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Health & Safety Automation: How Automation with ERA-EHS Is Innovating Safety at Work – HSE People speaks with Gary Vegh

The key defining feature of Industry 4.0, the next technological leap in manufacturing, is automation. Manufacturers have increasingly embraced the use of robotics and smart technology to streamline manual labor and are benefiting from increased productivity and revenue. However, the Health & Safety sphere is still playing catch up to the assembly line, with the majority of businesses still using pen and paper or spreadsheet methods to manage employee safety. This technology gap in the HSE professional’s toolkit is holding workplaces back from joining others in the age of Industry 4.0.

Gary Vegh, Co-Founder of ERA-EHS Solutions

We spoke with Gary Vegh, the Cofounder of ERA-EHS Management Solutions, an HSE automation solution developer, about how to bridge the innovation gap using the right combination of compliance knowledge and software intelligence. ERA-EHS is on the forefront of safety automation, particularly in the automotive industry where some of the most compliance operating scenarios are found. We wanted to hear from Gary about how automation is playing a role in the safety management of some of the globe’s top manufacturing innovators.

HSE People: Hello Gary, thank you so much for joining us. Can you please tell us a little about ERA-EHS?

Gary Vegh: My wife and I cofounded ERA over 25 years ago, coming from a background in compliance consulting. We could tell that software was the next evolution in HSE management decades ago and wanted to be part of that shift from the very beginning. So we switched from consulting to software development and started designing software solutions for the chemicals, paints, and furniture making industries. Today our software is used by nearly every automotive OEM including Toyota, General Motors, Nissan, BMW, and their supply chains. We focus on automation, which is the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity for manufacturers – we are considered the data experts in the field.

HSE People: Fantastic, So what are some of the ways that manufacturers can automate their safety management?

Gary Vegh: Safety management can be visualized in three stages: data collection, data reporting, and follow up actions. Each can be automated once you understand how the data flows through your facility.

When an event occurs, a massive amount of data is generated which needs to be captured, reported and acted upon. Automation is about examining that data and noticing where it moves and in which format, and then removing all the friction in between. For example, if an employee is exposed to a hazardous chemical in the workplace, you need data from your HR records, from your chemical inventory, from an SDS, and from your incident investigation. Our goal is to connect all those streams through a single platform to minimize your work. The chemical data and HR records can all be automatically fetched from other databases, your investigation can use smart forms which speak to your reports, and all those data points can be automatically fed into metrics which can be sent to whoever needs to be informed, like OSHA or insurance providers. We even have a data engine that crunches the numbers for you and generates tasks assignments for CAPA based on the findings.

That’s just one scenario, but nearly any process can be automated in this manner once you map out the logical data flow. All it takes is some innovative thinking and the right tools. It means HSE professionals get to be safety experts rather than data entry workers.

HSE People: You mentioned reporting to regulators. Can you talk a bit more about this?

Gary Vegh: As long as your regulators accept digital or online submissions, you can automate your compliance reporting. Most regulators provide a standardized format and file type, and from ERA’s software we can roll up the relevant data into a compatible output that’s ready for direct upload. It’s all about understanding the data requirements, which can be totally different from one regulator to another. We can also communicate data directly with your insurance providers for workers compensation claims through our software so that you’re covered for the entire life cycle on an event.

HSE People: How are automotive manufacturers using automation for safety?

Gary Vegh: Some of the work we’ve done with automotive manufacturers and their suppliers is to automate the transfer of chemical hazard data directly and securely through a digital portal. We can fetch safety data from a paint or coating supplier and flag certain risks  for the safety managers automatically, and even trigger compliance tasks and training based on chemicals coming into a facility.

We also use Health and Safety automation to streamline the employee experience and increase productivity within the safety team. Features like Single Sign On (SSO), mobile device compatibility, and integrations with employee records or HR databases make it much simpler for safety managers to do their job and shift their focus from chasing after data to proactive incident prevention.

HSE People: Where do you think the future of Safety Automation is headed?

Gary Vegh: The next big innovation is the integration of sensors for safety management. Imagine being able to prevent an employee from using a machine if they aren’t wearing their PPE, or getting an alert on your phone if an employee is entering an enclosed space without  first completing a safety audit form or taking a mandatory training. Those are the types of things you can do with sensor-integrated equipment all connected through a central software system.

ERA-EHS is already working on these types of projects with our automotive clients. Our software acts as the central nervous system for a number of types of sensors and it’s exciting to see how our clients are coming up with innovative ways to automate many different processes. Right now we’re even automating hazardous waste management using sensors that lets sensors and QR Codes communicate with your mobile device to handle the entire lifecycle of waste from generation to shipment off to treatment centers.

HSE People: Why should HSE professionals take a serious look at automation?

Gary Vegh: By implementing automation you empower your team to worry less about chasing data and actually using that data to improve the workplace. When you automate data collection you improve data quality  by getting data straight from the source and keeping human hands off of it. At ERA we are strong proponents that data in its rawest form is the best, but it’s difficult to access without automation in place.

If safety and compliance are your primary goals, automation can help you:

  • Improve response time by getting immediate alerts when an event occurs
  • Automatically trigger CAPA tasks in response to audit findings
  • Reduce time and effort for inspections
  • Analyze leading safety indicators to improve decision making
  • Rank and respond to observed risks

A lot of people mistake automation as being a big investment or taking a long time to implement but automation is designed to scale to fit the complexity of the data processes in your business. For example, ERA-EHS provides out of the box workflows in our software that add a layer of automation to audits, inspections, and follow up task delegation that can be used for small business and large enterprises.

HSE People: How can people get started with automation?

Gary Vegh: The key is to understand your data flow across your organization. ERA has a team of system analysts whose job is to work with you and map out your entire process from beginning to end, from top to bottom. We help you re-imagine your business without data silos. Once you have that map, we can start bridging the connections between where data is generated and where it needs to go. I encourage everyone to get in touch with us to start a conversation about your needs.

HSE People: Thank you so much for your time and insight Gary, we really appreciate it.

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