A few months into the coronavirus pandemic, we are still sailing in uncharted waters. Even seasoned EHS veterans with 20 or 30 years of experience have never been through anything quite like this before. Now more than ever, we’ll need to rely on our data — rather than guesswork or gut feeling — to help us navigate.
Data analysis can provide a wealth of information about potential hazards and issues. The good news is that we’re already sitting on a goldmine of data. Most organizations are collecting measurements about injuries, incidents, near-misses, and non-conformances — even if they don’t yet have a strategy for using it.
Collecting data is just the start
The first step will be getting a system in place for organizing and analyzing all of this information. Spreadsheets are ill-equipped for the job. Teams will need modern cloud-based EHS management software in order to make sense of their data; in fact, they’ve needed these tools for a long time. Now, the challenge will be getting it in place as quickly as possible. Organizations simply can’t afford to waste valuable time during a crisis. They need software that can be up and running in days, not weeks or months. Once that’s in place, organizations will be able to get a clearer picture of the current situation.
At many organizations, for example, teams are using mobile apps to perform inspections remotely when safety managers are unable to travel on-site. An employee at the inspection site can capture data, photos, audio, and video using a mobile phone or tablet. Once the inspection is completed, the results are shared with need-to-know staff for full management visibility.
Look for trends in the data to develop safety plans
Data from inspections can then be combined with information from other sources — such as employee near miss reports, job safety assessments, and production and data — to discover trends and patterns.
With regard to COVID-19, for example, are employees practicing safe work behaviors such as mask-wearing and social distancing? Where are illnesses or issues occurring? Are there certain high risk locations, such as assembly lines where workers are in close proximity?
That information will allow for more accurate risk analysis, enabling EHS managers and corporate leaders to make better decisions — such as how and when to reopen a facility.
Safety plans work best when they’re based on data. Such information can be used to select protective equipment, develop training, and establish controls like staggered work shifts and social distancing. When business leaders make informed decisions based on the data, they’re able to act faster and with greater confidence in the face of uncertainty.
Harness data to pinpoint potential compliance issues
Data can also help ensure compliance continuity during times of disruption. In the case of coronavirus, for example, organizations are facing a slew of new compliance challenges. Local, state, and federal requirements are evolving rapidly as more is learned about the virus. Since March 14, OSHA has issued at least 8 enforcement memos with regard to COVID-19. Changes to workplace safety guidance mean that workers are having to adapt to new procedures daily, such as the use of N95 respirators, social distancing, and disinfection protocols.
At the same time, there’s less oversight with many EHS staff working from home. It’s simply more difficult for safety leaders to know what’s happening on the shop floor when they’re not physically present.
Once again, data can help organizations rise to the challenge. Simply being able to access all their data, such as injury reports, investigation findings, and training records, can make it easier for EHS to keep tabs on potential issues and non-conformances.
For example, safety leaders can quickly see if someone hasn’t completed the required training or if a corrective action hasn’t been closed out. From there, they can develop action plans to remedy problems and compliance issues. Having access to the data also creates flexibility in responding to new rules and reporting requirements, such as those around COVID-19 cases at work.
The bottom line
No one knows exactly what the future holds, and we’re all searching for information that can help us make sense of our current situation. Now is the time to leverage our EHS data to uncover hidden risks, make informed decisions, and move forward with confidence. A solid EHS management software will be key to achieving these types of insights.