The "Safety Carnival" midway was mesmerizing. . . flashing, rotating and sequential message lights flooded the overhead views; large, small and in-between banners competed for your attention; and the air was filled with the barkers' calls, "Shortcuts! Quick fixes! Get your Answers here!"

Each booth, stage, literature station, and demonstration had been planned to appeal to this niche market of safety professionals. Each of us with a different, yet similar goal: Get the job done correctly, efficiently and with a minimal amount of investment, disruption or change. The number of positive user endorsements ran the risk of overwhelming the senses, and I started to get caught up in all of the hoopla.

Feeling light-headed giddiness from the promises of "immediate results," "incredible success," "minimal investment and maximum return," I knew that there was only one thing that could prevent me from buying every software program there. . . I pulled out my copy of OSHA's General Industry Pocket Digest and started to read 1910.1200.

When I no longer floated hypnotically toward each of the venues and my feet were again firmly on the ground, I was pleased that my 20+ years in the safety, health and environmental field had pulled me back to reality. I remembered that there really aren't any shortcuts or quick fixes.

But the thought of being able to pop in a CD and then go to lunch is highly seductive. Oh well, back to the reality of it all. . .

Applications galore

When I searched "Safety Software" on the Internet, the return indicated that there were 65,356 hits. Depending upon the Internet search engine you use, and the combination of search description words, your return will probably be similar. Whether there are actually that many products on the market is debatable, but the truth is that there are software products available that are programmed to assist you in as many avenues of compliance that you can think of, including:

  • Recordkeeping
  • Management Plans
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Hazard Communication (Chemical Right-to-Know)
  • Fire Protection
  • Education and Training
  • Permit-Required Confined Spaces
  • Respiratory Protection
  • Ventilation
  • Industrial Hygiene Monitoring
  • Emissions

The number and scope of these products has increased dramatically over the last decade since the first programs presented you with the opportunity to have, and search, the OSHA regulations at your fingertips.

Those programs were followed by, if my memory serves me correctly, MSDS databases and business plans (that included elementary safety and health compliance plans). Reviews of those products were mixed because, in my opinion, they applied new technology to our significantly less advanced computers (remember the 286 processor?), and programming was mostly reserved for those perceived as less than social creatures of personality, shall we say. Even OSHA offers several reasonable software approaches now, too. How things have changed. . .

Getting out of a bind

Today's safety pro needs as much help as can be had without taking resources away from production, quality and the bottom line. No matter the amount of expressed commitment to safety as "Number One," we all find ourselves trying to fit more than 24 hours in the day because of the shortage of bodies to assist us in the effort.

Non-safety department managers, supervisors and employees are charged with providing the product and/or the service, and are available on a limited basis to research, develop or even participate in putting together education and training, inspection, auditing or compliance materials.

The department expected to spearhead the effort, produce and present the materials, audit the process and keep it fresh is YOU. I know that "department" infers more than one, but the reality of it is that there is usually only one person ultimately responsible to the boss if the effort stalls or isn't effective - that person being YOU. And the luxury of having consultants available on an "as needed" basis has mostly dried up, too.

"If a consultant is going to do it, or you don't know how to do it, then why do we have you working here?" asks the boss.

Software and Web-based solutions can help us out of this crunch. It helps that there are now much more lenient requirements for trial usage. Salespeople can be more helpful, since we are more savvy about what is available, what we need, and more realistic with what can actually be accomplished with the programs. Plus, service/technical support can actually provide service and technical support.

Protect your investment

Nothing is cheap anymore, accountability for expenditure is surpassed only by management's commitment to safety, and justifications for products that make your job easier are not as readily accepted as they once were. So it's essential that you perform "Due Diligence" when considering the expense of software assistance in the safety and health effort.

Know what you want to accomplish; have specific objectives; research and establish realistic expectations; and deal with an established, reputable and respected vendor.

The most effective products will provide you with operating platform flexibility, adaptability to changing needs, ability to synchronize with other (database, word processing) operating programs, practical pricing and availability of updates/upgrades and technical support.

Taking nothing away from the importance of the preceding list, a most critical consideration is the ability of the user to feel comfortable with the software. If it isn't "user friendly" it won't be booted up often enough to get any return on your investment.

The "DIY" option

You can also go the "DIY" route. Known as the "Do It Yourself" option, I affectionately refer to it as the "I can't believe I wasted so much time on something that never stood a chance of doing what I needed. Unless the sarcasm is lost on you, I suggest that you leave computer programming to the computer programmers (building a database is different, and is not to be included in the DIY avoidance suggestion). Remember, there are no shortcuts or quick fixes when it comes to safety and getting the most out of safety software.