In today's rapidly changing business environment, organizations must prioritize environmental, health, and safety (EHS) management to protect employees and the environment and maintain a positive reputation. Understanding the difference between EHS standards and systems, and their interdependence, is crucial for effective risk management strategies. In part 3 of our PSM blog series we will discuss the distinction between standards and systems, how they relate to each other, and the importance of integrating people, processes, and platforms for sustained Process Safety Management (PSM) program performance.
Understanding EHS Standards and Systems
EHS standards are guidelines or criteria used to assure consistency or quality in EHS management. They are typically created by internal EHS teams, governments, industry associations, or national/international standards organizations and often include specific requirements that must be met. The classic examples of standards in our profession are of course OSHA regulations, ISO 14001 (environmental management) and ISO 45001 (occupational health and safety management). In terms of PSM, we’ll focus this article on the emergency planning and response (EPR) component of the PSM standard.
An EHS system, on the other hand, is a set of interconnected components or processes that work together to achieve goals, such as protecting the environment, assuring workplace safety, and promoting employee health. An EHS system always will include processes for identifying hazards, conducting risk assessments, implementing controls, and tracking EHS performance. But organizations often miss a key point - a true “system” relies on more than just standards. Mature organizations that have figured this out know that a true system inevitably consists of three specific elements: people, processes, and platforms.
The Continuum: Reactive, Responsive, and Proactive EHS Systems
EHS systems can be classified into three categories based on their level of sophistication and effectiveness: reactive, responsive, and proactive systems.
- Reactive Systems: These systems focus on achieving compliance with EHS standards, often using basic tools like spreadsheets and emails for management. They may have limited written programs and little or no professional EHS staffing.
- Responsive Systems: These systems go beyond compliance to include basic management systems. They involve internal audits, regular updates of EHS programs, a team of EHS professionals, and enterprise incident capture, investigation, and corrective action platforms.
- Proactive Systems: These systems are driven by established management systems, have an optimized safety culture, and tie EHS and sustainability to organizational initiatives. They focus on leading indicators to predict outcomes, and often strategically adopt EHS innovations, such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR), and drones to assure the strongest return possible from their investments into platforms.
Low Tech vs. High Tech EHS Systems
The choice of technology, whether low-tech or high-tech, depends on the specific needs and circumstances of an organization. Low-tech solutions are often low-cost and are a great choice for those with a limited budget. But it can be difficult to generate a return on this investment because, with low-tech options, the ability to reach a broad audience is often limited. And it takes significant manual intervention to create data insights.
High-tech and emerging innovations tend to have a higher price and can be more difficult to implement. But they do offer the reach and data insights an organization needs to make informed business decisions that could generate a return on investment.
Organizations must find the right balance between low-tech and high-tech solutions to support their EHS systems. So, which is right for your organization? No one tool can solve all problems, and a mixture of platforms is often the best approach. “Leveraging familiarity” with existing tools and platforms can lead to greater adoption and success. Let’s take a look at how a global food & beverage organization built a mobile app with ReadyKey to take its emergency response and EHS management to the next level.
Case Study: A Household Brand Name’s Mobile Emergency Response Strategy
During my time with a multinational, household brand name in the food and beverage industry, we recognized the need to assure expansive access to the organization’s emergency response procedures and points of contact to more fully engage and empower 500+ employees across North America. Our aim - real-time "Access on the GO" and a mobile-first solution to assure that current procedures and contacts were always accessible when needed.
Working with a team of experts and IT, we developed a mobile application that provided ready access to standardized response procedures, internal and external contacts, site maps, drawings, plans, and checklists. The mobile app improved the overall EHS system performance by making it simple to download, use, and navigate when the pressure was on.
The Business Case
The organization, at the time, had a responsive Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) system in place, but recognized the value-add opportunity to enhance the system and further reduce emergency-related risk. Two key opportunities for improvement presented themselves:
- Availability of Procedures and Points of Contact –existing EPR standard and site-focused written EPR program documents included a robust suite of critical emergency procedures and related emergency contact information. However, assuring that this information was available 24/7 could be challenging. During an actual emergency, having limited or desktop-dependent access to this information could lead to added risk of team members not knowing the specific emergency response procedures needed and/or who to contact for support and/or reporting purposes.
- On-the-Go Access in a Format Conducive to Emergency Operations – Having the right information available is only half the battle. Having the right information readily available in the palm of one’s hand while in the field and managing emergency response activities under pressure is a critical success factor and one that enhances a responder’s ability to identify and select effective actions and to respond robustly per procedure while reducing the risk of inadvertent unforced response errors.
From these opportunities, we identified four EPR project goals:
- Ready Access on Mobile Devices – Mobile because of the ubiquitousness of the technology platform and related broad familiarity with and acceptance by nearly all employees (i.e., the Familiarity Factor)
- Automated Updates – Needed to assure that only the most current EPR information was available for access during emergencies
- Ease of Access and Use – Certainly enhanced by the Familiarity Factor noted above but also a function of optimal information formatting and presentation
- Effective Risk Mitigation – Where the rubber meets the road
Our team also identified five key success drivers needed to achieve its project goals
- Mobile-First Vision and Focus – As shared earlier, the organization already had a robust suite of critical EPR procedures and related information available. However, this information was often managed on paper and/or electronically on office-based PCs. Citing the need for ready access during actual emergencies, we quickly embraced a Mobile-First, app-based vision designed to place this information directly into the palms of their employees’ hands to enhance their employees’ abilities to respond quickly and effectively.
- Team of Experts – To support the Mobile-First vision, the organization needed to couple its inhouse EPR expertise with a team of individuals expert in the field of mobile app development. Effective cross-team partnering was a critical success factor.
- Collaboration with IT for Integrations – Needed for technical IT details such as Single Sign On (SSO) and automated, daily HR updates of team member contact information.
- Introductory Training and Communications – Needed for content communication, end user buy-in, and creating an open channel for system improvement recommendations.
- Integration into EPR Training – Following initial training and rollout, integration of the mobile app into ongoing annual EPR training and drills to enhance familiarity and sustain system use.
Benefits of the EPR Mobile App Approach
- Centrally managed, critical EPR information in the palm of responders’ hands
- Simple to download, use, and navigate a company-branded app
- Information automatically updated (EPR procedures and internal contacts)
- Readily accessible internal and external emergency contacts
- Room to add site-specific maps, emergency plans, utility drawings, etc.
- Scalability - Over 10,000 downloads of EPR information
- Full Utilization Can Take Time – Deploying the EPR mobile app can prove easier than assuring its ongoing use. Perhaps a reflection of EPR’s position in the hierarchy of control as a last line of defense, it is recommended that follow-ups and contacts with facility end users be sustained as needed to assure appropriate mobile app usage. Follow-up can take the form of incorporating the app into annual facility emergency drills and training, review of emergency response follow-up incident reports, or routine audits, etc. Facility EPR mobile app usage metrics are also available to EHS stakeholders. Periodic end user surveys may also be of value. Consideration should be given to identifying the “early adopters” (i.e., the end users who readily adopted the platform) and asking whether they would consider helping “cheerlead” the mobile app with their peers.
- Coordinate with IT Early and Often – IT will hold the keys to the IT ecosystem within which the EPR mobile app will be but one of the many solutions IT is responsible for. It will help to identify your key IT partners early in the project and then collaborate, collaborate, collaborate.
- Be Aware of Data Privacy Requirements – Different geographic locales often apply different regulations and restrictions, e.g., what works in the US may not work in Europe and vice versa.
Food for Thought
When considering the integration of technology into your EHS management system, it is easy to become overwhelmed. It’s also natural to try and find “the silver bullet” - the one platform that can manage everything. But thoughtful assessment, planning and trial and error is often the best way to approach these challenges. When our team engaged with ReadyKey , we kept three core tenets at the center of everything we did. In our experience, it was essential to:
- Fail fast: Evaluate whether existing platforms can meet your needs and know when to move on if they don't. It can be easy to get stuck on a certain platform and spend way too much time and money trying to “make it work” rather than simply moving on to a better solution.
- Integrate: Collaborate with your IT department to integrate EHS management tools with other systems, such as human resources, single sign-on, and enterprise resource platforms. This will give even your “low-tech” platforms the ability to provide better data, and better insights.
- Be creative: Push the limits of your system and plan for adoption challenges. Partnerships are crucial to success, so keep an open mind and work closely with your stakeholders. And, be smart about leveraging familiarity - no matter how good your platform is, it’s usually easier to gain adoption quickly when your end users are generally familiar with the platform you chose to deploy.
The emergency response use case is a clear example of how integrating high-tech EHS systems, like an app powered by ReadyKey, can provide easy access to critical information. It also is an excellent example of how “leveraging familiarity” can increase adoption, and keep training efforts to a minimum. But, understanding how a system accounts for people, process and platform is crucial for effective EHS risk management, be that in relation to PSM or any other program area. By implementing a robust system that meets or exceeds relevant EHS standards, organizations can minimize risks to employees, the environment, and the community, while also improving their reputation and performance. To do so, you need to keep the people, processes and platforms that comprise your system in sync with each other.
In my time in industry, I partnered with ReadyKey to build a mobile solution that supported our effort to align our EPR process and people with a truly mobile-first solution, and to integrate those solutions with existing systems and organize crucial information to more fully engage and empower our workforce. Leveraging the mobile app technology fostered collaboration and helped create a successful system that aligned with the organization’s EPR goals and objectives: Enhancing and assuring the safety of our employees and the environment and the protection of our brand.
Read the rest of the series