Safety Solutions: How Implementing EHS Software Can Drive Continuous Improvement

Shamonique Schrick
Contributing Writer

Environmental health and safety regulations affect all manufacturing plants whether they utilize a software platform or not. More and more facilities are looking for cloud-based solutions and ways to optimize resources to remain competitive in the industry. Managing environmental health and safety manually is prone to human error, and can consume a significant amount of work hours that could instead be directed toward other, more productive tasks.

Cloud-based solutions free up the hours workers and operators spent searching for documents or compiling data into reports. Your facility may already have a system in place for monitoring environmental health and safety issues but may be looking for a genuinely cloud-based, integrative solution. You may not have a digital process, or software program at all. However, as EHS regulations tighten and fines are increasing, the cost of not taking EHS seriously is on the rise. Attempting to monitor EHS manually is an impediment to continuous improvement. The average manufacturer pays nearly $20,000 per employee per year to comply with federal regulations. Knowing how expensive noncompliance can be, is environmental health and safety software that important? Let’s look at what it is and what it can do for your facility.

Environmental Health and Safety Management

Environmental health and safety (EHS) concerns the environment within which employees work and the materials, methods, and equipment they use. Manufacturing plants must meet both industry standards and governmental regulations designed to protect employees and customers. These regulations also protect the environment and ensure that plants stay in compliance. To remain in compliance, everyone in a plant facility must participate in environmental health and safety in some fashion, from enterprise-level down to line operators.

Many plants employ an EHS manager, but this alone may not be sufficient to ensure full compliance. Many facilities are searching for a company-wide tool that can organize tasks, documents, and key metrics in one place—and EHS software is that tool. Let’s take a deep dive into the nuts and bolts of EHS software.

What Is EHS Software?

It’s crucial that facilities actively work to mitigate risk and monitor key aspects of environmental health and safety on an ongoing basis. Failing to track incidents and problem areas can result in non-compliance and serious struggles during an inspection. In addition, environmental health and safety regulations are dynamic and change often. Staying on top of all the updates can be a challenge, and attempting to do so without a competent software program can result in missing key developments. EHS software significantly increases efficiency within a facility. Comprehensive software like a top-performing EHS platform provides a central location for everyone, from line operator to the enterprise level, to actively save time, prevent incidents, and reduce the risk of contamination, exposure, or injury.

Managing risk and liability are crucial to success. As more businesses realize the need to protect workers’ health and safety and minimize environmental impacts, organizing the data, documents, regulatory updates, and incident tracking become a big job. EHS software brings it all together into a central location and provides an easily-accessed dashboard that can instantly generate reports and checklists. Integrated EHS software creates a single system that can communicate across multiple applications, streamlining a complicated process with many moving parts. 

What Does EHS Software Do?

Managing environmental health and safety encompasses a vast range of tasks, policies, and procedures. From monitoring environmental impact from resource extraction to waste disposal to tracking internal incidents and the health and safety of workers and customers, EHS requires facilities to retain an enormous quantity of data. EHS software stores this data in a central location and then provides constructive ways for the facility to use the data to drive compliance and performance. 

Moreover, EHS regulations both at the federal level and within the industry are not static. Sitting on a pile of environmental, health, and safety data without a clear plan for how the facility will meet continually-evolving standards is wasteful. EHS software interprets that data and turns it into actionable items. The goal is to stay ahead as much as possible and minimize issues while also seeking practical solutions when an incident does happen.

What Are the Benefits of EHS Software?

An integrative EHS software platform collects all relevant data. This data collection can include production or financial data in some instances. Using this data, employees can access several tools from the dashboard, including:

  • Real-time reports—Managers can monitor trends to identify and predict environmental, health, and safety risks and concerns. The software can also help to assign follow-up tasks to employees to prevent incidents proactively.

  • Protocol implementation and adherence—Regulatory agencies and industry benchmarks can move quickly, and facilities must keep up to stay competitive. EHS software can smoothly integrate new guidelines that managers and operators can access on the plant floor with user-friendly, digitized checklists. Additionally, standardizing checks enforces protocols for all employees. Managers can use EHS software to observe and track whether all employees are in compliance and identify areas of challenge.

  • Easy retrieval of policies and records—EHS software means never getting caught on the backfoot again at the next surprise audit. Compliance is organized, and managers can quickly retrieve policies and records on-demand to share with auditors and make the entire process run more smoothly.

EHS Software and the Value of Time

We’ve talked about how having a pile of data with no direction is not helpful, but it is also important to note that collecting data in half a dozen different places is equally unhelpful. EHS software places all the data in one central location, meaning managers and operators can make better-informed decisions. Checklists are more productive, and reports are more robust. Using an EHS software platform dramatically reduces the critical loss of information when an employee leaves or retires. It also saves valuable time by providing the necessary data from an intuitive dashboard. 

More informed decision-making, retaining information even when employees leave, and eliminating hours of research and report-making all boils down to saving massive amounts of time. Employees can now turn that time toward continuing to improve safety systems and searching for more sustainable processes. For companies investing in lean manufacturing, EHS software can be an essential component of continuous improvement by reducing costly environmental, health, and safety incidents and identifying safer pathways.

EHS Spreadsheets vs. EHS Software

Many facilities are tracking EHS as well as other data using Excel spreadsheets. Perhaps the biggest reason that many facilities still use spreadsheets is the perceived low cost. EHS spreadsheets can track incidents and data effectively, but they have shortcomings in several areas:

  • The data isn’t always easy to share and may not be trustworthy. There are too many ways a spreadsheet can be accidentally altered or deleted when it is shared among the relevant employees. It is also easier for employees to overlook or ignore the spreadsheet. Finally, the data is probably not very real-time since a person must update the spreadsheet manually.

  • Even the most careful employees can make errors. Transposing numbers, misplaced decimal points, and omitted data can have a significant impact on decision-making. There is also the chance that someone could enter the wrong data intentionally to hide mistakes or minimize incidents.

  • It’s not so magical when spreadsheets disappear. Data loss can be devastating. The risk with relying solely on spreadsheets is that they are easier to accidentally or intentionally delete altogether, resulting in potentially massive data loss—and wasted time.

  • Spreadsheets are time-consuming. Managers must input the data manually. Because of the time it takes to enter data and update spreadsheets, managers may only share the spreadsheets once a week or even less. 

  • Spreadsheets may not be user-friendly. Facilities often share data with employees who otherwise do not use spreadsheets regularly and may not know how they work. As a result, those employees could alter the spreadsheets accidentally, and there is no way to track the alterations within the document, so managers might not catch changes before data is thoroughly analyzed. It’s also a challenge for even the most seasoned spreadsheet user to see the crucial data if there is a lot to wade through. 

  • Spreadsheets don’t “know” when regulations change. An EHS manager must initiate updates in how data is collected and what data is important whenever industry standards or federal regulations are updated. Missing even a minor update can have catastrophic consequences and result in incidents or even significant problems during auditing. Worse, incomplete spreadsheet data could directly impact the environment or the well-being of an employee.

Transitioning to an EHS software platform can eliminate spreadsheet shortcomings. Many software programs can capture the data immediately without requiring an employee to enter the information manually. Managers and those who need to know can get real-time notifications and alerts about data trends before an incident occurs. Sharing the data is simplified, as everyone who needs to see it can access software-generated reports from their dashboard. EHS managers can utilize their time more effectively toward improving health and safety standards within the facility and fully resolving any incidents as soon as possible. And EHS software incorporates evolving federal and industry regulatory updates, so a facility is constantly and consistently focused on improving and complying. 

Does My Company Need EHS Software?

Asking if a company needs EHS software is like asking if there is room for improvement. 

There is always room for improvement.

One crucial benefit of EHS incident reporting software is that it is usually scalable. So whether a facility employs a handful of people or thousands, EHS software can drive continuous improvement. Managers can save significant hours by moving away from manually preparing reports and focusing on meeting deadlines and resolving tasks efficiently. Ask if your facility has had any of the following challenges:

  • Data takes hours, days, or even longer to locate and share

  • You’re shuffling stacks of paperwork around from one facility to another—and things get lost sometimes.

  • You’re sending EHS data by email, and people are ignoring them.

  • Staff turnover means that new employees must be trained, and old employees take vital data processing skills with them.

  • The correct data was in place, but you or someone else missed it, and now you’ve had an incident. Or an audit caught some issues, and you have fines and penalties as a result.

All of these issues can occur in plant facilities regardless of size. If any of these challenges have come up, it might be time to take a closer look at implementing EHS software.

What Is the ROI of EHS Software?

One of the most significant initial barriers that many companies cite when debating EHS software is cost. Companies want to know that the cost of implementing software is going to provide a positive net return. When considering the return on investment (ROI), companies should calculate the time employees currently spend on EHS-related work. Every current hour spent costs the company. If those hours can be redirected toward other tasks, the company can recoup ROI in as little as a few months. Facilities can end up saving above and beyond the initial cost of the EHS software and then redirect those resources toward upgrading equipment or expanding operations. 

What Should I Look for in an EHS Software Solution?

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Every facility and company is different, and similarly, all EHS management software is not cut from the same cloth. When searching for the right EHS management software, consider the following:

  • Is it customizable? Your facility might have unique concerns or be working with unusual materials. SafetyChain works closely with clients to create a software platform that answers specific needs.

  • Is it appropriate for the size of the company? Some generic or off-the-shelf EHS software assumes a company is a specific size. Small or midsize facilities may find these types of platforms unwieldy or cluttered with irrelevant features.

  • Will it grow with you? Starting with a simple EHS software platform is essential, especially for companies transitioning from paper charts or Excel spreadsheets. It takes time to get everyone on board and comfortable with the tools, and too many features upfront can make the transition a challenge. Over time, adding additional features can enhance the plant’s EHS compliance and response because it was built on a solid foundation. SafetyChain partners with you to determine the right mix of features to get you on the right path.

Create Safe and Sustainable Solutions with EHS Software

To stay competitive, facilities must take a serious look at how they collect and process data. Environmental health and safety software can reduce the number of employee hours spent on data processing by an order of magnitude. Any chance to implement greater efficiency is an opportunity your company cannot afford to overlook. 

Interested in seeing if EHS Software might solve some key challenges in your facility, learn more about SafetyChain’s EHS software.