety is an important goal that many corporations have recognized as a logical and effective way to provide a better working environment for employees and to cut corporate costs. A key component in safety management is the software system used to record, manage, and analyze safety-related data. With an effective system, the safety team can see exactly where accidents and unsafe situations are occurring and take proactive steps to eliminate them.
A safety system should not only standardize a company's safety operations, but also encourage accountability throughout the entire safety investigation process. In addition, it should seamlessly handle ever-expanding compliance requirements and be versatile enough to adapt as requirements change.
Different Approaches to Safety Management
Safety professionals use many systems and approaches to manage their day-to-day activities. Paper forms, Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, and single-purpose software applications are some of the ways safety data is recorded, accidents are investigated, and follow-up is performed. In some cases, the number of safety issues that require attention is low, making these systems adequate, though not very informative. When the volume of safety occurrences rises, however, and interaction among multiple people and departments is needed, more sophisticated safety systems should be considered.
Take the case of a large organization with multiple locations and safety staff throughout. Each safety team is tracking and managing a high volume of cases, but each location has a unique process for managing its safety issues. This scenario creates some challenges. For example, challenges that result from not having a common set of processes (i.e., no standardization) are the inability to:
• ensure compliance at all locations
• assess what's working and what isn't
• share information and collaborate effectively, and
• implement a system of ongoing improvement.
From an organizational perspective, if each site operates uniquely, capturing a clear picture of safety performance is complicated. Extracting useful intelligence from the data that can be used to make decisions is problematic, time-intensive, and ultimately ineffective. Keeping people accountable for their respective tasks requires ongoing effort, and it's more likely that important details will be missed. One of the most advantageous reasons any organization should implement a safety management system is that it brings repeatability to safety operations. When processes are repeatable, they can be methodically improved.
Benefits of a Comprehensive OHS&E Application
A truly comprehensive product will offer a variety of occupational health, safety, and environmental (OHS&E) capabilities in a single system. Data from one area (e.g., employee health/medical) should flow seamlessly to other areas (e.g., safety, case management, etc.) so as to reduce redundant data entry and improve data integrity. It should support geographically dispersed operations, yet be centrally managed.
A capable product will:
• standardize safety management so that all locations operate uniformly and repeatably
• Automate the safety investigation process
• encourage accountability
• enhance communication and sharing of appropriate data among supervisors, managers, safety professionals, medical staff, and others, and
• simplify compliance reporting.
What should the ideal product do? The ideal software product should help record data about:
• incidents, near misses, unsafe actions, and unsafe conditions
• root causes and causal factors that lead to workplace injuries, and
• injuries and accidents on the job--where they happen and why.
In addition to tracking safety data, the selected system should offer functionality to:
• assign and manage corrective actions
• conduct detailed accident investigations
• determine recordability of workplace injuries
• generate the OSHA 300, 300A, and 301 Logs and track incident rates
• help place employees in jobs suitable to their work restrictions
• develop Job Safety Analyses (JSAs, which are specific descriptions about how to perform a job-related task, any associated hazard, and suggested controls)
• analyze safety data to identify "safety hot spots" that need attention, and
• report on key safety metrics and trends.
To encourage staff member accountability, many systems offer configurable e-mail notification capabilities. E-mail notification works something like this: An employee is injured on the job and reports to occupational health. The medical team initiates the accident investigation process by sending an e-mail notification to the employee's supervisor. The supervisor then enters relevant information into the accident investigation form and submits to his manager for review. The supervisor's manager receives an e-mail notice to review the accident investigation report. He may accept or deny it. If accepted, an e-mail notification is sent to the safety professional notifying him that an investigation requires final review and analysis. If corrective actions are required, the safety manager could identify these actions and assign them accordingly.
If a staff member does not complete an assigned task or the process stalls, e-mail triggers may be set periodically to remind the responsible person or notify that person's direct supervisor.
OHSAS 18001 and JSAs
Occupational health and safety professionals may be interested in OHSAS 18001. The acronym stands for "Occupational Health & Safety Assessment Series"; it is a management system specification similar in nature to the ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 management system standards.
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Group (2002):
The OHSAS specification is applicable to any organization that wishes to:
• Establish an OH&S management system to eliminate or minimize risk to
employees and other interested parties who may be exposed to OH&S
risks associated with its activities
• Assure itself of its conformance with its stated OH&S policy
• Demonstrate such conformance to others
• Implement, maintain and continually improve an OH&S management
This specification outlines areas on which a company can focus to achieve a safer and healthier environment for employees. It clearly identifies worthwhile objectives for any organization.
The Maricopa County Government (2005) defines a JSA as:
A method that can be used to identify, analyze, and record:
• The steps involved in performing a specific job
• The existing or potential safety and health hazards associated with each step
• The recommended action(s)/procedure(s) that will eliminate or reduce these hazards and the risk of a workplace injury or illness.
If your organization wants to meet the OHSAS 18001 specification, developing JSAs would be a key part of that process. Many software solutions offer functionality to define JSAs for any job or task. In addition to helping you meet the requirements of a specification such as OHSAS 18001, JSAs can be used for employee training purposes.
Safety and other OHS&E solutions can range in price from $5,000 to $25,000 per license. There are many variables that determine the price of a software license, including:
• the platform (e.g., Windows-based, Web-based, Application Service Provider)
• number of sites and users
• the capabilities offered (e.g., medical, safety, industrial, environmental), and
• the technology used for development.
The ASP or "on-demand" software model provides an organization with a very efficient and quick way to deploy an OHS&E system without having to install hardware and software. This also eliminates the need for budgeting and scheduling information technology (IT) services typically required in a self-hosted model.
With an ASP service, the host company offers the "subscribing" organization a unique, secure copy of the OHS&E solution that it manages using a Web browser and an Internet connection. The host company essentially serves as an off-site IT department by installing, maintaining, upgrading, and supporting the application.
In many cases, ASP services are very competitive from a cost standpoint because the host company can achieve some economies of scale by offering the same solution to multiple organizations and can leverage its own expertise. ASP services usually involve a contract of 1-5 years and are paid in monthly increments with a minimum usage commitment.
Software Maintenance & Technical Support
Most software vendors offer software maintenance, which can include:
• technical support
• access to special support Web sites
• product updates and/or upgrades, and
• other benefits, such as online training, user group meetings, conferences, etc.
Pricing for software maintenance is billed as a percentage of the license fees--10-20 percent is common--or at a fixed rate. ASP services often include software maintenance.
Training is always recommended, no matter what type of OHS&E solution an organization decides to use. The more comprehensive solutions will require administrator and end-user training. Training services vary in price depending on:
• the number of people requiring training
• where the training is delivered (on site or off site)
• the skill level of the trainees, and
• the degree of flexibility in work schedules to accommodate training sessions.
Technical Assistance & Implementation Services
For more comprehensive OHS&E solutions, the organization may require technical assistance to install and configure the various hardware and software pieces. Implementation and project management services are often required in order to ensure the software deployment is successful and are billed on either a project or a time and materials (T&M) basis.
To simplify and manage your organization's safety operations, identify and eliminate dangerous situations, and make your job sites safer, consider an integrated safety management application. A versatile system will help safety professionals perform their daily duties more efficiently and give them the information they need to make sound decisions that ultimately improve employee health.
For related information, please visit the following Web sites:
1. Maricopa County Government. (March 16, 2005). Job Safety Analysis (JSA). Retrieved Dec. 12, 2006, from www.maricopa.gov/safety/jsa_description.asp.
2. The Occupational Health and Safety Group. (2002). Benefits-How Can OHSAS Help? Retrieved Dec. 13, 2006, from www.ohsas-18001-occupational-health-and-safety.com/how.htm.
This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.