EH&S Compliance and Action Tracking
Using e-mail as the "process tracking system" for EH&S program processes is not your best bet.
- By Jacob Ukelson
- Oct 02, 2009
A key aspect of any EH&S compliance program
is to make sure that for every documented
problem, all steps taken to correct
the problem are also documented. It does
not matter whether the problem arose as a result of
an incident report or as a result of an audit; managing,
tracking, and documenting the steps taken to handle
and correct the problem are just as important as solving
Given that, what tools are out there for tracking
and documenting all of the actions that took place to
resolve the problem?
The straightforward answer is an EH&S management
system, but in reality, that is only a partial answer.
Even if you do have one, most of the tools for
supporting EH&S compliance focus on providing
support for procedures and guidelines, planning, and
documentation. All of these are very important aspects
of EH&S compliance, but many of them lack adequate
support for the tracking and documenting of
the resulting work processes. The processes involved
in this type of work are collaborative, ad hoc, unstructured
human processes, which means these processes
do not have a predefined flow, or a fixed set of participants,
but rather are handled on a case-by-case basis.
People are added to the process flow as needed,
and there is a lot of back and forth between the participants.
Even companies that use EH&S management
systems revert to shadow processes outside the
regular EH&S systems, which rely on spreadsheets,
word documents, and plain old e-mail as the tools
for follow-up and tracking these human processes. Of
course, companies that do not have an EH&S management
system have plain old email, documents, and
spreadsheets as their only choice in tools for managing
EH&S compliance programs.
The problem with using e-mail as the "process
tracking system" for EH&S program processes is that
e-mail really is not designed for tracking and process
Various tools are available that attempt to help
with tracking and managing the actions associated
with unstructured, ad-hoc human processes. These
tools can be divided into three basic types:
1. Basic personal action tracking tools
2. Web-based social collaboration tools, such as
3. E-mail and office document process extensions,
such as Human Process Management Systems
The basic personal action tracking tools are the
easiest to get started with, but they also provide the
Wiki-based tools are closer to a real solution because
they enable participants in the process to collaborate
through a wiki, rather than through e-mail.
The wiki provides everyone involved in the process a
shared space where they can collaborate with the rest
of the participants. Th is approach requires wiki infrastructure,
which is not a problem if your organization
supports wikis or if you are allowed to use existing
cloud-based wikis. The bigger problem is that wikis
really are not built to support process flows (they tend
to use e-mail for that), and they require a cultural shift
from both the organization and the participants.
The final set of tools is an emerging technology
called e-mail based Human Process Management Systems
(HPMS). These tools provide a layer on top of
plain, old e-mail and documents that allows participants
to remain in their standard e-mail and documents
environment but provide process e-mail capability.
This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
About the Author
Jacob Ukelson is the CTO of ActionBase.