Protecting employees across global operations is a major priority for businesses worldwide. Complying with rigorous, ever-evolving EHS regulations presents an ongoing challenge. For example, as of January 2015 OSHA increased pressure on U.S.-based businesses regarding reporting of workplace incidents. The new OSHA requirements include reporting work-related fatalities within 8 hours and a newly defined set of severe work-related injuries within 24 hours.
Businesses must be ready to adapt to new regulations and have the systems and processes in place to ensure compliance. EHS information management software can play a significant role in helping companies comply with regulations and address risks as part of a broader program of strengthening EHS management and employee engagement.
Climbing the Steep Hill to Compliance
Some 4,405 fatal workplace injuries occurred in the United States in 2013. While this figure is down by 25 percent from a decade ago, there clearly is some way to go if we are to reach a near-zero level of workplace fatalities. According to OSHA’s 2014 review of its workplace inspections, U.S.-based companies could most benefit from improving hazard communication, respiratory protection, powered industrial trucks, machine guarding and electrical.
Fines for non-compliance can run into millions of dollars in severe cases, with the highest-ever penalty of $81 million issued to BP North America in 2009. Jail time also is a possible risk for a company’s signing authorities, in the event of serious non-compliance and/or inaccurate reporting data.
Demand Grows for EHS Management Software
As companies strive to comply with OSHA requirements and improve their EHS track records, many are opting for modern tools such as management software. Complying with regulations has been a major driver in the United States since the mid-1990s.
The rising prominence of sustainability reporting over the past five years also has driven significant growth in corporate investment in EHS management software platforms, according to the Verdantix 2014 Green Quadrant Environment Health & Safety (EHS) Report. The report reveals that investment in data management systems now is the fastest growing area of companies’ EHS spending.
There now are more software options available, with more providers developing cost-effective EHS-specific products and rapidly innovating in-line with business requirements. Some providers offer value propositions that go beyond compliance to help companies proactively address EHS issues.
There is an increasing interest in integrated software solutions for sustainability and EHS management. In addition to complying with key legislation, organizations typically are looking to improve transparency and accuracy of data. They also are keen to save time, reduce duplication and improve accountability by moving away from using Excel spreadsheets and common, in-house built systems.
To get the job done effectively, companies want a simple interface with powerful reporting capabilities, with a solution that is adaptable and configurable.
OSHA Compliance with Software
EHS and compliance management software helps companies improve their management and OSHA compliance by:
Streamlining data collection – Collecting data is the starting point of any reporting system. Software can help by enabling companies to log environment, health and safety, security and quality incidents against a predefined set of criteria, using intuitive online and offline forms. This helps collect information in a specific way that is aligned with relevant regulations. Incidents automatically can be picked up and escalated by relevant users. A comprehensive system allows companies to be flexible in the data they collect, helping them rapidly respond to new standards and regulations in reporting.
Boosting accountability, managing and analyzing incidents – Once data has been collected, acting on it is vital. Software enables companies to manage cases so that they are progressed through a predefined workflow to successful “close out,” with the option to trigger automatic email alerts. A comprehensive EHS and compliance software platform gives companies a central location to consistently log incidents, assign corrective actions, analyze underlying causes and report on incident rates. Meanwhile, document management functionality ensures that all policy documents are stored centrally with a full history of downloads and updates.
Improving reporting efficiency – Software streamlines reporting by making it easier to track and store all EHS information in an integrated and centralized system. Information easily can be tagged for inclusion in either an OSHA log or a sustainability report. To increase efficiency, more and more companies are opting to include OSHA compliance, EHS information and risk management activities in a single system that then powers all their external reporting and communications.
Logging data on the move – Using mobile applications to improve EHS management and reporting also is increasingly popular and useful, with many companies using dedicated and integrated iOS apps for incident management, allowing employees to log observations or incident reports on the go. Apps should provide offline support in case the user doesn’t have a data connection. Tasks and actions can be added and completed on the move, and the information is synced with the centralized database when next online.
Moving Beyond Compliance
In the last 10 years, major organizations have upped their game on EHS. By increasingly focusing their EHS strategies on operational risk and improving business performance, they are prompting software suppliers to develop functionality to help them go beyond compliance and track areas such as incident management, performance analysis and management of change.
Many companies are using risk management tools to maintain a central risk register, plan and manage mitigation measures. Visual reports, such as an integrated risk heat map can provide simplified, easy-to-understand overviews of risk areas across their organization. This complements existing incident management reports, providing a way to measure and determine levels of risk and decide which items to address first.
Learning is an important part of achieving compliance and improving ongoing management. Software now includes the ability to identify key areas of concern and then create team rooms, where staff from across the organization can collaborate and share information. This type of activity is instrumental in preventing the issue from reoccurring elsewhere in the business.
Looking to the future, we see more companies continuing to integrate information from their systems for purposes beyond compliance – into various reports, performance management and communications. The use of mobile applications will continue to expand and companies increasingly will value the availability of accurate and live data.
In order to optimize EHS management and performance, businesses will use software to create targeted dashboards that analyze what they are doing well and where they need to improve. Complying with EHS regulations is a continuous, ongoing process, and data management software provides the bedrock for meeting changing needs and ensuring organizations are well-equipped to meet future challenges.
Robert Polito is director of business development of credit360, a speciality sustainability software company with operations in United Kingdom, Americas, Hong Kong, Australia, Netherlands and South Africa.