In today’s economic climate, companies are looking for ways to grow their business with minimal impact on their bottom line. This has resulted in many businesses seeking ways to integrate and consolidate systems and solutions in an effort to streamline operations, while maximizing return on investment.

Systems that have a similar taxonomy in terms of core functions and applications are slowly converging into a single system. One such convergence that is gaining traction is that of Quality Management (QMS) and Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Systems.

In this article, we will look into how convergence can have a powerful effect on an organization, providing a level of visibility that combines two critical areas into a single enterprise system.                       

Where QMS and EHS meet

Convergence ultimately depends not only on the processes the systems automate, but also on the enterprise solution’s ability to answer the question, “How can we all be common, but keep our processes and data unique?” In the case of QMS and EHS, these processes have striking similarities. There are various standards associated with Quality and EHS systems, but here we will focus on three:

1) ISO 9001, which incorporates people-oriented processes and customer requirements

2) ISO 14001, which analyzes an organization’s activities to determine where environmental impacts can be improved

3) OHSAS 18001, which has direct similarities to the ISO 14001 standard, but outlines the processes for health and safety management.

A high-level look at these standards shows a significant overlap. An organization can map the requirements across these three standards into a single, consolidated requirements set.

Common elements of a QEHS

When it comes to implementing an integrated Quality and Environmental, Health and Safety (QEHS) system, there are certain attributes that will ensure an organization gets the most out of an integrated system. 

For example, best-in-class solutions recognize the numerous common elements that are present in ISO standards, and are able to create a single, holistic system that not only provides depth in the specialized functions, but is also equipped with a wide breadth of cross-functional tools that serve the needs of both Quality and EHS. Some of these cross-functional integrated processes include:

  • Corrective and Preventive Action: In any organization it is essential to effectively track the cost and cause of any discrepancies to mitigate the risk of recurrence. The Corrective and Preventive Action (CAPA) function can be utilized by both QMS and EHS systems to efficiently track these discrepancies. Relevant data is automatically inherited for each system — for EHS this includes Incidents and Audits; and for QMS it includes Nonconforming Materials (NCMR) and Calibration and Maintenance. Like all functions in an automated QEHS, CAPA integrates with additional functions in the system, including Risk Assessment, a key function in the CAPA process.
  • Risk Assessment: In both QMS- and EHS-centric organizations, efficiently managing risk ranks high in priority. The cross-discipline Risk Assessment function calculates risk at various points in a process and then displays this risk mitigation history by event. It integrates with the QMS or EHS CAPA function to filter non-critical from critical events and to ensure that the high-priority CAPAs are corrected first.
  • Training: Employee Training solutions provide a simple way to schedule and record training for EHS- and QMS-centric organizations. It tracks employee profiles, schedules training events, and manages the identification, responsibilities, authorities, training and certification requirements for each employee.
  • Incidents: As part of the process of continual improvement in any organization, whether Quality, Environmental or Health and Safety, it is important that all incidents are recorded, investigated and action taken to prevent or reduce the chance of recurrence. The QEHS’s Incidents function can be used to set up records of all incidents and to collect the required information to conduct investigations, including a risk analysis. In addition, Incidents data is automatically inherited into the CAPA, which in turn helps prevent recurrence of incidents.
  • Enterprise Reporting: Within any business system, data analysis helps to measure results and manage change within the organization. Quality and EHS are no different — without a core business intelligence and reporting function, understanding the various trends and data points regarding the events within these systems can inhibit change. Furthermore, integration of Quality and EHS into a holistic QEHS system can uncover a whole new layer of data analysis, one that takes into account not only the Quality of a product or process, but the Environmental, Health and Safety impacts that lie with it.

The common processes don’t end here. For example, the Audits and Surveys tool automates the audit and customer survey process; Document Control manages the document lifecycle; Meetings gives visibility into how the various standards interact with each other; and Change Management nurtures
change and promotes continuous improvement.

Additionally, a best-in-class integrated system will combine the functions of two or more systems with a high degree of functionality across the entire platform. For example, it will combine EHS-specific functions, such as Incidents, Emissions Tracking, Energy Management, Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), Aspects, Objectives and Targets, Crisis Management, and Job Safety Analysis (JSA). 

Similarly, the QMS is equally specialized to manage and track Quality events, and foster continuous improvement from a process and product perspective. Quality encompasses Material Returns, Nonconformance, Supplier Management and other similar functions.

The benefits of a QEHS continue beyond its processes. As a whole, the QEHS is flexible and promotes ease of use by allowing the user to make any necessary changes within the system, without programming. Reporting is enhanced because integration helps to uncover trends across the enterprise, which results in consolidated reporting and eliminates redundancy. The system’s cross-departmental nature also lends itself to scalability, allowing each site to maintain their individuality yet preserving common elements.

Ultimately, the QEHS fosters a more user-friendly environment and is key to making the user feel “at home” with the system. This alone helps users to become better acclimated to the software and fosters productivity. 

A total solution for process management

Ultimately, Quality and Environmental Health and Safety processes share common elements that work effectively in unison, intuitively integrating with system-specific processes to the point that it seems these systems were, in effect, made to be converged. Convergence provides a harmonious, best-in-class system by ensuring compliance to both Quality and Environmental Health and Safety initiatives.

While opposites do attract, the EHS and QMS share more similarities than one would think at first glance — this is evident upon a closer look into the standards that govern each system. The cross-functional capabilities of these systems further emphasize how integrating a Quality and EHS system can result in a best-in-class, total compliance management system that brings value such as cost-savings, reduced overhead, and enhanced efficiency and decision-making.