Think Electronic: Managing EH&S Data
Marilyn | February 1, 2008
Ensuring regulatory compliance and processing the vast amounts of information associated with it is never-ending. New tools not only save time, they also can provide benefits well beyond the environmental health and safety function. Choose wisely.
Information is central to fulfilling mandated obligations for environmental, health, and safety (EH&S) compliance reporting; quantifying and documenting progress toward sustainability; and supporting decisions associated with best maintenance practices and capacity assurance. But information is only as good (and useful) as its sources, gathering methods and timeliness.
Too often, excessive time may be expended in collecting, analyzing, re-formatting and preparing consistent and uniform reports. Multiple (and far-flung) locations, languages and regulations can present unwanted complexities. Incompatible IT platforms and reporting protocols can make communications and reporting all the more challenging. All present roadblocks to meaningful data management and application.
Now, however, solutions have arrived via electronic EH&S information management systems customized to serve across geographical, functional and cultural lines. These Web-based suites of software modules have been shown to enable more consistent regulatory compliance reporting, uniform record-keeping and streamlined decision-making while advancing reliability and sustainability initiatives within a manufacturing organization. Other inherent advantages include real-time access to a common global repository of data, elimination of redundancies and improved risk management.
So much data, so little time
Most manufacturing enterprises probably could write “books” about the volumes of data they must routinely collect, process and manage whether to satisfy compliance reporting requirements or monitor internal operations. It’s a never-ending task.
The amount of effort put into compiling and managing EH&S data, though, can be staggering, especially when companies must rely upon paper-based systems for the job.
In one case, managers at multiple global locations reported that as much as 25% of their time was spent just collecting, analyzing, re-formatting and preparing the massive amounts of necessary data for required EH&S reports.
Capturing all the benefits
Electronic data management systems offer the viable alternative to create a centralized database platform for moving the process forward in significant ways. A system’s impact can additionally extend well beyond reporting requirements by suggesting opportunities for improvement. Related remedial actions, based on timely information, sound decision-making and corrective recommendations, can deliver practical results, especially in meeting sustainability objectives.
Data analysis enabled a facility to reduce lubricant consumption for plant machinery by 18% and, in turn, reduce the time and money previously spent for associated lubrication- related maintenance. Even more dramatically, overall production eventually rose by 30%. This was accomplished by repositioning equipment maintenance practices to reliability- centered paradigms driven by condition monitoring technology. Recurring and costly unscheduled downtime for machinery virtually vanished.
Simply by changing maintenance practices based on a benchmarking review, 4% in energy reduction opportunities were identified for a plant’s compressors.
Live CO2 tracking led to the decision to install a heatrecovery system on a factory’s roof to recover excess heat from the exhaust air heating the building. This has so far reduced carbon dioxide emissions by about 380 tons a year and amounted to millions of kilowatt-hours in savings by capping the traditional reliance on expensive purchased energy. Example #4… For another manufacturer, energy efficiency has been on the rise with implementation of an array of sustainability- oriented projects prompted by a review of generated information. Actions have included introduction of frequency-controlled pumps, heat recovery from the production of compressed air, installation of new lighting in factories and warehouses and roof insulation.
Making the most of modules
Today’s innovative information management systems consist of a suite of software modules with the capability to work on a stand-alone basis or as an integrated suite. This allows for immediately tailored solutions and the flexibility to expand as needed. Software solutions for Environmental, Safety, Audits and Assessments, Metrics and Task/Calendar are among those most widely engaged.
- Environmental. In line with the growing interest in sustainability, manufacturers increasingly have accelerated programs to help reduce their environmental footprint linked to activities, products, and services. Information management software technology helps to provide a mechanism imparting transparency, consistency and accuracy. Customized electronic software programs can achieve the following benefits:
- Centralize all permit-related activities and compliance requirements and track all details associated with various permit requirements.
- Track storage tank maintenance, repair and operation activities and establish automated notifications for pending preventive maintenance activities.
- Streamline waste management procedures and processes, generate waste management manifest records and integrate activities with waste management vendors.
- Capture, manage and rate all environmental aspects organization-wide, determine benchmark severity of environmental impact to establish objectives and targets and generate management programs.
- Safety. Rising worker compensation costs and stricter enforcement of health and safety regulations continue to add risks in the marketplace. Managing and reducing such risks can correlate directly to a reduction of safetyrelated incidents and their costs, while improving performance and profitability. Among other things, safety-oriented electronic information management systems give users the ability to:
- Generate real-time charts, graphs and reports of incident statistics and perform statistical analyses of key incident types and details.
- Track and manage material safety data sheets, formalize a chemical approval process with notifications and generate customized chemical labels.
- Create consistent, safe working processes by designating proper work techniques and requirements
- Audits and Assessments. These constitute highly effective methods to validate the level of compliance and conformance to any standard or requirement. Information management software applications allow manufacturers to track the audit process reliably and in a timely manner from start to finish. Modules additionally can link corrective and preventive actions, based on findings. The enabling audit-related software can do the following:
- Organize all policies and regulatory requirements into a centralized database and generate customized audit protocols, based on facility type and risk potential.
- Perform statistical analyses of audit findings, based on audit type, EH&S program element, and the severity of the finding, among other parameters. Assign and delegate corrective and preventive actions derived from any audit or finding.
- Track findings related to International Standards regulatory requirements (such as ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001), best management practices, and company policies.
- Determine risk levels for all EH&S areas.
- Perform facility-wide and/or department-specific selfassessments for EH&S audits.
- Metrics. While critical EH&S data represent vital components of sustainability reporting, the absence of a common database platform forces facilities to report data in the form of paper hard copies or spreadsheets. Consequently, the data validation, normalization and aggregation process typically remains a laborious task. For multinational entities, reporting in consistent units (i.e., tons vs. kilograms) is rare, which necessitates manual (and more timeconsuming) data-conversion steps. Inefficient and error-prone EH&S metrics management may threaten to become the status quo. An electronic information management system can change the scenario to:
- Allow corporate EH&S teams to link all facets of an organization’s metrics reporting, tracking and analysis. This can further allow for development and management of specifically tailored metrics for business units or divisions.
- Tally automated unit conversions and derivative data calculations.
- Provide transparency in data and immediate comparisons of performance vs. goals and targets.
- Invite comparison between facilities, divisions and various operating units to support business decisions leading to improved operational efficiencies.
- Report and store data centrally to allow comprehensive corporate EH&S reports to be generated at any time.
- Task/Calendar. Meeting the wide range of compliance requirements is fundamental to any EH&S program and a proactive approach will make or break timely adherence to deadlines. Electronic information management modules can trigger reminders of pending due dates and keep all team members informed about crucial timelines. Specifically, these systems can:
- Establish a library of various task types.
- Assign “ownership” to any task by user, group and role type.
- Create pre-due date reminders and post-due date alerts for all tasks.
- Establish, organize and manage all corrective and preventive actions in a centralized depository for access by all team members.
Our expertise with EH&S information management systems stems directly from firsthand experience. With operations around the world, multiple languages and currencies and incompatible IT platforms and reporting protocols, SKF managers were spending inordinate amounts of time preparing required EH&S reports.
In 2004, a Web-based EH&S information management system was implemented at all SKF North American sites and then was expanded in 2006 to 120 sites in 40 countries. This implementation reached manufacturing, distribution, R&D, administration and sales offices and influenced more than 5,000 users. Our customized system incorporates/ performs the following:
- Sustainability metrics to collect, manage, and analyze environmental, safety and social metrics globally.
- Audits and assessments to manage audit life-cycle, deficiencies, and corrective actions from compliance and management system audits.
- Document management for distribution throughout our organization.
- Task/calendar to track corrective and preventive actions company-wide and to allow each site to manage action items resulting from regulatory, corporate, and site requirements.
- Chemicals and MSDS management for company-wide monitoring in these areas and to streamline the chemical approval process.
Since developing and implementing our own EH&S information management system, many customers have turned to us to help engineer customized solutions for their operations.
Our first advice is to underscore that for any electronic information management system to run effectively, factors unique to an organization should be evaluated before deployment. These range from a company’s structure and culture to information technologies and protocols.
Above all, whether intended for one facility or thousands, when considering such a system, there are a number of issues to take into account, including, most importantly:
- Adaptability. Customization must be built into the system to work with existing policies, processes and procedures and to accommodate (where appropriate) multiple languages, currencies and measurement units.
- Cost-effectiveness. In addition to integrating with existing systems and minimizing disruptions, electronic data management programs should preserve IT investments, avoid any need for additional desktop software and be able to grow without becoming prematurely obsolete.
- Versatility. Software modules should work on a stand-alone basis or as an integrated suite of modules to provide the flexibility for system expansion as needed.
- User-friendliness. All software modules should have a consistent look and feel supported by intuitive, userfriendly navigation. A system works best when the potential for user resistance is minimized. MT
William C. McGlocklin is director of Environmental Affairs, and Randy A. Greaser is director of Sustainability Sales- North America for SKF USA Inc. E-mail them respectively at: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org