View source: Zach Pucillo

We live in an age of real-time, data-fueled dashboards that help business leaders make forward-looking decisions—in some industries. In the world of environmental health and safety (EHS), though, the reality is that many organizations still rely on spreadsheets and binders full of outdated information.

If that describes your organization, I’ve got two pieces of good news for you: first, transitioning to an EHS culture focused on prevention and mitigation can keep your workers safer and save your organization money on insurance premiums, citations, and fines.

Second, there is software specifically designed for EHS that makes that transition feasible for any organization.

Here’s a practical look at what it takes to shift to a preventive EHS program.

Track Leading (Not Lagging) Indicators

Common EHS metrics include DART (Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred) rate and incidence rates—both measures that tell you what has already happened in your organization.

While lagging metrics are valuable for your insurance provider, they aren’t useful in preventing accidents and incidents that hurt employees. To do that, you have to track leading indicators: identification and mitigation of workplace hazards, completion of employee training, consistent and proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), modification of observed employee unsafe behaviors, etc.

That’s nearly impossible in a traditional EHS setup, where a single person is often responsible for monitoring and managing the safety of an entire facility.

To effectively shift to tracking leading indicators and therefore preventing and mitigating workplace accidents, organizations must implement a culture of safety, so that every employee is an active participant in maintaining organizational safety. Let’s look at how that can happen.

Make Everyone an Active Participant in Workplace Safety

When people who aren’t EHS professionals think of workplace safety, they typically imagine dangerous “stuff”: a frayed electrical cord that could spark a fire or a cluttered aisle that could trip someone.

In reality, the biggest single factor in a workplace’s safety is employee training. That’s because safety doesn’t happen behind a desk; it happens on the facility floor, when dozens or thousands of individual workers consistently make the best and safest choice possible. For example:

  • Are employees using the right PPE for their work? Are they wearing that equipment properly?
  • Do employees know when they need to use PPE?
  • Can employees recognize something that’s not up to code, whether it’s behavior or physical surroundings? If so, do they know what action to take when they do?
  • If something goes wrong, will employees know what steps to take, or will they have to wait for a manager’s instruction?
  • Are chemical safety data sheets easily accessible?

An entire workforce doing small things every day to uphold workplace safety standards has a much bigger impact on a facility’s overall safety than any single policy or guideline can have.

This is borne out in the way OSHA compliance officers approach site visits. The first question they typically ask is whether the facility operator completes adequate employee training. If the answer is no, they’ll likely issue a citation.

So how can you provide employees adequate training?

The ideal system offers ongoing, role-specific, and in-context training. It also empowers employees to conduct random audits—e.g., by prompting them to take photos of their organized workspace that can be scanned and used as an example to others. Prebuilt digital inspection checklists, which an employee can use to inspect a specific area for safety hazards, are a great way to empower employees while training them at the same time.

Here’s how a best-case inspection scenario might look with adequate training:

An OSHA inspector asks to see the safety data sheet for the chemical an employee is handling. The employee takes out a smartphone, opens an application, searches for the chemical, and retrieves the requested sheet on the spot.