The Missing Link with EHS Software
There is a gap between digital transformation’s impact and how and organization deploys EHS tools.
- By David Natalizia
- Sep 01, 2022
Our world, both on the job and off, has been experiencing profound “digital transformation” in recent years, from the invention of smartphones, the dominance of social media and the ubiquity of apps to perform all types of functions in our lives. However, there remains a gap within digital transformation’s impact on how we work and, more importantly, how an organization deploys environmental, health and safety (EHS) tools to protect their workforce. While some organizations have deployed large-scale digital solutions for EHS and have achieved good levels of usage across their organizations, many continue to struggle with the disparate set of industry offerings and efforts to define a customized strategy for success.
As the EHS solutions landscape evolves and organizations re-evaluate current operations and procedures, they must pivot from leaning heavily on administrative specialists to handle data entry and electronic recordkeeping or “super users” to make enterprise systems work and instead focus on leveraging new nimble and intuitive platforms that are driven by a much broader cross-section of internal users and embraced as a regular tool by workers across levels and assignments. The move for most companies will be from feature-laden but unwieldy Swiss-Army-Knife platforms to more dynamic, interconnected offerings powered by a collective team to drive success. Ultimately, usability, interconnection and simplicity will differentiate the solutions that are truly resource-constrained embraced and those that add unneeded complexity.
External and Internal Safety Practices Drive the Need for EHS Software
Organizations are increasingly facing losses due to risk exposures, penalties due to health and safety offenses and growing workplace safety and training needs due to ongoing labor shortage issues. The need to protect the workforce and streamline labor and safety procedures has never been greater. Recent statistics from OSHA show that workers in transportation and material moving occupations and construction and extraction occupations accounted for nearly half of all fatal occupational injuries (47.4 percent), representing 1,282 and 976 workplace deaths, respectively.
The safety challenges of construction, manufacturing and energy companies are complex, and the industries are bifurcated by the resource-constrained and the resource-rich. Looking closer at the EHS software product offerings, companies have two major segments to choose from—large-scale high commitment firmwide integration solutions or small-scale one-off applications to solve individual challenges. However, with projections indicating the global EHS solutions market size will swell to $8.9 billion by 2026, the industry overall and potential uses of new entrant solutions are rapidly evolving to solve current demands.
Identifying Opportunities and Gaps Before Implementing New Measures
Enterprise solutions, as noted with large construction, manufacturing, energy and chemical companies, have a specific use audience and require robust budgets, people and time. However, these enterprise solutions are typically clunky, slow to change or adapt and hard to educate or train employees on proper use. On the other hand, smaller companies in other sectors without large budgets and resources are left with a collection of specialty applications to pick through.
This gap in the market can provide challenges for users when looking to properly implement and leverage across existing firmwide procedures and processes. However, as workers themselves become more connected, there is a real opportunity for organizations to take a hybrid approach as the industry continues to innovate.
As the industry increases its adoption of innovative technologies such as wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, there is a real opportunity for smaller and mid-size firms to improve the overall health and safety measures of their workplace through an interconnected approach. For instance, data from wearables already used by workers to indicate health stressors can be incorporated into broader EHS risk platforms to highlight capacity concerns, location risk or other workplace risk factors. The ability for platforms to be either data sources or data aggregators expands the potential power and customization. One only needs to look to the personal app category of health and fitness apps to see how interoperability has expanded the reach and power of these apps. And as firms also increase their use of IoT devices to track a range of environmental risks, they can also enhance their EHS platforms through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to predict maintenance needs which can mitigate the risk of future malfunction and potential workplace injury.
Each company’s needs are unique, and their approach to integrating EHS solutions will rely on reassessing and identifying gaps in current procedures and processes. However, once an organization understands how to combine customization, integration and access with cost efficiency, each company can then begin to drive a more digital and resilient EHS process. While the road ahead for EHS digital transformation is complex, companies can begin their journey by taking the following key steps:
Understand the current state and context. Know the size of the organization, its geographical reach, what technology is already in place and the benchmark solutions already being used by similar organizations. Consider how far down the path of digital solutions your organization has already gone.
Establish goals and objectives early. These cannot strictly be high-level goals; they must be actionable and differentiated so that the conditions of success and failure are known in advance. Think beyond “launch day” or “deliverables” to business impact over time. Consider how the platform will need to adapt over time.
Use elements of design thinking to guide the process. Consider what users and key stakeholders need to accomplish and what functions and business intelligence they do not have now that would increase performance or enable a higher volume or rate of production without increased risk exposures. Design thinking centers on optimizing solutions for needs and not swayed by what is expedient or has a lower up-front cost vs. benefits and value over a lifecycle.
Adapt, build, buy and partner. Strangely enough, some very large organizations that have developed customized internal systems for their own purposes have struggled just as much as smaller organizations that become frustrated in the search for off-the-shelf solutions. This is due in part to some sophisticated organizations mistaking their high levels of technical capability for what is a good fit to devote their precious internal resources. Whether software is built from scratch or bought ready-made, careful consideration of both the needed/desired functions and amount and type of support needed for implementation and ongoing updates and process improvement is a condition of success.
Once a partner is selected and adoption begins, companies must begin to focus on more tactical execution for use as well as measurement. To start, companies must form the right team—specifically with employees who will use the solution daily. Then, they must consider support personnel, IT experts and process specialists. It is crucial for an organization to take the time to establish a working team, approaches and communication. Once in place, organizations can shift quickly to the following steps:
Establish milestones and essential features and functions. Use the goals and objectives established as your guide and dig deeper into the details of what you need out of the platform and when, and what the difference is between essential and desired features.
Consider resources. Monetary considerations are a starting point, but also look at team availability and time, internal departments that may have implementation muscle and other systems that might be able to be tied in (such as spatial location, mapping, representation and business analytics and reporting software).
Bring in stakeholders at the start. Consider who will work with the system, who is needed to support it and who will benefit from the output and include them from the beginning. Get perspectives on what will make things smoother for them and what will benefit them in their role.
Testing. Consider the avenues available for testing a solution from sandbox environments, limited trials and parallel testing of multiple solutions. Establish evaluation criteria during the testing phase.
Measuring for success. When a solution is implemented, knowing what key results are desired in advance will help everyone understand the purpose of the effort and the reason it is important. Measuring the right things and allowing some latitude in emphasis and coverage on dashboards and analytics will improve an organization’s sense of success and guide continuous improvement.
Linking the Human Element with Digital Needs
Technology alone, be it traditional software, mobile applications or software as a service, will not be able to completely replace the human element needed for EHS success—and that’s not a drawback. The right involvement and use of the people in your organization can be facilitated by good digital solutions rather than replaced. At the same time, it is foolish to continue to expect people to perform tedious manual processes that automation can do better. These technologies are evolving before our eyes and should not be rejected reflexively or adopted blindly; rather careful consideration and integration is called for. Those who take the steps to think strategically and tactically about incorporating the range of emerging solutions into their organization can find new opportunities to develop organizational resilience.
This article originally appeared in the September 1, 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.