Continuous Improvement of EHS Performance – Powered by Advanced Analytics
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 plays a key role in enabling workplace safety efforts by providing guidelines and standards to improve safety performance. Of course, from a regulatory perspective, avoiding penalties and fines gives the necessary impetus to build a robust safety management program.
In the sectors of life sciences, healthcare2, construction3, oil and gas4, and manufacturing5, this focus on safety has become more important than ever. This is primarily due to the fact that safety incidents and health hazards are having a direct impact on employee morale, company financials, brand, and reputation.
But even in industries with (comparatively) lower risks, a well-designed health & safety (H&S) program can have many benefits including:
Reinforcing management's commitment to employee safety
Demonstrating the business’s social responsibility
Enhancing the company’s image and reputation
Increasing employee trust
Reducing employee incidents and absenteeism
Improving employee engagement and productivity
Accelerating growth in revenues and profits
Delivering better customer service/experience
Today, it’s proven that a process-oriented approach to health and safety management can reduce injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. By using digital transformation and automation, companies can design a robust safety management system that makes it easy for the H&S team and the entire company to think about a safety-first approach across the product or service lifecycle.
The role of data and analytics to proactively improve safety management
Finally, what do we need to do to operationalize a “continuous improvement loop” to improve employee well-being, regulatory compliance, and workplace safety?
This company used ComplianceQuest EHS to reduce the number of incidents year on year, eventually reaching zero incidents. According to the company’s health & safety leader, this would have been impossible without CQ’s data-driven approach to safety management.
According to an EHS Today report, there were over 5,333 serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) reported in 2019, the highest since 2007. While this number. went down slightly in 2020, SIFs pose a serious threat across sectors. The leading cause of these injuries is “contact with objects or equipment”. Trips & falls and injuries from overwork are next in line.
This clearly shows that despite the regulations and better digital transformation efforts, accidents continue to happen in the physical world.
Most of the incidents resulting in SIFs could have been avoided if processes had been created and updated better. There is a desperate need to continuously improve safety processes to meet new challenges or find new approaches to existing challenges that the current systems are unable to overcome.
It also reiterates the need for better awareness and training to reduce the number of incidents. A common problem that exists is the gap in skill and safety training between full-time and contracted employees. Contract workers often are not given the kind of training that full-time employees get before being onboarded. Employees need to be given continuous training and recertification to keep pace with the changing safety needs and ensure sustained safe behavior in the workplace.
To focus energies in the right direction, identify areas that need improvement, and understand the gaps in safety behavior – businesses need insights that can be
gathered from past incident data. It is important to note that both quantitative data (no. of incidents, no. of open CAPAs, etc.) and qualitative information (from safety observations, process audits, etc.) play a key role in spotting opportunities to drive CI.
Need for a Closed Loop System
Continuous safety improvement is the commitment to constantly analyze your safety performance through fact-based data and KPIs. It is critical to ensure that a proactive approach is adopted in the following aspects:
To address root causes and systemic weaknesses as soon as they are identified without wasting time
To experiment with changes that will lead to long-term systemic improvement, not just short-term fixes
Building a closed loop for continuous improvement involves the following:
Unifying data from not only incidents but also safety observations and near misses
Using CAPA and 5 Why RCA to act swiftly once an event or observation is reported
Continuous measuring/analyzing KPIs after new processes have been implemented
Watching out for gaps, feedback, and improvement opportunities
Running analytics on safety data provides insights into process variability and directly addresses the effects on employee well-being. By using real-time statistical process control and machine learning techniques, safety teams can understand incident variability better while forecasting possible future accidents.
It is a paper that has resonated with several health and safety leaders around the world. By keeping constant tabs on both leading and lagging metrics, businesses are able to drive continuous improvement of their safety efforts.
The question is: How do you monitor and track these H&S metrics? Having a comprehensive safety investigation process is the key first step.
The safety investigation process is a formal process for investigating a workplace incident, including a fatality, injury, illness, or close call. This enables you to discover hazards in business operations and drawbacks in health and safety programs. With the learnings from the investigation, you can implement appropriate corrective and preventive actions to avoid future incidents. While conducting the safety investigation process, the team should do a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) of the incident to ensure the real reason is identified and controls put in place to prevent its recurrence.
Some critical H&S metrics to track include:
Number of incidents/accidents
Severity of injuries
Response time to fix future recurrence
Number of near misses
Investment per resource or employee
Absence rate because of safety incidents
Number of findings and recommendations from safety audits
Number of recommendations implemented
Typical Challenges to Continuous Improvement
The first step to continuous improvement (by leveraging analytics) is to ensure incident, near misses, and safety observations data is available at one’s fingertips. Moreover, the finer details have to be captured.
For instance, it’s not enough to report an incident saying - “it was caused by direct contact with a machine.” Having access to additional details like was the machine serviced on time, was it overheated, did the operator have the necessary license matter a lot.
And, one of the biggest challenges is access to this information. Legacy or paper-and-email based systems don’t capture the finer details of an incident. Even if they do, accessing the details, ensuring accuracy, and analyzing that data can be a challenge.
Some of the common challenges to continuous improvement are:
Daunting Paperwork: For the already busy worker, reporting incidents can be the least priority. It takes him/her away from core tasks and also involves a lot of paperwork. It can be an administrative nightmare for the worker and safety team because it is often neglected. Automating incident reporting10 can simplify the incident management workflow while automatically providing access to relevant data to relevant stakeholders.
Top Management Involvement: Often, business priorities take precedence, pushing safety-related tasks down the priority order. Since the benefits of a robust safety management system can be intangible and take a long time to manifest itself, the ROI cannot be calculated that easily. An automated H&S solution can help project the cost of a potential incident in terms of the damage to equipment, people, absenteeism, compensation, litigation, and penalties to arrive at an estimate. This monetary analysis provides the necessary impetus to act proactively to management.
Worker Mindset: Safe behavior may need drastic changes in the way an employee or contract worker approaches his job. This can be a challenge due to factors such as apathy, misunderstanding of expectations, or general reluctance to change. Providing visibility into safety management in a cloud-based environment can help the workers see the benefit and get their buy-in more easily. Appropriate training can also play an important role in this change in mindset.
Training New Staff and Contract Workers: Ensuring every employee and contractor, new or old, understands safety processes and adheres to the requirements is essential to keep the workplace safe. Automating the process can help identify training gaps and provide appropriate training at the right intervals to the right people.
Employee Engagement to Improve Safety Efforts
Automating safety workflows with a modern, cloud-based, mobile-ready solution becomes essential to drive change. A digitalized solution empowers workers on the site to report events even as they are unfolding with relevant images using their mobile. In case of no connectivity, the system can synchronize whenever the connectivity is available. This makes reporting easy and simple, increasing employee involvement in safety reporting.
Reports that are stored in a centralized registry (of all reported events) and easily accessible enable safety teams, senior management, and decision makers to create customized dashboards to evaluate the nature of the event. The central repository enables viewing incidents from across the organization in one place and identifying trends. This helps identify key risks and their potential impact, and enables prioritization and continuous improvement based on the impact analysis.
Transparency reinforces the employee’s trust in the system as they see the progress on their reports and the actions taken to improve safety.
The management gets access to safety data to review, assign, and monitor safety-related actions.
Analytics plays a key role in helping prioritize risks based on certain parameters. Safety leaders identify activities or processes that cause a high number of incidents and prioritize action to address them.
The data provides insights into the kind of safety training employees need to increase safety awareness, improve safe behavior, and encourage reporting of observations and near misses to reduce the likelihood of their becoming an incident. Their increased participation in improving organizational safety has a big impact on continuous improvement. Encourage suggestions and recommendations to help them make their workplace safer.
Safety Management Workflow: Ongoing Improvement
For the effective implementation of continuous improvement of safety processes, businesses need to ensure the following:
Involve Employees: Sharing and communicating the findings of the safety data analytics is crucial to ensure employee involvement. The communication between management and employees should be two ways, where the worker inputs on safety improvement should be sought and incorporated to increase its effectiveness and monitored for continuous feedback.
Keep it Simple: Use the insights to identify changes in processes, communicate them to the employees, and assign responsibilities. Most importantly, keep it simple so that there is greater acceptance of the changes.
Identify the Root Causes Proactively: In case of an event happening or is likely to happen, doing a root cause analysis is important to identify the real cause and address it immediately. 5 Why analysis is one of the most popular and powerful root cause analysis tools that can help with this.
Positive Reinforcement: While negative events get highlighted, it is also important to spot and reinforce positive behavior. Rewarding timely intervention, safety improvement initiatives, and consistent safety behavior can strengthen efforts for continuous improvement.
Continuous Review and Improvement: As the term suggests, continuous safety improvement requires continuous monitoring and reviews to ensure progressive improvement in workplace safety. Seeking feedback on the safety program, seeking suggestions, and creating awareness campaigns can enable this.
Automating Continuous Improvement Workflows with ComplianceQuest EHS Software
ComplianceQuest’s cloud-based EHS solution aligns with OSHA requirements and provides an intuitive, user-friendly Incident Management solution. This empowers employees to report events conveniently, without wasting time. The reports are available in a central repository that provides safety leaders and the management with visibility into all the events, near misses, and observations. The reporting and dashboard feature helps analyze the data and identify trends.
The Management Review feature helps the executive management analyze data available within CQ EHS solution to:
Identify areas of improvement
Assign roles and responsibilities
Review safety-related policies for improved compliance
A 5 Why Analysis tool helps automate root cause analysis to help arrive at the root causes, which can be more than one, and their interrelationships. This helps with a better understanding of cause and effect, which can further aid in continuous improvement.
The RCA also helps with CAPA (corrective action, preventive action), to address the root cause and prevent future events. It can help businesses progress towards zero events.
The safety management solution also integrates with training, document, and reporting tools, thereby enabling a comprehensive approach towards continuous improvement using data and facts at the core of the decision-making loop.