Safety compliance software helps minimize workplace accidents

EHS software can help manufacturers build a safer workplace and record incidents when they occur.

Managers in manufacturing environments know the importance of safety all too well. Facilities filled with heavy machinery and employees are ripe for calamity. Accidents happen, and when they do they must be properly documented. Keeping careful records helps in meeting regulations of the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and preventing future incidents. Safety compliance software -- a component  of environmental, health and safety (EHS) software suites -- can help with the  process.

“Our ideal is prevention” said Doug Parce, EHS supervisor at Williams Midstream, a division of The Williams Companies Inc., a natural gas producer and processor based in Tulsa, Okla. (see sidebar). “We’re looking for metrics that will be driving our training and are trying to focus on where we see minor issues, so we can prevent major issues, risk or exposures.”

 Analysts agree that manufacturers can use the data collected in safety compliance software to avoid serious accidents and health issues altogether. “Most major incidents within manufacturing environments are not without warning,” said Leif Eriksen, research director at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. “Information gathered from minor incidents can predict these major ones.”

Even data from seemingly small accidents should be handled carefully, however, to maintain public confidence in the safety of operations. “If you had an incident in a plant in the past, even if it’s minor, once the info gets out there it spreads like wildfire,” Eriksen said. “You need to manage that info from the start to avoid a PR issue.”

Must-have features of EHS software
While safety issues may differ from one manufacturing facility to another, several critical capabilities are must-haves when selecting safety compliance technology. In a report on the use of EHS software in manufacturing environments, Framingham, Mass.-based IDC Manufacturing Insights outlined some standard features:

  • A centralized database for all compliance-related data that can be accessed and shared globally
  • A system built upon the rules and workflows specific to the user’s environment; this will ensure that the correct processes are being followed and identify exceptions and incidents.
  • The ability to integrate and share data with other software systems, including ERP.
  • Reliable analytics and reporting capabilities with easily accessible dashboards.

At its core, the S in EHS software creates a record of incidents that can be shared across the organization. “What companies are looking for in incident management is to capture the data accurately to represent the situation that occurred and build in preventative measures to make the environment safer for employees,” said Kimberly Knickle, a practice director at IDC who has been following the EHS market. “Instead of just letting a safety officer or HR person have access to the software, you should open it up to everyone. That way, the people who are around when an incident occurs can document it right away.”

Every known detail of the incident should be recorded, including who was involved, medical attention or hospitalization that was needed, and cleanup efforts or repairs that were performed after the incident, according to Knickle.

It’s critical to make sure employees know how to use the software to report and record incidents properly. “Have an education or training program in place,” she said. “Document near misses as well as actual accidents. Describe what situation almost occurred, what would have happened had it occurred and how that can be prevented in the future. This is how you want health and safety to be.”

Safety compliance must meet company needs, regulations 
Manufacturers will find a variety of options available in safety compliance software. Most of the big-box vendors, such as SAP and Oracle, have EHS built into their ERP suites. But Knickle said manufacturers should ask ERP vendors about EHS functionality during the selection process and not assume it will be included. She points to the incident-management feature of SAP’s EHS Management package as an ERP-integrated option that provides decent safety compliance features.

Eriksen advises manufacturers to look to smaller, best-of-breed vendors. Examples include PureSafety, IHS, KMI and Ecocion. “There’s still some fragmentation in the EHS market,” he said. Some vendors refer to software for documenting manufacturing safety hazards as process safety management software. Occupational health, which deals with employee medical information, is also part of safety management, but it is typically managed manually outside of the EHS system, according to Eriksen.

Manufacturers dealing with multiple or global facilities may want to consider Software as a Service (SaaS) EHS software, Knickle said. “There’s a lot of interest in SaaS in this market because it can be used in so many locations and provides easy access to data,” she said. 

“[Safety compliance] challenges are found in the difficulty in satisfying different regularity requirements around the world. There’s the incident reporting aspect as well as the documenting aspect to consider, and the process of getting OSHA or an international equivalent of that involved. You have to make sure you’re satisfying country safety standards as well as state standards.”

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