Evolution of Environmental, Health and Safety Compliance and Operational Risk Management Software

Since the late 1980's environmental, health and safety professionals have used a variety of software tools in hope of performing their programs' performance. In this article, the author discusses "The Evolution of Environmental, Health and Safety Compliance and Operational Risk Management Software".

So what exactly is EHS Compliance and Operational Risk Management Software? Well, that can mean many things to many different people and companies. For some companies that are somewhat in the reactive mode - it may mean just tracking occupational injuries, accidents, and claims. For others, for those companies that are slightly more proactive - it may mean audit finding tracking, corrective action tracking, and leading indicator tracking. And for the more advance companies it can mean tracking sustainability efforts, and greenhouse gas reduction efforts. It also can mean authoring and managing material safety data sheets, air emissions reporting, hazardous wastes management generation tracking, industrial hygiene data management, and many other environmental, health and safety program elements. Part of the challenge today, is that there are many systems that are trying to do EVERYTHING - thus making it difficult for companies to get their arms around such a system.

So, let's step back for a moment and discuss the history of environmental, health and safety compliance software, and operational risk management software. Back in the mid-1980's, the majority of EH&S tasks were done by paper, and completion of paper-based forms. EHS professionals were largely the people with the thick binders on their shelves containing all the company EHS rules and programs. At that time, at least at the entry level, personal computers in the workplace were rare. Then as we approached the 1990's a few computers starting appearing around the office, but were pretty much exclusively limited to senior level personnel. Personally, I still recall, looking out my office door, and seeing our library of federal and local regulations that covered the entire wall in one of our common areas. Then in the late 1980's, our first safety management software system appear. It was a DOS based system used for reporting occupational injuries, accidents, and other claims. It was basically, a workers' compensation and liability claims management system. So, it was really an operational risk management software tool. Still at that point, data entry into the system was primarily done by the administrative assistants, and the EH&S management would receive a printed report once per month. As more and more people in the office begin to have dedicated computers, everyone started to get creative in using them to manage various issues, including EHS. I believe the first EHS software tool that I every developed was a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet used to track employee training.

Then in 1990, the next environmental, health and safety management software tool that I recall using was a system called CMS, which stood for Compliance Management System, and as the name refers to, it was primarily a PC-based system to manage EHS compliance tasks and requirements. It was ugly, but it actually worked quite well. The one challenge however, was in those days, implementation was difficult. A team of people would come out for a week or more, review every permit, every requirement and input them by hand into the environmental, health and safety software system.

Then around 1993, I recall my first experience with the world wide web - I clearly remember that I was in the office of the IT manager who's office was next to mine, and using Mosaic we pulled up the Center for Disease Controls' website. I remember thinking to myself - this is cool - this is really cool. At that time, little did we know, what were where about to experience over the next decade.

After that event, I remember that information technology the environmental, health and safety field just exploded, and in March of 1993, I attended the Global Environmental Management Initiative meeting in Pentagon City, near the Washington, D.C. area. During that meeting, there was a presentation about integrating right-to-know information at Dupont. It was basically centered around managing material safety data sheets. During that same time frame, I recall seeing a presentation by Bill Sugar on Anheuser-Busch's Environmental Management System, which was originally written in Lotus Notes. It had it's shortcomings, but with the leadership of Bill Sugar and his team of environmental, health and safety professionals they took EHS management to a whole new level. We then began to see environmental, health and safety software move from compliance-focused, and regulatory reporting focused to more of a total quality management approach. With the emergence of ISO14001 and OHSAS 18001 managing data began more important. In addition, with increase demand for corporate transparency, the need for rapid access to environmental, health and safety data became even more important.

So, that's some of the early history of environmental, health and safety software. And were do we stand today? Well, that vast majority of environmental, health and safety management systems are web-based. Everyone has an email, everyone has access to a computer, and almost every environmental, health and safety professional has a mobile phone. Today's smartphones have more computing power than those computers back in the late 1980s. Most major corporations collect and report all kinds of environmental, health and safety data. The majority of this data is readily available to the public.

So what challenges do we face today? First off, reducing complexity. Environmental, health and safety software providers have to realize that not every company is going to have a full-time administrator to run these complicated systems. More features, doesn't necessarily mean better. Forget "kitchen sinkness" or "feature creep" which is where software developers think they have to add every single possible feature to the system. In most cases it only increases the complexity of the program without adding additional benefit. If you think about it, the one reason text messaging and Twitter is so popular is that if you can't say it in 140 characters then you're saying too much. Second, there's too many companies offering EHS software solutions out there, there has to be, and will be some industry consolidation.

So, what's in store for the future of environmental, health and safety software? Well, EHS mobile apps will become more important. The use of RFID tags in combination with your mobile phone will become prevalent. While it is difficult to predict what new technologies will develop over the next several years, I do promise you that it will be an exciting time for all EH&S professionals.

Dean Calhoun, is the President of Affygility Solutions. Mr. Calhoun has been an environmental, health and safety professional for over 26 years. Mr. Calhoun has a Masters degree in Environmental Policy and Management, and a Masters Degree in Technology Management from the University of Denver. Affygility provides environmental, health and safety software, potent compound safety, industrial hygiene, and containment validation services to the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and medical device industry. You can learn more about Affygility Solutions and mobile EHS apps by going to: http://affygility.com/affytrac/environmental-health-safety-mobile-application.html

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