The demand to record safety at all stages of a project’s progress is fuelling strong growth in EHS software that creates a ‘data ecosystem’.
Environment, health and safety (EHS) software is capable of capturing, storing and analysing a host of information relating to OSH, and can now be regarded an integral part of ‘golden thread’ compliance – a phrase coined in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster describing the need to attach an indelible audit trail to all high-risk projects.
Typically, the software records compliance data from incidents and causation, and a range of other safety metrics that it organises into dashboards to give a more complete safety picture. Demand for this software has been booming in the quest to build better safety cultures. Research suggests the market will be worth $2.5bn by 2026, at a compounded yearly growth rate of 11.5% (Verdantix, 2021).
‘What’s been done, by who, and where, are just some of the questions EHS software answers, by geo-tagging which staff with the right training have been allocated to jobs,’ says Luke Allen, managing director of eviFile, a digital evidence platform that serves the construction sector and helps create what he calls a ‘data ecosystem’.
‘Initially, EHS software looked into ops, but it’s increasingly moved to compliance. Two years ago it would have been considered voluntary, but increasingly it is becoming required, as those involved in projects need to
validate themselves and their subcontractors – everything from creating logs of near misses, to
daily site diaries and captured health and safety protocols.’
Among the leading providers are Emex, Perillon, Alcumus and EcoOnline – the last of which works with building contractor John Sisk & Son. ‘The technology helps us make the right decisions and effectively focuses our efforts on delivering zero incidents and zero accidents,’ says Wayne Metcalfe, health and safety director at Sisk.
Perillon CEO John Niemoller – who has seen his business grow by 20% in the last year – says: ‘Not only do OSH professionals want fewer unplanned events, they want a proper audit trail. We find heads of safety want to kick off workflows that take them through a resolution process, be that highlighting who needs training or what on-site processes need changing.’
EHS software is increasingly influential, Luke says. ‘We’re seeing larger contractors mandate that their SME subcontractors also take licences for systems.’ And smaller businesses can use the software harmoniously too, as no heavy IT skills are usually needed for set-up. Both John and Luke also argue that with careful integration, different experience maturities – even those between sites – can be managed. John says: ‘It’s quite easy to configure this software to what we call small or large company status – even within organisations – to take account of different sites’ familiarity, but still create a good overall picture.’
Q&A: Sarah Saha, Emex
Why the sudden interest in EHS software?
With COVID-19, the focus has slightly shifted from safety to health; however, we are also operating in an environment of increased regulatory scrutiny. With increased remote and flexible working, almost every daily activity is now a data and security issue.
Is this software ‘must-have’ now?
Companies need to ultimately prove that they have unified, predictive, real-time health and safety performance management across operational processes. If health or safety is compromised, organisations are increasingly expected to pinpoint the source and demonstrate a positive impact with data-driven evidence. So this is really becoming much more of a reputational concern.
How should organisations go about getting full company buy-in?
The immediate benefit is operational savings, as the software provides you with better visibility, keeps you abreast of evolving regulations, helps you to streamline operations, automates time-consuming processes, and reduces or eliminates paperwork. However, it’s really about presenting the upfront investment versus the projected risk of serious incidents both in terms of an opportunity cost and a wider knock-on effect to your organisation’s reputation. Reliable EHS software will also allow you to stay ahead of the curve and be an industry leader.
Sarah Saha is regional CEO, MENA and APAC, at EHS software provider Emex
A whole company approach
They also agree on the need for a ‘whole company’ approach: ‘For EHS to be any good, it needs to integrate with existing enterprise resource planning systems,’ says John. ‘You can integrate to an HR system that logs training, absence or illness, or to fleet management systems, so that you can start measuring miles driven without incidents. It’s about mapping interfaces and linking one set of data to another.’
For those investing in EHS software systems, the key requirement is scalability, and ability to link across other organisational departments. Buyers might want to assess whether they need an all-in-one safety and compliance platform, or a specialised solution for a discrete process. Some organisations may prioritise auditing capabilities more than those that spot and suggest corrective or preventative action; for others, it may be more about incident management. Installing the software locally or using a cloud-based solution is a further consideration, although using the cloud is fast becoming the favoured option.
Most providers offer a wide suite of solutions, with some tailored for property and asset management, quality control and supply chain management, so that pick-and-mix integration is easier. Nicola Barker, vice-president of product at Alcumus, says: ‘Firms want cross-organisation consistency and standardisation; this enables high-level trends to be seen and helps firms be transformative rather than reactive.’
CASE STUDY: Seacat Services
Seacat Services runs a fleet of 14 vessels that transfer people and equipment to offshore locations such as wind farms, and safe disembarking and re-embarking of personnel is paramount. For this reason, it has partnered with specialist marine EHS software provider Reygar. Seacat managing director Mark Drew says: ‘Last year we made 32,922 transfers, but with each one facing different sea and wind conditions, there are numerous risks.’
Reygar’s BareFLEET software uses motion sensors to capture data when a ship is out at sea to create a ‘transfer score’. The data quantifies the journey the boats take – how the boat pitches and moves through the water – so it is time-based and situational data is collected. The software measures multiple parameters at the same time, such as how hard the engines are working and the roll of the boat as it moves.
‘Over time, we can start to see how vessels perform in different conditions, and if near misses or accidents start to happen in certain score parameters,’ says Mark. ‘We review monthly, and we are starting to integrate the data with our CrewSmart people management system and our clients’ systems to establish whether certain sea conditions, over set periods of time, cause sea-sickness and long-term absence – which can have a major impact in our sector.’
Chris Huxley-Reynard, managing director of Reygar, says: ‘By essentially having “black-box data” creating parameters for transfers, hazardous behaviours are avoided. In the past, decisions were made based more on a feeling that everything was okay. While the captain still has discretion, this aid provides additional insight into potential risks.’
A common barrier to adoption is entrenched cultural norms. ‘Resistance to change from the bottom up is nearly always a problem,’ says Luke. ‘People are used to paper checklists or Excel, so it’s about getting everyone to think about the benefits of seeing workstreams more broadly.’ This certainly chimes with recent research. A survey on the built environment sector’s readiness to deliver digital golden threads found that 75% said industry culture was the biggest blocker. Some of this was due to not knowing who should ‘own’ the data: at the design stage, 30% said clients should own the data, rising to 75% at the operation stage (i3PT and Chartered Institute of Building, 2020).
Timo Kronlöf, managing director of HSE software provider Quentic in Finland, says: ‘More observations tend to flow into fewer accidents over time, and I believe that when employees become part of the reporting process, they become more engaged in the safety culture it creates.’
John adds: ‘It’s vital management is proactive here – configuring templates, asking the right questions and setting up rules for triggering training.’
Smart businesses should be able to bring about cultural change by linking best practice created with the IOSH competency framework. Of note are the framework’s technical competencies, which call for OSH management systems and a ‘plan-do-act’ mentality. It also elevates health and safety auditing – complete with compliance, documentation and gap audits. When buy-in is achieved, John says clients partnering with Perillon report 10% to 20% reductions in incidents and injuries.
And there’s still more to come. John says: ‘Innovations likely to be seen include integrating workflows better, so safety processes chime better with business ones; being augmented with better data-mining tools to be more predictive rather than using lagged data; and better integration with mobile devices.’ Alcumus is pressing ahead with ‘dynamic risk assessment’ functionality that Nicola says will add more predictive elements and a wider number of risk assessment templates. Providers also say there will be better alignment with regulation and standards bodies, to help companies meet their criteria. All of which means EHS software really is coming of age.
Image credit | Alamy | iStock
i3PT, Chartered Institute of Building. (2020) The golden thread: understanding the capability
and capacity of the UK built environment to deliver and retain digital information (accessed 6 September 2021).
Verdantix. (2021) Verdantix says spending on EHS software will reach $2.5 billion in 2026 (accessed 6 September 2021).
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