Why Spreadsheets Are Safety’s Technological Dinosaur

As safety professionals, we want employees to go home as healthy as they came in. As such, we adopt methodologies that aid in incident and injury prevention. Usually, these methods are detailed in a company’s health and safety plan. Follow the plan and nobody gets hurt, right? Suffice it to say this doesn’t always happen and can be summed up with this famous euphemism: “The best laid plans of mice and men”. Often there are competing priorities the cause the deviation from plan to process such as production pressures, psychosocial factors such as fear and stress, costs, peer pressure, positive consequences that reinforce or encourage the breaking of rules, drift, and a host of other things. If not just a robust plan, then what can be done to remedy these gaps?

It can be said that there are two facets of safety – a plan and a process. The plan outlines what is desired. The process is how things are actually carried out on the front line. The wider the gap between the two, the more likely injuries will occur.

Workplace observations are usually performed so that these differences can be spotted and remedied prior to injury. However, what usually happens is a ‘whack-a-mole’ evolution where hazards or at-risk behaviors are sometimes spotted yet only the apparent symptoms are addressed.

A great example is this: Oil is spotted on the floor. The oil is recognized as a hazard and addressed – the oil is cleaned up. The hazard is documented and everyone gets a pat on the back for safety. The problem, however, is that even if this is done daily, or even several times a day, the causal factor(s) are often never addressed. In the case of the oil on the floor, is the leak or source of oil identified and corrected? Is there a systemic issue that underlines why the at-risk condition or behavior is present?

Whacking moles

Let’s suppose hazard identification is occurring frequently and being documented. Let’s further suppose that the hazards discovered and documented are being recorded in a central repository. If an Excel spreadsheet is the tool of choice, then it is fair to say that your company has missed the technological boat.

There are software solutions out there that can easily house documented worksite observations and categorize them easily so that tracking and trending on many different levels can be conducted. The transparency and visibility a software solution such as this can provide offers safety professionals, and the companies who employ them, insight into the gaps between plan and process. In addition, once a gap is identified in a systemic negative progression (at-risk count increasing and percent safe decreasing over time), proactive steps can be made before an injury occurs. Causal factors can be identified and countermeasures can be employed through positive interventions. In fact, with the ability to track and trend, the efficacy of the countermeasures can easily be seen and measured (at-risk count decreasing and percent safe increasing over time).

Why your spreadsheets are limiting your safety efforts

So ask yourself a few questions to know if it is time to employ technology:

  • Can you turn observation data into actionable information?
  • Can you obtain real-time reporting from the data collected?
  • Can reporting of information be done beyond the single worksite assessment?
  • Can you trend the information collected such as by category, area, and observer?
  • Can you track and trend observation data beyond a single facility or project?
  • Can you benchmark and compare your observation data with other companies?
  • Can you track leadership’s engagement in the safety process?
  • Can the data you collect help you predict where your next injury will occur?

If you answered no to any of these questions, then the time may be right to investigate a change in how you are doing things. Should safety efforts rely on building a perfect plan and expect everyone to follow it unfailingly or should the safety effort rely on identifying barriers to adoption of the plan and proactive implementation of a solution? If the latter is your choice, then technology can be a marvelous aid in driving continuous improvement. That is, unless you enjoy living in the stone age and whacking moles!

Cary Usrey

Written by Cary Usrey

Cary Usrey has been at Predictive Solutions since March 2007. As a Process Improvement Leader, Cary is responsible for implementing best practices for customers seeking to prevent worker injuries. He coaches customers through an assessment, goal-setting, and goal measurement process that is designed to maximize safety improvement and widespread organizational engagement, from the field to leadership. Cary started his career in the U.S. Navy's Nuclear Power Program. After leaving the Navy, he served as the Environmental, Health and Safety Compliance Director at Adirondack Resource Recovery Associates, a waste-to-energy power plant in upstate New York, where he was employed for over twelve years. Following this, Cary took a position with Turner Construction, where he served as the Business Unit Safety Director for the upstate New York office for approximately three years. Cary has graduated with his Associate's Degree in Occupational Safety and Health from Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado, is a member of the Central FL chapter of the ASSE, and has served on the Board of Directors for the VPPPA (Region II).

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