UL Workplace Health and Safety

Do You Need A Safety Management System?

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Courtesy of Courtesy of UL Workplace Health and Safety

Managing workplace safety is an important goal that many corporations have recognized as a logical and effective way to provide a better environment for employees to work in, and to cut corporate costs.  A key component in safety management is the software system used to record, manage, and analyze safety related data.  With an effective system, the safety team can see exactly where accidents and unsafe situations are occurring and take proactive steps to eliminate them.

A safety system should not only standardize a company's safety operations but encourage accountability throughout the entire safety investigation process.  In addition, it should seamlessly handle ever expanding compliance requirements and be versatile enough to adapt as requirements change.

Different Approaches To Safety Management
There are numerous systems and approaches safety professionals use to manage their day-to-day activities. Paper forms, Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, and single purpose software applications are some of the ways safety data is recorded, accidents are investigated, and follow-up is performed. 

In some cases, the number of safety issues that require attention is low, making these systems adequate, though not very informative.  When the volume of safety occurrences rises, however, and interaction between multiple people and departments is needed, more sophisticated safety systems should be considered.

Take the case of a large organization with multiple locations and safety staff throughout. Each safety team is tracking and managing a high volume of cases but each location has a unique process for managing its safety issues.  This scenario creates some challenges.

As an example, challenges that result from not having a common set of processes, i.e. no standardization, are the inability to:

    • Ensure compliance at all locations
    • Assess what's working and what isn't
    • Share information and collaborate effectively
    • Implement a system of ongoing improvement.

From an organizational perspective, if each site operates uniquely, capturing a clear picture of safety performance is complicated.  Extracting useful intelligence from the data that can be used to make decisions is problematic, time-intensive, and ultimately ineffective. Keeping people accountable for their respective tasks requires ongoing effort, and it's more likely that important details will be missed.

One of the most advantageous reasons any organization should implement a safety management system is that it brings repeatability to safety operations.  When processes are repeatable, they can be methodically improved. 

Benefits Of A Comprehensive OHS&E Application
A truly comprehensive product will offer a variety of occupational health, safety, and environmental (OHS&E) capabilities in a single system.  Data from one area (e.g. employee health/medical) should flow seamlessly to other areas (e.g. safety, case management, etc.) so as to reduce redundant data entry and improve data integrity.  It should support geographically dispersed operations, yet be centrally managed.

A capable product will:

    • Standardize safety management so that all locations operate uniformly and repeatably
    • Automate the safety investigation process
    • Encourage accountability 
    • Enhance communication and sharing of appropriate data between supervisors, managers, safety professionals, medical staff and others
    • Simplify compliance reporting.

What Should The Ideal Product Do?
The ideal software product should help record data about:

    • Incidents, near misses, unsafe actions, and unsafe conditions
    • Root causes and causal factors that lead to workplace injuries
    • Injuries and accidents on the job--where they happen and why.

In addition to tracking safety data, the system selected should offer functionality to:

    • Assign and manage corrective actions
    • Conduct detailed accident investigations
    • Determine recordability of workplace injuries
    • Generate the OSHA 300, 300A, and 301 Logs and track incident rates
    • Help place employees in jobs suitable to their work restrictions
    • Develop Job Safety Analyses (JSAs)--specific descriptions about how to perform a job related task, any associated hazards, and suggested controls
    • Analyze safety data to identify 'safety hotspots' that need attention
    • Report on key safety metrics and trends.

To encourage staff member accountability, many systems offer configurable e-mail notification capabilities.  E-mail notification works something like this:  An employee is injured on the job and reports to occupational health.  The medical team initiates the accident investigation process by sending an e-mail notification to the employee's supervisor.  The supervisor then enters relevant information into the accident investigation form and submits to his manager for review. 

The supervisor's manager receives an e-mail notice to review the accident investigation report.  He may accept or deny it.  If accepted, an e-mail notification is sent to the safety professional notifying him that an investigation requires final review and analysis.  If corrective actions are required, the safety manager could identify these actions and assign them accordingly.

If a staff member does not complete an assigned task or the process stalls, e-mail triggers may be set to periodically remind the responsible person, or notify that person's direct supervisor.

A Note About OHSAS 18001
Occupational health and safety professionals may be interested in OHSAS 18001.  The acronym stands for 'Occupational Health & Safety Assessment Series' and is a management system specification that is similar in nature to the ISO9001 and ISO14001 management systems standards.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Group (2002):

The OHSAS specification is applicable to any organization that wishes to:

    • Establish an OH&S management system to eliminate or minimize risk to employees and other interested parties who may be exposed to OH&S risks associated with its activities
    • Assure itself of its conformance with its stated OH&S policy 
    • Demonstrate such conformance to others 
    • Implement, maintain and continually improve an OH&S management system.

This specification outlines areas for a company to focus on, to achieve a safer and healthier environment for employees, and clearly identifies worthwhile objectives for any organization.

What Is A JSA?
The Maricopa County Government (2005) defines a Job Safety Analysis or 'JSA' as:

A method that can be used to identify, analyze and record:

    • The steps involved in performing a specific job
    • The existing or potential safety and health hazards associated with each step 
    • The recommended action(s)/procedure(s) that will eliminate or reduce these hazards and the risk of a workplace injury or illness.

If your organization were interested in meeting the OHSAS 18001 specification, developing JSAs would be a key part of that process.  Many software solutions offer functionality to define JSAs for any job or task.  In addition to helping meet the requirements of a specification like OHSAS 18001, JSAs can be used for employee training purposes.

To simplify and manage your organization's safety operations, identify and eliminate dangerous situations, and make your job sites safer, consider an integrated safety management application. A versatile system will help safety professionals perform their daily duties more efficiently, and give them the information they need to make sound decisions that ultimately improve employee health.

For related information, please visit the following websites:

Maricopa County Government. (March 16, 2005). Job Safety Analysis (JSA). Retrieved December 12, 2006, from <http://www.maricopa.gov/safety/jsa_description.asp>.
The Occupational Health and Safety Group. (2002). Benefits-How Can OHSAS Help? Retrieved December 13, 2006, from <http://www.ohsas-18001-occupational-health-and-safety.com/how.htm>.

Todd A. Brehe is Sales Manager for OHM / Unique Software Solutions, Inc.  USSI develops the Occupational Health Manager™ (OHM) system, a comprehensive OHS&E solution to help organizations track, record, and analyze employee health data for the purpose of improving workplace safety.  Visit OHM / Unique Software Solutions, Inc. on Environmental Expert for more information.

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