EtQ’s Doug Hatler looks at the growing trend for automated quality and health and safety processes, and what it might mean for professionals in these areas
A well-managed company will set high bars for quality, environmental performance and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS). These are collectively recognized as a means of improving overall business performance, which is really a process of continuing improvement and operational excellence. Operational excellence is about efficiency and consistent execution of operations and often becomes the defining factor in sustaining growth and profitability.
The key to continuous improvement is applying standardized processes, which enable you to refine your approaches and your results across your applications – whether that's quality, safety or compliance. And the most effective way to standardize processes is through automation.
Automating Environmental Health and Safety Processes
Automation in Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) is becoming less of an exception and more like the norm. That is, if we plotted it on the technology adoption life cycle, we would be well into the mass market phase, at early majority. Early adopters of information technology and automation were typically companies with a well-known brand who had a significant stake in what their brand meant out in the marketplace. But smaller companies are now starting to move in. They are looking for these systems to automate data because they are starting to see that you can get improved overall business performance by improving EHS.
Yet although there are many companies that understand that they need information technology and data management, there are still many more companies that need to adopt them. Using spreadsheets with siloed systems is becoming untenable in today's EHS environment. It's not just a question of baseline regulatory compliance anymore, because these days compliance is addressed as an aspect of risk. This is an emerging trend that is being driven by the ISO standards, which are bringing risk-based thinking to the fore. They demand that you look at how to assess risk and then address it before something happens.
A Preventive Approach to EHS
So now we focus on the ability to prevent incidents, rather than just on containment. We look at things that have a negative impact on the environment or on worker health and safety and ask – how do we reduce accident and injury? Or how do we keep people healthy to keep them coming to work? We look at these things in advance and put controls in place to prevent them from happening. Prevention is much smarter, cheaper and better for everyone.
This risk-based approach depends on reliable and accurate data, which automation produces. As the data is collected over time, patterns emerge and some of your best information on how to prevent incidents comes from this historical data. It enables you to perform predictive analytics - to more accurately assess the likelihood of a hazard occurring and the severity of its impact and to put controls in place.
Using information technology systems and other automation systems enables your people and your EHS processes to move smoothly, more productively and more efficiently. The real value is what the data tells you about your business, not how you capture it. Automate the capture, automate the analysis. This allows your people to make better, faster and smarter decisions. You're improving performance through data.
This data can be entered into the system once and then repurposed for all your management systems. People and process are underpinned by a common system, yet people can interact with it independently. Since all the data is in a single repository and can be viewed holistically, the business is better able to find opportunities for improvement to overall business performance.
The Integration Imperative - A Shared Platform
One significant outcome is that businesses are eliminating siloed systems. They are able to identify a commonality in their processes which means that they can leverage a common system and platform to manage them. So now there is an emerging trend where businesses are converging their quality and EHS systems. This aligns with the drive for operational excellence, as continuous improvement is an integrative concept that improves performance across all areas of operation, supporting the elimination of duplicate systems and their associated running costs.
Download our eGuide for a wealth of resources to help you optimize your health and safety processes and build a safety culture The Environmental Health and Safety Management Handbook: Supporting a Quality Culture Across Your Business