It’s always amazing how many large manufacturing companies still don’t use Environment, Health, and Safety Software (EH&S) effectively. It usually doesn’t matter the industry; leading companies across a broad spectrum of industries have big gaps in the use of this software, including: automotive, aerospace and defense, industrial equipment, electronics, oil and gas, chemicals, life sciences, food and beverage, and consumer packaged goods.
Status Quo in Environment Health and Safety Software
Leading companies today are definitely focused on environment, health and safety specifically, and sustainability more broadly, which is a positive. Trends in the industry and established best practices show these companies have incorporated environment, health and safety issues into high level strategic objectives. Executives take issues around employee safety, OSHA compliance, environmental spills and releases, product stewardship, and others very seriously. Often metrics around these areas are built into management compensation and companies have successfully established reporting structures that drive the importance of these issues all the way down to the grassroots of the company, with site-level leaders reporting into responsible corporate managers.
Despite all of these positive trends, the adoption of EH&S remains remarkably low, both in the overall adoption of the software and in the use of the software among those that have already adopted. Many companies, even those an industry observer would assume takes these issues seriously, do much of the heavy lifting required to effectively manage environment, health and safety issues with manual tools. These tools generally include paper based document management for compliance, spread sheets, email, and home-grown data bases, all of which can create inefficiencies, compliance risks, and maintainability nightmares.
Moving the Dial
In situations where manual tools are the norm, the benefits of adopting automated software tools are often immediate and easily documented. However, for EH&S, benefits are less visible, and there are two major challenges we see companies facing today.
First, EH&S significantly reduces the paperwork of current employees, increases visibility, avoids future costs, and reduces the risk profile of the company. Unfortunately, there are not necessarily immediate cost savings in improved operational efficiency or reduced head counts that can be pointed to in a one- or two-year ROI. Rather, changing corporate culture, reducing the OSHA injury frequency rate, and reducing the risk of environmental incident are all benefits enjoyed by companies that adopt EH&S, but the benefits may take five or ten years to be fully realized.
The second challenge is one specific to software in the industrial space and promoting the adoption of technology on the shop floor. For many companies, the actual culture on the shop-floor is not one of safety first; it’s to get the job done. Reducing risk, ensuring OSHA compliance, and documenting adherence to processes is not top-of-mind. In situations like this, it’s important to lead by example. Shop floor supervisors and managers need to be proactive in putting safety first and following standard procedures. They themselves need to use EH&S according to best practices, including consistently using the software to record near misses and other incidents. This level of commitment is necessary to change culture and foster the adoption of EH&S on the shop floor.
Key Take Aways
Many leading companies have an opportunity to move ahead of their competition with the adoption of EH&S. However, a successful deployment often hinges on addressing two key road blocks. First, companies should understand that adopting EH&S is a long-term investment in the company. It’s a tool to help reduce the long-term risk profile of the company and eliminate future costs associated with high rates of environmental and employee incidents. Second, the shop floor is a beast of its own and special attention needs to be paid to the culture of every site and management must lead by example in both attitudes around safety and the use of EH&S.
Matthew Littlefield is president and principal analyst of LNS Research. He covers sustainability, enterprise quality, manufacturing operations, asset performance and industrial automation. Click here for more information on this and other topics.