Why we shouldn't be afraid of digitizing our EHSQ & ESG Management Systems

5 minutes10/12/2022

W. Edwards Deming once said “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion”. This became increasingly true for EHSQ teams over the years.

It’s not uncommon for EHSQ professionals to demote the value of hard EHSQ & ESG data due to often justified reasons such as “the data is not reliable” or “the data is misleading” or “we must focus on people rather than data”. While these arguments may be valid, they are ultimately excuses to avoid the inevitable, that is building our own EHSQ data collection and processing engine within our organization. This article is designed to help you overcome the emotional roadblocks that keep you from taking advantage of the technology you and your business deserve.

Why do EHSQ teams tend to resist change when it comes to digitizing EHSQ processes?

I have long tried to rationalize the reasons, why some EHSQ professionals still refuse to invest their time building and honing the digital management system for EHSQ. My conclusion is very natural: People tend to avoid things that they don’t understand well enough. Given that EHSQ practitioners, just like myself, are usually trained well in either engineering or psychology, the education doesn’t often include IT skills and in the best case provides at best a very shallow understanding of EHSQ software solutions.
But in today's world, business, and all organizations that have people, need software to function. It would be hard for me to see us EHSQ professionals if ever we were to go back to using papers and spreadsheets, unless the process is already digitized. Digitalization brings clear benefit, and this counts for all processes , be it marketing automation, invoicing, digital signatures, ESG data collection or EHSQ processes such as incident management, SDSs or audits. And what counts for any good new technological help, also counts for EHSQ software: Once you have digitized, you won’t go back. Or would you choose to ditch your smart phone for good and go back to landline phones?

Argument #1: Lack of IT or technical skills

Often on such projects, EHSq believe they lack the necessary IT or technical skills. And if that is indeed the case, there may be a fear that the driver's seat will have to be given to someone outside of EHSQ, jeopardizing the desired outcomes and derailing the project. In addition, EHSQ leaders may fear that failure on such an important project could have consequences for their careers.

Argument #2: EHSQ is Peoples Business

I often hear comments that EHSQ is a people business, it’s about people not software and hence we should not get distracted by mobile apps or EHSQ platforms but instead use our time to coach the managers and supervisors or train and educate frontline people. 

I would agree that it is a fair point, but remember that a key objective of every ESG or EHSQ software project is to save time and automate manual processes. EHSQ software is designed to automate notifications, assignments, reminders, escalations and simplify the data collection about energy consumption, safety observations, near misses and accidents and so much more. Aren’t these repetitive tasks consuming the very time you would rather invest into talking to people, coaching, and training them and basically doing the desired people work? Would you ever think there should be more time for your ESG strategy work and planning things in advance without rush, without being in hurry all the time? 

EHSQ software lightens the load on health and safety officers, in turn allowing us to reclaim the time we would have spent on administrative tasks and invest it in safety leadership to make EHSQ peoples business.

Let’s think even further: If you had your ESG and EHSQ data available in a structured manner, wouldn’t it be easier to craft KPIs that your organization leaders and stakeholders ask for due to their ESG initiatives? 

Argument #3: No time, No money

The next emotional obstacle comes from the fact that there’s no time and there’s no money to invest in building the digital process. Often, that’s the reality. I’m still confident that such obstacles are just bumps on the road and not dead ends. If you seek help convincing management and choosing EHSQ software, I suggest you take a look at Quentic’s recent white paper ‘How to choose the right EHS software’

Your task - your tool set

I would hazard a guess; your EHSQ team is hired in your organization to decrease the number of adverse events such as incidents and accidents. You probably want to contribute to the people so that everyone could go home from work unharmed – there’s more meaning than in most jobs. I used to work in EHSQ myself, building up incident management processes, figuring out how to identify hazards, how to control residue risks with weekly inspections and safety walks, how to engage frontline people and get leadership commitment to my EHSQ programs. I know how that goes and it’s more complicated than one might first think. And most of all, I know how much time that takes and sometimes, it feels like there is just no time for a new software project. It’s important to keep in mind that if you don’t do this, someone else will.

My personal EHSQ story

After my EHSQ career, which included implementing an EHSQ software, I ended up founding a software company of my own in 2014. At the time, I wasn’t convinced about the existing pieces of software and I wanted to make safety less boring to the non-safety-people. After joining forces with Quentic in 2017, I’ve helped customers’ EHS teams to convince their decision makers and budget holders to digitize EHSQ, I have supported Quentic consultants and customers to find ways to model EHSQ processes to fit their needs without IT, and most importantly, since early 2020, I have had the privilege to improve our software solutions as product manager at Quentic to scale my knowledge and help thousands of people creating safer work-places.

To be honest, having a mere 2 courses of coding in the university, I first felt like I wouldn’t have the necessary skills to understand engineering a software to solve complex real world EHSQ problems but as of today, I feel confident I can do this. I now understand that I personally don’t need to possess all the software skills but I can focus on my strengths; understanding the underlying problems that our users and customers are facing. There are problems big and small and at first it feels overwhelming to solve all of them. It was the same way I felt as a young EHSQ Engineer, with problems ranging from risk assessments, choosing PPEs, to handling psychosocial risks. However, over time and with an organized prioritization process, the big problems can be sliced into smaller chunks that individually become possible to solve with the help of my colleagues in software development, user experience, customer success, consulting, and other departments.

That’s exactly how you too can overcome any anxiety with digitizing your EHSQ processes in your organization. Piece by piece and with the help of others, specialists like your internal IT or software consultants who might know more about the technology. I won’t deny, you need to invest time to such a project but perhaps quicker than you think, I’m confident, you and the people in your organization will save a lot of time. Then, you can choose how to invest the saved time, be it people or strategy or something else.

Outlook: Continuous improvement based on digital support

W. Edwards Deming was right - you really need data to make better decisions. But he also represented another important poinofview: continuous improvement. That’s a philosophy you also need to adopt when implementing software, improving your ESG data quality, engaging your frontline people and getting management commitment to your projects.

Even if your work is never 100% finished, the improvement will pace far quicker when it’s based on a digital solution. Various EHSQ managers like you and me have proven how quickly vast changes can be possible: faster risk assessments and managers who are finally enabled to contribute to health and safety or staff that make more near misses visible and thus helps to create the necessary data for improving health and safety conditions.

Every solution will bring new challenges, that need your attention and continuous improvement itself. But don't allow any of the aforementioned arguments (lack of IT skills, lack of time and money, your focus on the people) to stop you from digitizing your EHSQ management system.

Timo Kronlöf
Senior Product Manager

Timo Kronlöf, is an EHS Engineer that has implemented and designed EHS software and made all imaginable mistakes while doing so. He holds a  master’s degree in safety management and engineering and has years of field expertise in EHS and software. In recent years, Timo has continued making a lot of mistakes, now in product management but he also has experienced successes with the help of great colleagues in software development department such as building a simplified incident review that saves the time of busy users reviewing automatically assigned incidents and observations.