As the world of safety professionals celebrate world day for safety and health at work, the focus is on building resilient OSH systems.
I’m about technology so my focus will be on how we can digitise safety and use technology to help amplify OSH systems and help them be truly resilient.
The theme for this year’s world safety day is anticipate, prepare and respond to crises: Invest now in resilient occupational safety and health systems.
But what does that mean?
First, let’s understand what resilience is all about.
According to Małgorzata Pęciłło resilience was first defined in the field of the mechanics of materials as the ability of a material to absorb energy when it is elastically deformed and to release that energy upon unloading. When the concept of resilience was adopted by social, the original meaning simply became a type of metaphor.
Many of us know resilience to be associated with facing and dealing with challenges, recovery and bouncing back. But can this be applied to occupational safety and health systems?
What is resilient OSH systems all about?
With the recent pandemic, safety professionals have had to adapt very quickly to rapid change. Some struggled and are still struggling mainly for lack of essential digital skills. (link to the last article). I remember having to manage expectations from workers at my job, providing regular updates, advice, training etc, on a subject (COVID-19), which at the early stage, was relatively poorly known. Even health experts changed opinions and thoughts, and left us quite confused. “What a time to be a safety professional”, I often exclaimed.
At this point, it is safe to say, many of us realised that the existing OSH systems hadn’t considered what it would be like to deal with a pandemic. They clearly weren’t resilient, when you look at the definitions of resilience.
So yes, we do need resilient OSH systems.
According to ILO (International Labour Organisation), the World Day for Safety and Health at Work will focus on strategies to strengthen national occupational safety and health (OSH) systems to build resilience, in order to face crises now and in the future, drawing on lessons learned and experiences from the world of work.
From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become more obvious how relevant the principles contained in ILO Occupational Safety and Health standards especially prevention are.
I found this interesting research piece that you may find helpful. It looks into 4 core critical approaches of implementing resilient OSH systems.
1. Responding, which requires preparedness based on right anticipation
2. Monitoring which requires proactivity and the anticipation of major changes in safety and other critical performance domains.
3. Anticipation which analyses six patterns that describe the anticipating abilities of resilient systems such as recognising when to shift priorities, navigating, interdependencies across roles, activities and levels; adapting, etc.
4. Learning, based on the paradigm that the organisation must learn from what is both right and wrong.
I’m certain you will resonate with one or more. This is the link to read the full article.
How technology can help amplify OSH systems
One of my frustrations as a safety professional is the low level of digitisation and digitalisation in the safety industry.
A recent survey I conducted showed that more than half of those who completed the survey did not use any sort of digital system to manage their safety departments. None.
From experience, lack of a digital system has caused me to not only lose significant amount of time, but it kept me and my work disorganised, sometimes lacking structure and efficiency because some requests or pending tasks were forgotten in a stash of paper or analog systems. I bet it is the same for many.
I took matters into my own hands and started digitising with what was already available to me, no matter how small.
In this article, I am going to take you through 4 simple steps to ensure you use digital tools to manage health and safety if you really want to achieve and have resilient OSH systems.
1. AS IS – TO BE (a little business analysis terminology in there ????). What we call, Gap Analysis.
Where are we now? What do we currently use?
Where do we wish we were?
How are we going to close the gap? Bearing in mind that we tend to have different safety processes and streamlining things should be top of mind.
One of the ways I do this, is to review existing processes and ways of working. What do you do that takes more than 15 minutes? Start there. Break them down into little steps. Next is to create flowcharts for easy visibility and understanding by anyone who picks it up.
2. Create a flowchart
Let’s use the process for incident investigation as an example. When it first happens, it needs to be reported. Then the safety manager or other designated person needs to analyse and investigate where necessary, and so on…
Write out every step and draw up a flowchart. This is your workflow and how things will work from start to finish.
Below is an example of what a simple flowchart looks like (image is for illustration purpose only).
Look at each step in your flowchart. How can you digitise them? You may want to link each step to a form or tool for easy accessibility.
Many safety softwares abound but if you don’t have one, you can start with what you already have and plan your upgrade. Or get my help to find and implement the right software for your team.
We are either using Google or Microsoft at work. Start with this.
Reporting the incident. I would go from using a physical accident book to using a digital one. You can use Google or Microsoft (MS) forms to create one that actually helps you analyse without you lifting a finger. Watch this video to see how you can use Google forms to capture incident reports. Works same way with MS forms.
Now you’ve captured that report without using paper, but how does the health and safety team get notified?
Think automation. Chances are you would miss the report for days and possibly end up in trouble. How can you automate this step? Google and MS forms allows the creator to receive an email notification each time the form is filled. You need to actually ensure it is set up to receive responses.
These forms can be used for most safety processes, not just incident reporting. One of my clients uses it for their site inspections and it works like a charm.
Automation saves lots of time and reduces human intervention. It doesn’t render the human useless; rather it amplifies human effort. You set things up and watch the magic happen.
Most softwares have an element of automation. Some to a great degree. I recommend implementing a software. But like above, if you can’t, there are tools out there that can help you connect various tools so that they speak to one another and do the heavy lifting for you. The most common one is Zapier. I use integrately.
What part of your workflow needs automation? What do you want to be able to do without having to be directly involved? Can Zapier or related tools solve the problem?
Resilience, OSH & Technology
Whilst implementing these steps, it is important to bear in mind those core critical approaches of implementing resilient OSH systems (mentioned above) to ensure your digitisation effort isn’t wasted. Digitisation helps you get a quick and sometimes 360 view into what is happening in your safety department.
Digitisation doesn’t mean your data will work for you if you ignore it. No matter how much you digitise safety, human intervention is going to be needed at some point. So looking at and analysing the data you collect on an ongoing basis is necessary. It will help you efficiently:
1. Respond to data, changes, problems etc.
2. Monitoring and observe trends, and even predict changes and problems before they happen.
3. Anticipate and recognise when to shift priorities
4. Learn and improve your processes for better outcome