With widespread adoption of continuous improvement initiatives such as Lean and Six sigma, EHS and safety management, they are now viewed as vital contributors to operational excellence and business performance. Undoubtedly, through safety statistics, one can conclude that disparate systems and fragmented data sources stand as main barriers to EHS performance improvement.
Even though industries have embraced safety, there is still a disconnect when it comes to implementing safety as a value. Very few invest in technology and personnel and this gap in ‘walking the talk’ reflects a culture that is not fully supportive of safety – explains why industries continue to experience incidents that harm people, reduce profitability and stymie growth.
But, it would also be not wrong to say that best digital data captures, if not fully optimized, can deliver zero benefits.
The starting point is to step back and take a big picture approach. This involves aligning with the organization’s strategic objectives and on-going continuous improvement initiatives.
Track anomalies and learn from weak signals
When information about near-misses makes its way up the ranks, managers might fail to diagnose it as a warning sign. In complex organizations, some troubles on the ground — minor errors, lapses, and unusual but manageable events are common. These warning signs aren’t obvious until a disaster occurs, after which the logic is fully understood. But such irregularities tend to be reported haphazardly and are rarely analysed rigorously.
Imagine a worker who, while walking to the assembly station on the factory floor, notices a pool of liquid on the floor. First, it needs to be easy to report the problem. Second, the information captured (ideally includes a photograph or description) needs to be quickly looked at by people who can direct someone to fix the problem – in this case, to clean up the spill. Third, such a fix needs to be implemented in a timely fashion so the reporter can see that his/her report made a difference.
Complex systems mostly fail because working individuals do not have all the puzzle pieces they need to figure out big problems. Learning from signals can empower workers, engineers and managers to identify problems before they cost huge to the industrial operations. By systematically learning about errors, near-misses and anomalies, EHS managers can piece together a mosaic of safety insights into potential breakdowns.
Usage of practical tools to implement change
Many things stand into the way of EHS managers when they try and attempt a meaningful culture change. If employees are sceptical about the changes, they will often view them as transient efforts that will pass. Directing people to reporting anomalies isn’t enough – meetings and speeches can’t compare with the effectiveness of a set of practical tools that leverage employee motivations.
A mobile app, for example, effectively captures data, and in many industrial settings, employees already carry their cell phones with them. Conducting safety inspections and audits, influencing employees to report near-misses and incidents and carrying CAPA demonstrate that they are closing the loop of problems. By notifying employees that they are gathering more information and reacting to their safety efforts further strengthen the safety climate.
Organizations that adopt these approaches will become better at learning, innovation, and decision making, thus increasing their opportunities for growth even as they reduce their exposure to systemic risks.