Workshop Purpose – Focus on Applications Users

The workshop engaged EHS managers from across the United States to interact with each other as a “user group” of IT EHS applications. Participants benchmarked EHS IT applications – experiences, challenges, successes and future directions.

Benchmarking survey

In preparation for the workshop, the NAEM undertook a national survey seeking insights into EHS IT trends and IT solutions. The survey included responses from a cross-section of companies that had from 250-105,000 employees and annual revenues from under $1 billion to over $10 billion.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • The most common EHS information system elements that were used by the organizations surveyed were incidents/injury reporting, air emissions management, chemical inventory/management, and waste management.
  • Most of the companies’ EHS information systems were not integrated with their business information systems such as the financial, human resources, or purchasing systems.
  • The most common client software used for the EHS IT systems were web browsers, Notes clients, and MS Access.

Buy-in across the corporation

Conference participants discussed barriers to implementing computer based environmental, health & safety solutions and strategies for successfully overcoming those barriers with their peers.
The following themes emerged:

  • Involving the end-users of a system in its design and development, allowing them to “buy-in” to the project helped to increase the success of an application.
  • Delivering applications using software that employees are familiar with, or using applications that are corporate standards, or using web-based applications helps to facilitate implementation and buy-in.
    EH&S managers found IT departments were often a hindrance rather than a help in developing & implementing their applications. Obtaining the buy-in of IT departments could be simplified by ensuring that EHS systems are delivered on software already used within the organization.
  • Ensuring that EHS applications could be linked with other business systems was seen as a strategy for ensuring the success of the application.
  • Of note were several companies that found that even with IT support, EHS systems were a low priority for IT. The best strategy for them was to develop a system without the IT department, but that did not create additional problems for the department. This strategy also was valuable for companies whose IT departments were not sympathetic to EHS needs. Applications over the web or over an intranet were often successful in circumventing such IT problems.

Drivers for computer-based EHS solutions

Different companies faced different drivers for implementing solutions. The drivers varied from a determination to improve business processes to court injunctions. The driver for change affected the choice of computer-based solution.

Companies that had short timelines that had to be met often fit the business processes of the organization into a pre-packaged EHS solution.

Companies with longer pre-planning times and that were self-motivated to implement EHS solutions often had applications custom-developed.

Building the business case

Building the business case for capital to develop IT EHS systems is often a problem for EHS managers. This problem is becoming more serious as EHS departments downsize or merge with other departments. EHS resources are stretched to the limit and often there are limited resources available to be able to make an effective business case.

In addition, EHS managers tend to have difficulty securing capital from within their companies to implement computer based EH&S solutions because they felt that they were not good enough at selling their ideas within their organizations, even where there was a compelling business case.

The scale of EHS solutions in companies were tens of millions of dollars solutions, and then <$25,000 solutions, and not much in between. The range of pricing reflects the scope of the application.

EHS Applications Demonstrated

EHS professionals at the workshop provided demonstrations of EHS applications based on a wide variety of software platforms including Notes/Domino, MS Access, Plantware, and Intranet based systems.

Applications demonstrated included incidents/accidents tracking, chemicals management, aspects and impacts, management of change, injury/illness, hazardous materials tracking, and risk analysis.

Companies presenting applications included John Deere, Polaroid, Avery Dennison, Consolidated Edison, BP, PerkinElmer, Alcoa Inc., Black & Veatch, First Environment, Harris Corporation, and Union Carbide.