Despite the ready availability of a wide range of technology-based tools, many environmental, health and safety managers are still buried in stacks of paper. Computer applications have flooded the marketplace with mechanisms to manage a diverse set of information management issues, yet personnel at every rung of the EH&S management ladder continue to spend too much time and effort manually conducting marginal work.

Marginal work — characterized by routine, repetition and necessity — can include functions such as comparing, calculating, cross-referencing, storing and reporting information. Focusing on these routine, yet necessary, marginal tasks yields marginal returns and reduces the quality and quantity of those results that have direct impact on your mission to enhance the safety and health of the workforce.

You can improve your EH&S management activities by employing a specialized software application as a tool to consolidate and perform this marginal work.

Visit your library lately?

You may believe that your established paper or spreadsheet-based system offers acceptable efficiency when compared to the cost of a commercial software application. Perhaps you feel that your operation is too small or has few hazardous chemicals, safety issues or regulatory reports to submit. While each of these justifications may be accurate independently, it overlooks the synergy achieved by combining all of the information management aspects of EH&S responsibilities into one integrated application.

An example of the gains to be achieved by moving from a highly efficient paper-based system to a specialized software application is found in the evolution of library management. Libraries functioned effectively before computer database development by using the card catalog system. Libraries function effectively now. The difference? Computerized catalogs have replaced paper catalogs. The speed and ease of searching, sorting and selecting titles has improved tremendously. Through the use of a software database application created for libraries, manageability has been reduced to a few clicks on a computer screen, which allows the librarian to focus on customer management, rather than the formerly burdensome tasks of filing and sorting.

As in library management, EH&S responsibilities require the ability to select, search, retrieve, sort, compare, compute, store, report and transfer information, as well as cross-reference fields or tables of data and present it to colleagues, superiors, subordinates and to regulatory agencies. The best applications for EH&S information management not only perform these functions, but also allow multiple-user access, built-in data archive capabilities, and electronically produce the desired reports, both regulatory and ad hoc.

Benefits of sharing

Because so much of the information management needs of the safety and environmental areas overlap, there is significant efficiency to be gained by sharing a management system. The environmental department collects specific information about a facility’s hazardous materials, obtaining it from the product manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheets. The safety department maintains these same MSDSs for compliance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication regulations. By sharing this information in one computer application that includes a database of regulated chemicals, with reportable thresholds, as well as maintains MSDSs for employee viewing, tracks training, and creates EPA, OSHA and state regulatory reports, both safety and environmental efforts are more efficient, accurate and timely.

EH&S software packages are now available at all price ranges, to address one specific task or a full range, and delivered as Web applications to PC-based. The principle challenge is to make the best selection for your organization’s needs and then to effectively implement your chosen solution. Analyze your most important and time-consuming tasks, and then prioritize those as immediate needs, future needs and future wants. Look for a system that can grow with you.

Hours saved

Just how much efficiency can you gain by moving to an electronic system and integrating your safety and environmental tasks? It varies widely depending on the type of software solution that you implement, your responsibilities and how effectively you integrate the software solution into your workflow. In one instance, an EH&S manager at a facility that manufactures equipment and provides engineering services to the printing, packaging and paper industrial, and other industrial markets, employs 400 workers, tracks inventory for about three dozen chemicals and produces Tier II reports of 6-9 chemicals, with approximately 600 MSDSs in active use, began using a specialized software package to track hazardous materials and create SARA Tier reports. He estimates that he saved about 200 hours during his first year using the EH&S software application and has saved about 40 hours per year since implementing the software.

In a second example, an environmental specialist at a diversified railroad freight car builder, railcar refurbisher, and marine barge builder moved from using an Access database to a commercial EH&S software application. Using integrated software components to manage chemicals and create reports for SARA Title III, Sections 312 and 313, he quantifies his time-savings at 80-120 hours annually.

By integrating all of your organization’s safety and environmental issues into a single application, created by a reliable provider, you will save time, improve the accuracy of your information, and free valuable employee resources to focus on new initiatives.

SIDEBAR: Implementing the system — painlessly

Once you begin using your system it will require an initial investment of time to get acclimated to the new software and to alter your established routine to take advantage of your new tool. Investing the time required to integrate the software application into your workflow process is imperative. The benefits, however, will justify your efforts. Here are several options to make the implementation as painless as possible:

  • Use the new software application’s Import function to load your legacy data from spreadsheets or generic databases.
  • Hire temporary worker(s) to enter your data.
  • Many software providers will pre-load your system with your company’s data for a small fee, which allows you to begin using the application immediately.