The Case for Digital Safety Management

One of the concerns about moving to digital safety may be the cost. “Paper is free and margins are thin right now. We don’t have the budget for it.”

The reality is that everyone has a safety program and safety programs cost money but few companies are aware of the cost. Once made aware of the actual cost of running a safety program, companies can see the fiscal sense of efficiencies gained through moving to a digital system.

Consider the time and monetary cost of a paper-based system:

  • Distributing revised forms/manuals/materials to, and from, office and field
  • Wear and tear on vehicles and fuel costs
  • Wages of employees to accomplish process
  • Scanning, photocopying, uploading, filing, and storing paper
  • Fines or Improvement/Stop Work Orders
  • Locating documents for spot audits
  • Stationery, printing and office/field expenses
  • Time spent preparing for internal or external audits
  • 3rd party consultants
  • Law suits
  • Perceived value of your current safety management system compared to relevant costs

Online assessments

Increasingly, cost calculators are being provided to help establish the costs incurred by running a safety program. While general results haven’t been published, a company can easily get their results assessed.

However, many companies do not consider the costs when issues with a safety program surface. Paper-based systems ensure a maximum penalty, while digital systems significantly ease the burden.

Fewer incidents make fiscal sense. 

Beyond the incredibly important aspect of seeing colleagues go home safe, reducing incidents also makes for a more robust profit line. OSHA states that over 4 million workers are injured on the job site each year, which means over $50 billion in annual claims. This does not include penalties which range from $7,000 to $70,000 each. Furthermore, OSHA is increasing employer penalties for the first time in 25 years. Without considering the enormous amounts gained through process improvements, eliminating even just a few incidents more than pays for the cost of a digital safety program (depending on the vendor selected).  Let’s drill into one of the costs identified earlier.

Stop work orders.  

In the event that a company has a Stop Work Order, a lot of administrative work is involved in rectifying it and having the order removed. Training may need to get sent out to supervisors across all job sites, signatures collected and presented to an inspection agency before work can continue.

Costs can range from $10,000s to $100,000s of dollars in lost work time.  Even if digital workplace safety was merely considered as insurance against such a moment, the investment would be worth it. As soon as the correct documentation and steps are created, they can be sent out to all site supervisors in seconds. The supervisors can then immediately collect signatures and send them back to Head Office in real-time for presentation to the inspector.

Paper-based systems limit a company’s ability to create a safe environment.

The elusive safety culture.

Companies try to create a safe work environment with the tools they have available.  A popular option has been to implement incentive programs to help promote a safer environment.  However, these initiatives didn’t get the desired results.  Instead of reducing accidents, employees chose not to report all the accidents that did happen.

When incentive programs are outlawed. 

Certain stakeholders have taken a position that annual injury and illness numbers published by The US Bureau of Labour and Statistics have under-reported the number of injuries and illnesses due to employer incentive programs. OSHA has proposed a new rule which is currently being vetted by The Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  Certain incentive programs would become illegal under this proposal.  Some have laid the blame on zero-injury cultures that drive these incentive programs. If these incentive programs are not available, employers would need to lean on different mechanisms to accomplish behavioural change.

Companies tied to paper have cut themselves off from one of the most powerful options for behavioral change: real-time feedback.

Behavioural change. 

When employees believe a supervisor is not present, they may act differently. As a result, they may give the illusion of working safely by doctoring paperwork.

In one case, Dr. Tim Ludwig (who earned his PhD studying behavioural safety programs), notes that on a job site he visited there were stacks of paper filled out for the requisite preventative maintenance paperwork but when he looked further he discover that the documents were exactly the same. The same completed sheet had been photocopied!

However, if a clear expectation is laid out and the employee knows their supervisor has immediate visibility into whether or not they have engaged an action (eg.  doing their Toolbox talk, performing the Daily Inspection, etc.) there is a strong correlation with success.  When transitioning to digital safety, the availability of real-time information for safety activities allows supervisors to follow-up and enforce proper behaviour across all job sites.

Impact on safety culture. 

A natural corollary of the ability of digital safety management systems to change behaviour through real-time accountability is the emergence of a vibrant safety culture.

Pride through score keeping. 

Performance consultants often employ a tool like BSC – The Balance Scorecard. The goal is to track the execution of tangible actions so that the employee can know they are meeting expectations. By providing employees with a tool that establishes the safety expectation, they are further motivated to successfully attain those expected safety standards.  Furthermore, with digital tools, the onerous elements of paperwork and it’s handling are removed.

Preventing falls.  

OSHA has once again reported that falls from heights continues to be one of the top causes of workplace fatalities. One of the key recommendations is to ensure PPE is always checked. With digital safety, managers are able to closely track and verify that all workers are in compliance and all inspections have been completed before working at heights.

Handling the mounting demands of due diligence is logistically impossible on paper.

Handling the mounting demands of due diligence is logistically impossible on paper.

The enforcement of safety is gaining traction worldwide.  One of the most powerful incentives for companies to be safer is placing accountability for safety directly upon those with the most power.

Board members can be personally liable for the safety of employees. 

Company directors can be held personally liable for workplace safety (eg. Canada and Australia).  Thus, companies want greater visibility into the safety practises and activities of their company. Turning a blind eye is no longer an option.

Consistent safety standards across all locations.  

The first step to improve workplace safety is to ensure consistent safety practices across all locations. It’s not good enough to have most job sites and supervisors operating safely. Companies must attempt to root out the unsafe practises that are hiding within their organization by making accountability standards consistent throughout their company. This problem becomes more profound when you consider the impact of job sites that cross national borders.

When you create processes built with digital tools, reports can be monitored and consulted in real time by the safety coordinator regardless of the location of work, and a common level of safety standards can be enforced across all job sites.

External pressures.

But it’s not just company boards who are pushing for greater due diligence. Government organizations are also tasking companies with more responsibility. Here are some examples of legislation that are straining the ability of companies to administer their safety programs:

Tracking temporary workers. 

On Oct. 19, 2015, yet another administrative burden was placed on the employer. OSHA specified that employers are required to record injuries of temporary workers even if they are from a staffing agency who performed all the orientations.  OSHA is being criticized for this move.

The administrative headache of handling this new burden (or any like it) is vastly reduced when a digital record keeping system is used that allows for on the spot employee additions.  (Depending on your provider, you may not even have to pay for adding these new hires.)

More joint employer relationships. 

Yet another example is a draft policy by the US Department of Labour to increase the number of franchisors who are judged to have a Joint Employer Status relationships.  While a digital safety system can easily absorb the new administrative burdens heaved upon the employer, those constrained by paper-based systems may find these new responsibilities difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill.

Better Due Diligence than Paper.

Finally, when due diligence actually needs to be demonstrated to management, boards, government, etc. far more options are available with digital safety systems.  A time-stamped and location-stamped photo can provide incontrovertible evidence that a hazard was corrected.

A company can’t make informed decisions on their safety program without access to the data a digital system provides.

Emerging from the darkness

It has been pointed out that using term “accident” in the workplace is problematic because it has the connotation of carelessness or something beyond anyone’s control.  One possible reason for this is the fact that we don’t have the data to see the correlations between our actions and their results.  Because this information is unavailable (and thus analysis is impossible) risk assessments are heavily leaned on to guide safety practices even though they have been shown to vary greatly depending on the assessor.

“Far too much of what we do in safety and are taught to do is based on gut-feeling, mythology and folklore instead of scientific facts gained from actual damaging occurrences.”   

Moving to a digital safety system means all safety activities are now available in electronic form. The result is that insights can be gleaned from “scientific facts” rather than relying on folklore.

Leading Indicators vs. Lagging Indicators. 

By getting information in real-time about safety activities, trends that lead to workplace injuries and fatalities can be accurately identified. By monitoring these trends, risky behaviour can be engaged before they lead to problems. For example, when a company can see in real-time that a certain job site is failing to perform its Daily Hazard Inspections, the individuals responsible can be corrected immediately, rather than waiting until the end of the week or end of the month before discovering the lack of due diligence.

The Younger Generation. 

Fourteen percent of the workforce are 24 years of age or younger.  Young adults and teens also tend to work in the most injury prone sectors. In fact, a teen worker gets injured every nine minutes. More than half of young workers receive no safety training at all. One of the best ways to deal with their training, or lack thereof, is to stay on top of certification. There is an easy and practical way to do this – simply have a system that makes it easy to track expiring and expired certifications.

Freeing Up Human Capital.  

Each organization knows the that its most limited resources are the time of its managers, supervisors and IT department.  By utilizing digital safety tools, specifically ones that require little-to-no IT configuration or maintenance, time can be spent elsewhere. With a digital system, supervisors can focus on spending time in the field and ensuring projects progress safely and on time.  Safety coordinators can spend their time understanding their data so as to make informed and strategic decisions.

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