U.S. Forest Service assures safety compliance nationwide and streamlines accident reporting


Courtesy of Courtesy of IHS

The United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service (USDA-FS) is responsible for managing 193 million acres of America's national forests and grasslands across the United States. The agency has more than 30,000 full-time employees and a large temporary workforce. Many of the agency's employees work hazardous jobs such as fire fighting, forestry, managing avalanches and securing abandoned mines.

The Forest Service is responsible for maintaining a safe environment for its employees and the public who explore the forest wildernesses of America every year. The agency must ensure that its locations comply with Federal safety regulations – including those of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Department of Labor (DOL) – by properly reporting accidents and maintaining accident records.

Tracking safety injuries and illnesses is paramount in preventing the recurrence of injury and promoting safety. Several years ago, the Forest Service recognized a need for a better way to collect and manage its safety information.

'It was a constant challenge to ensure all our locations were reporting their accidents consistently and it was a huge task to compile their statistics into reports,' said Caroline Deaderick, Safety & Occupational Health Manager for the U.S. Forest Service. 'We have nine regional offices, five stations, and other large offices across the U.S. These offices manage locations for their units… Before, if somebody asked how many injuries we had in a particular area, we couldn't answer that. We just didn't have good data,' Deaderick said.

The Forest Service had used a workers' compensation software program to manage and store incident data but it was unable to provide the detail necessary for proper safety compliance management and incident tracking.

Launching SHIPS Project with ESS

When the Forest Service began to explore automated tools for managing safety data across the entire organization, they utilized a team of experts from within the organization to closely assess bids from different software companies. Bids were judged on a number of criteria; speed of data retrieval and system security were at the top of the list. At the end of the process, in January 2003, ESS was the clear choice.

ESS' Compliance Suite Safety Management Software became the core of the Forest Service's 'Safety and Health Integrated Portal System' (SHIPS) – an accident and incident reporting system which tracks employee injuries and illnesses throughout the Forest Service. ESS software enables fast and easy collection of safety compliance data and works within SHIPS to facilitate data communications between the Forest Service and Department of Labor.

'Every year we are required by DOL to post OSHA logs in places where employees can view and have the information in case a DOL inspector shows up, 'said Deaderick. 'Every year we are required by DOL to post OSHA logs in places where employees can view and have the information in case a DOL inspector shows up,' said Deaderick. 'Thanks to the ESS system, we can show them how many injuries we are having just by pressing a few buttons. We can break down the data into reports by causes of injury, types of injury, locations, etc.'

The SHIPS portal, which was set up by ESS for The Forest Service, allows FS employees to transfer safety data from their computers to DOL so they can submit accident reports electronically, get an immediate return receipt and later receive information back from DOL.

Time Savings, Better Employee Service

Saving time is central to the efficiency of any operation, and data management via paper processes can be long and laborious. Since ESS software allows the Forest Service to submit accident report forms electronically, what used to take days or weeks is now accomplished in minutes. The Forest Service can receive return receipts from DOL immediately so the employees get their claims processed faster. This means less time filling out reports, and more time executing important tasks.

'There are many thousands of data entries and now we can extrapolate results almost instantly. We're getting reports that show us where our trends are, where our accidents are happening and why. Thanks to the ESS system, we're getting a much better view of the cause and types of injuries that our agency is experiencing so we can take steps to reduce them,' Deaderick said.

Technology Backed by Expertise

'ESS really knows the safety and health community. In fact, they had already incorporated a new law into the software so when we ran OSHA logs and somebody in the field asked if we knew about the change and asked if we had the fix in SHIPS, we said, 'Already done.' ESS took care of it for us,' Deaderick said.

ESS has worked closely with the Forest Service to help assure the success of SHIPS by providing not only technical support for its software but also expertise in addressing broader information technology, compliance and administrative challenges.

'The implementation process with ESS was very easy,' she said. 'They offered extensive training and were quick to work out any issues. The help we have received from ESS has been second to none. The people care. They respond immediately. They answer my questions and they have actually given me ideas for new programs.

'ESS is one of the most credible companies I've ever dealt with. If they say they are going to do something, they do it and they give it back to you right away. They practically read your mind, knowing what you need and helping you with it. ESS is a great resource. You would be making the right decision if you used ESS.'

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