Digitalization

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

Let's rely on valid data and handover bureaucratic load to software solutions

5 minutes09/16/2022

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

It’s not uncommon for EHS professionals to demote the value of hard EHS & 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 EHS 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.

EHS & ESG?

In this article I use the concepts of EHS & ESG, they are not synonyms but strongly interlinked. ESG criteria are investment criteria that make it possible to examine the sustainability credentials of various financial products. They have become a de facto industry standard for sustainable investments. Find out more about ESG and the contribution of our EHS work in the article: “ESG criteria and reporting”.

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

I have long tried to rationalize the reasons, why some EHS professionals still refuse to invest their time building and honing the digital management system for EHS. My conclusion is very natural: People tend to avoid things that they don’t understand well enough. Given that EHS 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 EHS 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 EHS 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 EHS processes such as incident management, SDSs or audits. And what counts for any good new technological help, also counts for EHS 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, EHS 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 EHS, jeopardizing the desired outcomes and derailing the project. In addition, EHS leaders may fear that failure on such an important project could have consequences for their careers.

Argument #2: EHS is Peoples Business

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

Understanding EHS as Peoples Business

Davide Scotti, general secretary of the Leadership in Health and Safety Foundation is one of the most famous advocates of EHS as peoples business. “Technology can only ever give us a hand – it can never give us a heart.” He says in our interview for the safety management trend report.

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I would agree that it is a fair point, but remember that a key objective of every ESG or EHS software project is to save time and automate manual processes. EHS 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? 

EHS 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 EHS peoples business.

Veltec did it - you can do it too.

Thomas Arnold, Head of EHSQ at Veltec, successfully digitized health and safety operations across five company locations.. He successfully reinforced Veltec’s safety culture, carried out efficient digital audits, and added consistency and transparency to EHSQ processes across locations and in different fields. 

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Let’s think even further: If you had your ESG and EHS 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 EHS software, I suggest you take a look at Quentic’s recent white paper ‘How to choose the right EHS software’

EHS: A successful investment case

Every Euro invested in occupational safety brings in 2.20 euros in business terms. How does this average value look for your company? My colleague Mouttou Natanasigamani has one possible way to answer this question, as well as the underlying thinking and calculations – all in one article.

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Your task - your tool set

I would hazard a guess; your EHS 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 EHS 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 EHS 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 EHS story

After my EHS 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 EHS, I have supported Quentic consultants and customers to find ways to model EHS 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.

From Safety-I to Safety-II

Quentic had been an EHS software solution that, for 13 years, had specialized in visualizing all aspects of traditional occupational health and safety – that is to say, Safety-I. However, we decided at that point to adapt a core part of our software. I had the chance to be part of the ground breaking change

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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 EHS 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 EHS 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 EHS 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.

Digitize EHS: An exciting process

“We were faced with the immense challenge of persuading employees around the globe to adopt changes and report incidents independently. Introducing the software was a strategic change process, which required a great deal of sensitivity and active communication.”(Franz Almhofer-Amering, Corporate EHS & Facility Manager at Miba AG.

Read Success Story

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 EHS managers like you and me have proven how quickly vast changes can be possible: reduced accident rates to below 1 percent, faster risk assessments and managers who are finally enabled to contribute to health and safety or staff that finally reports more incidents 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 none of the above mentioned arguments (lack of IT skills, lack of time and money, your focus on the people) should stop you from taking the challenge of implementing an EHS software.  

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