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Safe choices in safety software


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October 1, 2014 by JIM BARNES

Safety management software started to come on strong more than a decade ago. It was an alternative to the folders full of Microsoft Office files many contractors used to document compliance to safety regulations. Today, the technology has evolved beyond tracking compliance to provide a real added value for many companies.

“Customers want information on leading indicators, not just lagging indicators, so they can predict where problems might occur in the future,” says Chris Henry, director of technical services, HCSS, Sugar Land, Texas.

Tough choices

When choosing software, make sure to check how it will be adapted to the regulatory environments you work in. Intelex Technologies Inc., for example, supports customers in Canada (WCB), the USA (OSHA) and Europe. “The system has templates for those specific regulatory bodies. We also have a generic template that can be modified,” says Kristy Sadler, vice president, Global Marketing, for the Toronto firm.

Simply Safety! prints out all WCB forms for Canadian provinces as well as OSHA 300A and several custom state forms, notes Mike Porisky, president, CCD Health Systems, Vancouver. “It’s up to the user to know his local regulatory environment. HCSS gives him the tools to manage that data,” says Henry. “We give them the flexibility to manage their program within different jurisdictions.”

Another concern is selecting software appropriate to your company’s size—while allowing for growth. Is the system scalable? “Our latest version will allow prospective customers to purchase from over a dozen integrated modules, selecting only those they are interested in. This strategy allows smaller companies to take advantage of a lower cost of entry,” says Porisky. The system can support any number of simultaneous users.

HCSS’s enterprise system offers scalability from very small businesses to large ones across jurisdictions, notes Henry. Smaller companies, or divisions of larger companies, can expand the Intelex software to cover new requirements, adds Sadler. The software you already have in place is going to help determine your choice.

“If your current ERP system meets your needs and is the best system for your employees, that’s what you should go with,” says Henry. “If not, your safety software provider should provide you a way of interfacing into those applications. They shouldn’t hold your data hostage so you’ll buy the rest of their solution.” Interfacing with third-party systems can be handled in a number of ways, which could range from an Excel file dump to SQL views.

Simply Safety! allows the importing of employee records including an auto-import process for synchronizing external data sources, says Porisky. The program can also be configured to import training records, incidents and equipment. “A newer version will permit direct (read-only) retrieval of employee details from the most popular HR systems as well as employee training systems and ISNetworld,” says Porisky. The Intelex application has an open-path API, so it integrates with any other external database, including PeopleSoft and SAP, according to Sadler.

Flexibility 

Flexibility is another key consideration. How easy will it be to adapt the software to your needs? Intelex incorporates Application Builder, a WYSIWYG tool that lets you change and add fields and customize workflow. “If you’re a small company, you don’t have to pay to configure it—you can do it yourself,” says Sadler.

HCSS also lets you adjust custom inspections in the field with a couple clicks of the mouse, says Henry. This becomes important when working with specific government requirements, subcontractors or a joint venture partner.

Mobility seems to be a focus for most of the major safety software providers. “If you don’t have mobile safety, then you’re kind of missing out,” says Jim Paulson, president of Viewpoint Construction Software. You can document a near miss or an incident on the tablet with a picture; tag it, file it, connect it to a job and immediately put that in the back office or work-flow it to a safety director, or whoever needs to see it.

HCSS moved its field system from laptops to mobile tablets. “You get all the information you need—you can review individual employee skills and certifications on the job site,” says Henry. You can use the safety field mobile app to capture safety meetings, pictures, inspections, near misses, and incidents right from the field. The main system is now web-based, offering easy access to any authorized user.

CCD started developing the mobile version of Simply Safety! earlier this year. “In the first release, privileged users will have access to employee information including demographic details, scheduled and completed training. Employees will be able to enter incidents and complete WCB claims while managers will be able to follow up on corrective actions and perform inspections.

Intelex is also fully mobile and web-enabled. Its EverSync technology means field users are not only plugged into corporate systems, they are upgraded automatically on the latest changes to the application. If in remote areas, their data is stored and synced as soon as there is a connection.

Benefits

The benefits of safety software go far beyond managing compliance and reducing your insurance costs. “The intangible benefit comes when your employees start to understand how important safety, and their personal safety, is to you,” says Henry.

As organizations mature, they change how they use the software. They realize the product will help to mitigate organization-wide risk. Then, they really start driving performance. “Someone using the software simply as a compliance device is not getting the full value out of it,” says Sadler.

Many organizations perceive safety software as a cost. “We’ve done an ROI assessment,” says Sadler. She suggested that in some cases the software could pay for itself in three years through premium reduction and risk management.

B.C. roadbuilder BA Blacktop, for example, has implemented Intelex’s Standard Safety Incident and Quality Nonconformance apps. Electronic task assignment increased accountability and adherence to quality and safety initiatives in the company, says Intelex. The result was a dramatic increase in non-compliance reports. Tracking of safety incidents led to an 18 per cent reduction in motor vehicle accidents and a 56 per cent reduction in spills since 2009, along with noticeable reductions to insurance premiums. As well, incidents per 200,000 man-hours were reduced from 7.16 to 1.38 per year. “Ultimately, this is about all your employees going home safe at the end of the day,” says Henry. 

Grow your own

If you can’t find what you want, build it. In 2005, that is what PCL did. “We did a market survey against our baseline needs and couldn’t find anything that would work for us,” notes Gerry Salm, relationship manager, Business Technology Department, PCL Constructors Inc. The company decide
d to build its 
own fully functional application, Safety Management Center (SMC), using Microsoft SQL Server.

They re-verified that decision a couple of years ago with another market survey as they were looking at a major upgrade to SMC. One key point was integration…the safety management system is connected to PCL’s other enterprise systems.

Another was flexibility. The system is mobile. Data captured in the safety forms on the tablets is stored in a repository that is accessed through enterprise reporting. “We can get real-time statistics on lost-time incidence frequency reporting and some of the other safety frequency reporting that requires man-hours analysis, in addition to the safety inspection and incident information that comes from the form,” says Salm.

“Data collection is tied into the collaboration tool on the project, so that information we have about the sub trades, clients and architect comes over into our safety application, making it easier for people to fill in the forms,” says Salm.

The number one user demand at present is getting a finer level of data that is more specific to their needs out of the system. “We have passed the stage where a report is going to serve the needs of everybody. We’re moving the data over to a business-intelligence data warehouse platform that gives people the analytics that they’re looking for,” says Salm.

“We think we’ve got something that’s unique in the industry. It marries up operational data with ERP data and lets us, in real-time, analyze safety and safety statistics and provide real value to the folks at the job site as well as the folks in the office that are looking at things with a bigger lens.”

Traps and pitfalls

What are the pitfalls in selecting and implementing safety software? Entering quality data is essential. “We like to steer our new clients in the right direction by providing several hours of complimentary setup training,” says Porisky.

Automating bad processes is another major error. “Before you start to think about software, you should take a really good look at your safety programs. Make sure you have a good safety foundation within your organization and that you’re running the basic steps,” says Henry, who adds that hiring a safety consultant is often a good investment.

Also, he says, bring someone from the field in to the design phase. Getting a real-world point of view can save time later. Do all the planning and configuration up front.

Do not view safety software as a reactive tool. “We’re always trying to get across that this is a proactive tool. Are you reporting on near misses? Are you capturing that data and trending it? Are you looking at it across locations and across pieces of equipment?” asks Sadler. Staff communications is also a key piece. “A lot of software implementations have failed because of a lack of user adoption,” he adds.

Jim Barnes is a contributing editor to On-Site.  Send comments to editor@on-sitemag.com


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