The face of health and safety has shifted. Now, more than ever, it’s the responsibility of every individual in an organization to live and breathe safety, at every level. But how do we create strong EHS cultures – particularly in today’s extremely distributed workforce?
We’ve all seen first-hand the monumental challenges pushed through at pace in response to the pandemic. As we step further into 2021 and in spite of roadmaps, it’s clear the trials of 2020 will continue to evolve into new challenges.
Never has it been more important to equip and empower our frontlines: our first responders at the actionable point of risk. Even as industries look to reopen, it’s clear we’ll never fully return to how we worked before. As distance becomes more normal, business success and survival hinges on technology and visibility into operations.
The same can be said of EHS. As the virus demonstrates its own strength and resilience, we must harness technology to evolve faster and stronger: and forge ahead. Here are some of the trends and challenges facing EHS this year where tech must pick up the burden.
Safety from a distance
Remote working, hybrid models, continued safety measures for those on the production line or in-store: distance may take many forms in 2021, and it presents a big obstacle for EHS professionals.
Trying to nurture strong EHS cultures is dependent on equipping our staff with the right knowledge and training, and having visibility of what’s happening on the ground. Day-to-day interactions and conversations also play a critical role in establishing trust and accountability – and from a distance, those are lost. If we can’t physically be with our staff, it falls to digital channels to fill those gaps.
Fighting process fatigue
Facing near-daily changes in guidance and a surge in new processes, protocols, and compliance as the pandemic took hold. Staff and businesses alike have immense pressure and can be forgiven for thinking – hoping – that relief is on the horizon as we exit lockdown.
It’s a high-risk attitude that may cost us. Risk doesn’t have an expiration date; the vaccine doesn’t signal a hard-stop to COVID19. To keep our businesses safe, operational, and open, we have to fight the steep rise in complacency coming from process-weary staff.
Simplifying and streamlining critical processes is crucial to combat fatigue. Easy-to-use, intuitive digital tools that empower workers to easily report problems, raise issues or perform safety-critical tasks simply will ensure we have their buy-in as agents of change to make our COVID-safe strategies work.
Increasing accountability, ground-up
The days of annual audits or paper-based checks that are subsequently filed away need to be far behind us. True cultures of safety and operational excellence must be something we live every day.
In our increasingly dispersed workforce, it’s the frontline – not the executives or even HSE – who actually deal with safety day-to-day. They’re best placed to improve and drive change. But it isn’t fair to expect that only frontline workers stay across changing compliance measures while managing increased workloads and stressful situations.
We have to remove the red tape. Ensuring critical information can be captured and communicated easily is crucial. Introducing new safety methods that digitize existing processes and feature smaller, regular slices of information – staff observations, digital checklists, simple automated reporting – can be one of the most effective tools to embed safety cultures.
When staff have ownership and are accountable for what happens in their workplaces, knowing that data is seen and acted upon, it creates a shift. It’s our job to make it as easy as possible.
Technology: the foundation of the future for EHS
Technology is integrated into almost every aspect of work. Phones and tablets proliferate both the factory and restaurant floor; robots package goods; drones inspect confined spaces; sensors monitor machines and environments.
Creating strong EHS cultures doesn’t call for reinventing the wheel, but building on what’s already in front of us. The past twelve months have pushed digital transformation and innovation through at a speed never seen before; as a result, we primed to adapt faster and build on those changes. The key is more frequent checks and identifying trends to make better decisions.
The agility and visibility technology provides are critical to the future of EHS. What matters most, though, is where we choose to invest: and it must be in tools that empower those who hold safety in their hands. Our frontlines.
Learn more: the ‘Creating Strong EHS Cultures in 2021’ eBook offers a deep-dive into the role technology must play in reshaping our workplaces as we emerge from 2020, with specific insights into its different uses for frontline staff.