As we’ve seen businesses manage their way through the pandemic over the past two years and a new Administration take hold in office, a number of environmental, health, and safety (EHS) trends are rising to the surface. Some of these may sound familiar, as certain challenges and opportunities in EHS remain ongoing. Some are just gaining traction as we move into the new year.
Here are the top EHS trends KTL’s EHS professionals are keeping watch on in 2022—and some advice on what you can do to prepare…
OSHA Enforcement: Happy 50th Birthday OSHA!
The Build Back Better Act (BBBA) introduced the first amendment to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act in nearly 20 years. This would include increased funding to make significant improvements in workplace safety protection for American workers, as well as significant increases in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) maximum penalties. While the future of the BBBA is uncertain, it provides a good picture of where OSHA is headed by enacting high enough penalties to significantly impact businesses that violate the law and injure or kill workers. While OSHA doesn’t have the resources to audit or fine everyone, the agency will likely make an example of a few major violators to deter others from non-compliance.
To prepare: Make sure you have the processes, programs, and systems in place—and documented—to ensure you are always protecting employees’ safety and health and meeting OSH Act requirements.
EPA Inspections and Enforcement: Focus on Ammonia Refrigeration
With the new Administration, 2021 brought a significant uptick in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) multi-media inspections, enforcement actions, and large penalties for violations, particularly related to anhydrous ammonia storage, risk management, and chemical accident prevention planning. Many of these violations have been uncovered as part of a National Compliance Initiative (NCI), which is working to enforce the regulatory aspects of the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) Chemical Accident Prevention Program, including Risk Management Plan (RMP) regulations (40 CFR Part 68), General Duty Clause (GDC) (CAA Section 112(r)), Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) (CAA Section 312), Process Safety Management (PSM) regulations (29 CFR 1910.119).
To prepare: If your facility uses anhydrous ammonia and you have not conducted a hazard analysis, you are at significant risk of incurring enforcement actions of fines. It is important you invest the time and resources required to:
- Understand the hazards posed by chemicals at the facility.
- Assess the impacts of a potential release.
- Design and maintain a safe facility to prevent accidental releases.
- Coordinate with local emergency responders.
- Minimize the consequences of accidental releases that do occur.
Because of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances’ (PFAS) persistence in the environment and widespread use in firefighting foams and products that resist grease, water, and oil, PFAS contamination is an extremely complicated issue—and concern is mounting over its impacts and how to regulate these chemicals going forward. On October 18, 2021, EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced EPA’s comprehensive Strategic Roadmap to tackle PFAS contamination through increasing investments in research, leveraging authorities to act now to restrict PFAS chemicals from being released, and accelerating cleanup of PFAS contamination. More and more facilities are going to be directly impacted by mitigation efforts and future regulatory action.
To prepare: Proper usage strategies, a comprehensive environmental management system (EMS), and a forward-thinking Emergency Response Plan will remain vital tools for companies potentially dealing with PFAS to effectively manage the associated risks.
Resource Constraints and Compliance Efficiency Tools
There are a few trends we see time and again, which generally can be tied back to many EHS “departments” (which often consist of just one person) lacking the resources—financial and personnel—to manage the sheer number of EHS requirements they are required to comply with. Frequently, companies may not understand or have the resources to manage everything that needs to be in place to satisfy compliance requirements. This is an area where EHS compliance efficiency and tracking tools are becoming essential to allow companies to do more with fewer resources.
To prepare: A compliance management system (CMS) brings information technology (IT) and management systems together to coordinate, organize, control, analyze, and visualize information in such a way that helps organizations remain in compliance and operate efficiently. A CMS can help provide operational flexibility, generate business improvement, and prepare organizations to address these and other EHS compliance challenges that will continue to surface.
Hazardous Waste Incineration Backlog
The changing hazardous waste market continues to create a fair amount of uncertainty regarding whether hazardous waste management capacity can actually meet demand. Many Large Quantity Generators (LQGs) and Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) are still experiencing a hazardous waste incineration slowdown, and most of the permitted transport, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs) are backlogged. EPA predicts that this backlog may not fully resolve until the end of the first quarter of 2022. EPA has offered multiple existing regulatory options for various regulated entities that generate and manage hazardous waste as temporary solutions to address the backlog.
To prepare: If you are in the situation where you are coming up against your time limits, contact your EPA Regional Administrator and ask for guidance on how to manage the situation. Keep very careful and accurate records of all hazardous waste information to demonstrate appropriate management.
Environmental Justice and Citizen Science
On January 27, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order (EO) 14008 – Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, amending EO 12898, which directed federal agencies to develop environmental justice (EJ) strategies to help federal agencies address disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their programs on minority and low-income populations. EO 14008 further directs Federal agency actions to support making EJ part of its mission by identifying and addressing the effects of all programs, policies, and activities on minority and low-income populations. As part of EPA’s EJ efforts, the Agency is charting a new pathway for the use of citizen science. Citizen science engages the public in identifying research questions, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, and developing technologies and applications to resolve environmental problems. Citizen science provides a resource in times of restricted budgets and to address dispersed or hyperlocal environmental issues.
To prepare: Equipment loan programs are available for anyone who would like to participate. KTL is aware of clients receiving money from the state to make equipment updates. In addition there are a number of EJ grants, funding, and other technical assistance available.
As developing nations continue to industrialize and increase their material consumption, resource demands and pressures on our supply chains will only increase. The Biden Administration has committed to a net zero economy by 2050, and the number of net zero commitments from local governments and businesses continues to grow and push further down the supply chain. There are more incentives for businesses to find clean/renewable energy solutions and to manage waste more sustainably. As one example, Sustainable Material Management (SMM) considers the entire of a product and/or process to help create a circular economy.
To prepare: Consider the following sustainability activities as part of your company’s business strategy:
- Conduct a lifecycle analysis (LCA) to identify and quantify the inputs and outputs in a process and use data to assess the potential environmental impacts across the lifecycle.
- Check with your local utility to have an energy audit completed of your facilities.
- Get input from employees on what initiatives are important to them by enacting a sustainability committee or adding sustainability to your EHS agenda.
Set Your Goals for 2022
With these trends toward more regulations, more enforcement, and more focus on sustainability, EHS management needs to play a more integral role in company strategy. Companies must take the time to be informed, be prepared, and be proactive. Establish company-wide EHS priorities and goals and commit the appropriate resources to ensure the required programs and systems are in place for 2022 and beyond.
If you would like help evaluating your current EHS risk level and assessing your priorities for 2022, please contact KTL.
BioForward Wisconsin closely follows news stories about its members and invites them to contribute blogs and profiles to inform and advance the Wisconsin biohealth community. Read the recent BioForward Wisconsin member blog on KTL’s scalable systems for helping companies manage compliance business processes more efficiently and effectively.
Companies committed to environmental, health, and safety (EHS) compliance face a complicated array of federal, state, and local regulations that may vary by industry sector, facility size, setting, and location. Technical EHS compliance has undergone significant changes over the last several of years—and more is likely to come in the foreseeable future. The evolving EHS landscape presents some significant challenges that companies must address to remain in compliance.
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly impacted EHS, as it has other operations. There are probably few organizations that have not implemented operational changes on some level to respond to the pandemic—whether that has involved more remote working situations for staff, increased or decreased production, or updated travel and health and safety guidelines.
Changes such as these have had a cascading impact on the way organizations and EHS operations work. With more staff working from various and often remote locations, Cloud-based access EHS and facility documents, records, and shared applications has become essential. Employees need access to everything regardless of location. Along the same line, virtual monitoring methods have also become a necessity. With new guidelines for travel and who may be allowed in a facility, in-person monitoring, assessing, and auditing to meet EHS compliance requirements may not be possible for some facilities.
After over a year of adjusting to a new way of operating through the pandemic, resuming “normal” operations can present additional challenges. Workplace culture has undoubtedly changed. Defining what the culture is as individuals may (or may not) return to the work environmental will requirement management of change and, likely, training. It is important for organizations to address workplace changes and expectations and to evaluate new ways of doing business.
EHS department understaffing has long been reported as an issue. In a 2016 study done by Triumvirate, 72% of companies reported EHS understaffing. Many organizations do not have dedicated EHS resources, and many EHS departments often consist of one individual who fulfills multiple roles. Internal resource growth as operations resume is questionable, as EHS expertise can be expensive. This presents an even bigger issue with many experienced workers—often those with the facility EHS background—electing not to return to the workplace full time. This is an area where EHS compliance efficiency and tracking tools are becoming essential to allow companies to do more with fewer resources.
Not surprisingly, EHS regulations—climate change, air, waste, water—are undergoing seismic shifts with the new Administration taking office. Some of these notable changes include the following:
- Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) new Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) Rule
- Major Lautenberg Law Amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
- Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB’s) new Chemical Release Reporting Rule
- Latest Clean Air Act (CAA) requirements for facilities
On top of this, the differences between state and federal regulations are growing in many states. Organizations need to understand what requirements are applicable and what must be done to maintain compliance at all levels.
From 2017-2020, the U.S. experienced the lowest number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections in over 10 years—including fewer complex investigations. In this same period, the Agency also has had the fewest OSHA inspectors conducting inspections in 40 years.
Not surprisingly, COVID has stalled many enforcement activities and court cases. However, despite COVID, EPA issued approximately $3 million in fines in Q3 of 2020:
- > $1.5 million Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
- > $1 million in Clean Air Act (CAA)
- > $0.5 million in Clean Water Act (CWA)
With the new Administration and resumed business activities, the frequency of comprehensive multimedia environmental inspections appears to be increasing. EHS regulatory enforcement is regaining momentum and likely will continue over the next few years.
Facing the Challenges
Achieving and maintaining EHS compliance requires great management and expertise to ensure all aspects of a company’s technical compliance have been identified and are being actively managed. A management system can provide the organizing framework to enable organizations to achieve and sustain their operational and business objectives through a process of continuous improvement. Information technology (IT) can further help to carry out daily tasks, connect staff, manage operations—and play a vital role in managing compliance requirements.
A compliance information management system brings IT and management systems together to coordinate, organize, control, analyze, and visualize information in such a way that helps organizations remain in compliance and operate efficiently. A system like this will help provide operational flexibility, generate business improvement, and prepare organizations to address these and other EHS compliance challenges that will continue to surface.
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Virtually every regulatory agency (e.g., EPA, OSHA, FDA, USDA) and voluntary certification standard (e.g., ISO, GFSI, organic) has compliance requirements that call for companies to fulfill several common compliance activities. KTL has outlined eight compliance functions that can be instrumental in improving a company’s capability to comply. One very important compliance function involves records and document management.
Records provide documentation of what has been done related to compliance—current inventories, plans, management systems, training, inspections, and monitoring required for a given compliance or certification program. Each program typically has recordkeeping, records maintenance, and retention requirements specified by type. Having a good records management system is essential for maintaining the vast number of documents required by regulations and standards, particularly since some, like OSHA have retention cycles for as long as 30 years.
Moving Away from Paper Recordkeeping
Organizing and maintaining the records can create challenges—where to store them, security levels, remote and local accessibility, etc. Supply chain requirements can further add to the cumbersome workload of collecting, reviewing, and sharing documents and information.
Companies have been keeping records and documents in binders and file cabinets for years. And while that system can work, many dynamic tools are available to alleviate some of these challenges and support organizational decision-making. A document management system can help create:
- Process and document standardization
- Central and secure storage, organization, and access to documents and records locally or remotely
- Improved document searchability and accessibility
- Enhanced workflows for approving and completing tasks involving documents
- Easy access to documents for audits and clear audit trail, particularly for remote audits
- Version control and history
- Reduced paperwork
- Higher quality data due to reduced human error
- Improved collaboration
- Improved security of sensitive documents
All of which lead to consistent, efficient, and reliable compliance performance.
Transitioning Your Records
Transitioning from a paper-based recordkeeping system to an electronic document management system can seem overwhelming, particularly given the sheer volume of documents some organizations have. However, following a step-by-step approach—and considering the desired end product from the start—can help ensure that organizations end up with a system that will function well within the business context and provide ongoing compliance efficiency.
Step 1. Assess Current Documents and Processes
The first step is to identify where all your documents reside and how you are currently managing and organizing those documents. Additionally, an assessment of the documents themselves should be conducted to evaluate if they are still current, if they are in line with the processes and procedures they are intended to monitor, and if they are collecting all the required information.
Where are documents stored? What is electronic vs. paper? Are documents sorted by necessity, date, version, compliance area? What processes are currently in place for creating, managing, and storing documents? Where are the inefficiencies in adequately managing documents and records? If there are multiple systems, are they working together?
The goal of this step is to get a good handle on the current state of your documents and systems so you can move onto step 2, which will be to define the desired state of your document management system.
Step 2. Define Document Management System
Before building the system, you must define your ultimate desired end state. In a perfect world, how would the document management system operate? What parts and components would it have? How would things work together? At this point, you must consider the immediate need (i.e., document management) within the context of the overall business need. The idea is to align the document management system with any overall compliance management system (CMS). This requires a genuine understanding of both daily routines and the big picture.
Bring together key stakeholders to discuss their objectives, review the current state, and evaluate industry best practices. While it is necessary to get senior management buy-in and to understand the business needs, it is equally important to understand the routine activities and tasks of the people who will use the system in a daily basis. The system must be designed with all these users in mind—the end user entering data in the field, management who is reading reports and metrics, system administrator, office staff, etc.
Step 3. Gather Documents and Populate System
This step can involve significant resources depending on the volume of documents, so taking a phased approach can make it more manageable. It often makes sense to start where you already have processes and document storage systems in place that can be more easily transitioned into a new document management system to encourage user buy-in. Priorities should be set based on ease of implementation, compliance risk, business improvement, and value to the company.
Step 4. Determine Access and Train
The only way to ensure employees will correctly use the document management system is to provide adequate training. Define who needs access to the various parts of the system and what everyone’s roles and responsibilities are. Every employee who will touch the system should receive hands-on training to teach them how to correctly use the system to create efficiencies.
Step 5. Conduct an Annual Internal Audit and Document Review
Audits offer a systematic, objective tool to assess compliance across the workplace and to identify any opportunities for improvement. Audits may be used to capture regulatory compliance status, certification system conformance, adequacy of internal controls, potential risks, and best practices.
An internal audit of the document management system provides a valuable way to communicate performance to decision-makers and key stakeholders. This final step is an important one, because it will help ensure that:
- The organization is getting the most out of its document management system.
- The system and associated processes are operating as intended.
- Data can be used for trending and predictive analytics to better inform business decision-making.
- Ongoing opportunities for improvement in document organization and processes are identified and implemented.
- Efficiencies in business operations and overall compliance management—including remote access and remote auditing—are fully realized.
We recently sat down with three of KTL’s environmental, health, and safety (EHS) experts, Becky Wehrman-Andersen, Liz Hillgren, and Jake Taylor, to talk about all things EHS. The three Senior Consultants shared what they are seeing in the marketplace, as well as some of their best advice and lessons learned for managing EHS compliance.
What are some of the biggest EHS issues you see your clients facing right now?
Collectively, there are a few trends we see time and again, which generally can be tied back to many EHS “departments” (which often consist of just one person) lacking the resources—financial and personnel—to manage the sheer number of EHS requirements they are required to comply with.
We find that EHS personnel are being asked to manage a lot—and often in areas that may be outside their education/expertise/experience. So while they may have knowledge, in part, of EHS regulations, they often don’t have a comprehensive enough knowledge to always even know what they are missing. Add to this the fact that there is almost “too much” information available, and it can very quickly become overwhelming to determine what is applicable and what needs to be done to comply.
We see this creating several common scenarios:
- Entire compliance programs are being missed because customers do not realize they are subject to some requirements. In some cases, companies just don’t know what they don’t know.
- Frequently, companies may not understand the thought process of what needs to be in place to satisfy a standard’s requirements. For example, they may have OSHA training programs in place to meet requirements; however, they do not have the accompanying site-specific written programs and/or documentation that are also required for compliance.
- Often customers do not take the time or have the knowledge to identify the riskiest chemicals or processes onsite, which leads to elevated challenges in keeping employees and the surrounding environment safe.
How have you seen COVID impacting industry/your clients?
The majority of our clients have really adapted and responded to COVID as best they can. Many have remained busy and are doing just fine. However, the pandemic has resulted in operational challenges—from expanding shifts to separate people more, to having more “virtual workers,” to managing internal safety cost increases, to developing plans to juggle outbreaks. In some cases, this has slowed some policy/program development and impacted company culture. In addition, we are seeing a few companies experiencing supply chain challenges but to a lesser extent than anticipated. Understandably, there is also an element of frustration as guidance remains in flux, as well as concern as facilities “button up” for winter due to the elevated risks associated with closed spaces with little air circulation.
At the same time, companies are learning how to work with fewer people and conduct some business activities virtually. And many have been pushed into using technology that may have been available in the past but was never a necessity of doing business. Even though there have been some “bumps” in the road, people are catching on. In fact, KTL has been conducting audits, assessments, and training virtually, and our clients are seeing the benefits of a virtual approach on many levels. We anticipate some of this will continue as the new norm due to the business efficiencies it presents.
Are there any recent regulatory developments (or any on the horizon) that industry should be preparing for?
EPA has a provision as part of the 2016 Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule that will be affecting small quantity generators (SQG) in 2021. The Agency is now requiring SQGs to renotify EPA or their state agency about their hazardous waste activities every four years. The first renotification is due by September 2021. Since this is the first time EPA is requiring this of SQGs, many are not as aware of the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements regulations and this specific renotification requirement. It is one that will impact many. Read more from EPA.
Other regulatory changes on the forefront will likely depend largely on the outcomes of the election this November, and it is just too soon to predict.
Based on your experience, what are some best practices you would recommend to help companies ensure ongoing EHS compliance and meet business objectives?
- Conduct a comprehensive gap assessment to ensure you are meeting the requirements of all applicable EHS regulations. This should be the starting place for understanding your regulatory obligations and current compliance status.
- Organize your records. Know what records you need. Document your inspections and your training. Develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) so people know what to do.
- Seek third-party oversight. Having external experts periodically look inside your company provides an objective view of what is really going on, helps you to prepare for audits, and allows you to implement corrective/preventive actions that ensure compliance.
- Perform a comprehensive onsite risk assessment with associated risk minimization planning and plan/conduct annual spill drills to practice emergency response for hazardous chemical incidents.
- Create an integrated management system (e.g., ISO 9001/14001/45001, Responsible Distribution) by finding commonalities between the standards and leveraging pieces of each to develop a reliable system that works for your organization.
- Develop a relationship with someone you trust to do things in your best interest, understanding that EHS should be a process of continuous improvement. Use them to help you understand what regulations apply. Let them help you prioritize your compliance plan. Use them to do your annual training. Rely on them as a part of your team.
- Get senior leadership commitment. It is often clear how an organization prioritizes EHS with little digging. Even with the best EHS personnel, the organization and its EHS system will only be as good as the top leadership and what is important to them.
Do you have any good “lessons learned” to share about what to do when it comes to EHS compliance?
Just start! It is better to do some than none. Get organized. Determine what you need, break it down, set a schedule, use your consultant to keep you on target, and just get started. Something is definitely better than nothing.
KTL has coached several companies from a “zero to compliance” status and has also actively assisted in OSHA and EPA penalty negotiations. One company went from an anticipated $300,000 – $500,000 in penalty to ZERO penalty, reduced their generator status from large quantity generator (LQG) to very small quantity generator (VSQG), and achieved a more than 70% reduction in waste management costs simply through process changes and risk reduction strategies.
How important is technology when it comes to EHS compliance?
EHS personnel are starting to see the possibilities of how incorporating technology solutions can help them become more efficient in their operations and compliance processes. As stated above, COVID has pushed some technology innovations to the forefront as a means for companies to continue operating in different ways.
For example, technology tools can be very helpful with tracking requirements and documents—but it also requires good organization and communication. Custom apps for conducting inspections and regular checklists can be a simple way to create operational efficiencies, particularly for smaller organizations who may lack the initial financial resources to undertake an entire system implementation. Once that initial investment is made, companies often see the value of technology and the potential to implement a centralized compliance information management system to help manage and track compliance obligations, activities, and performance/status.
With technology, it is no longer a question of IF, it is just a matter of WHEN companies decide to jump on board. Technology and “Big Data” can—and should—be a focus of any EHS compliance program. The investment will pay off in the end.
What value do you see KTL providing?
We serve as an extension of a company’s EHS staff—from completing small tasks that never seem to get done to identifying large gaps in compliance and building systems to resolve those non-compliance issues. We are there to support, answer questions, provide technical knowledge, and help our customers achieve compliance. We are teachers, trainers, a sounding board, and an EHS support system. We have a great team of experts who know EHS, understand industry, and excel at creating solutions and tools to meet our clients’ needs. Trust is critical and we strive to be trustworthy. That is who KTL is.
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There is no question about it—organizations across nearly every industry are relying more heavily on information technology (IT) to carry out daily tasks, connect staff, and manage operations. Technology can also play a vital role in managing compliance requirements.
For example, we recently shared a case study demonstrating how leveraging a simple Microsoft SharePoint®-based Compliance Management System (CMS) has provided Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) with access to the data, documents, systems, and processes required to help employees effectively manage compliance requirements—even when working remotely.
Tips to Design a Successful CMS
A CMS is used to coordinate, organize, control, analyze, and visualize information to help organizations remain in compliance and operate efficiently. When building a CMS, it is important to follow a process to design a system that provides the functionality to meet current requirements and the flexibility to anticipate future needs.
The following eight tips can help ensure you end up with the right CMS and efficiency tools to support your organization for the long term:
- Inventory your existing systems – Identify how you are currently managing your compliance needs/requirements. What’s working well? What isn’t working? Do the systems work together? Do they all operate independently? This inventory should evaluate the following:
- Current systems and tools
- Status and functionality of existing processes
- Data sources and ability to pull information from various sources
- Organizational complexity
- Compliance status
- Existing management systems
- Determine your business drivers – Are you looking to save time? Create efficiencies? Provide access to enable employees to work from home? Reduce the number of resources required? Have better access to real-time information? Answer to senior management? Respond to regulatory requirements? These drivers will also drive the decisions you make when it comes to module development, dashboard design, reporting, and more.
- Understand the daily routine of the individuals using the system – Systems and modules should be built according to existing daily routines, when possible, and then implemented and rolled out in a way that encourages adoption. Having a solid understanding of routine tasks and activities will ensure the system is built in a way that works for the individuals using it—and for the way they will be accessing it.
- Understand your compliance requirements – Do you have permitting requirements? Does your staff need training? How do you maintain your records? Are there regular (e.g., annual, semi-annual) plans and/or reports you need to submit? Do you have routine inspections and monitoring? All these things can and should be built into a CMS so they can be managed more efficiently.
- Get the right parties involved – There are many people that touch a CMS at various points in the process. The system must be designed with all these users in mind: the end user entering data in the field, management who is reading reports and metrics, system administrator, office staff, etc. A truly user-friendly system will be something that meets the needs of all parties. If employees are frustrated by lack of understanding, if the system isn’t intuitive enough, if it is hard to put data in or get metrics out, the system will hold little value.
- Make your wish list – While you may start your project one module at a time, it is important to define your ultimate desired end state. In a perfect world, how would the CMS operate? What parts and components would it have? How would things work together? What type of interfaces would users have? You may build piece by piece, but you must develop with the end in mind.
- Set your priorities, budget, and pace – What is the most important item on your list? Do you want to develop modules one at a time or as a fully functional system? It often makes sense to start where you already have processes in place that can be more easily transitioned into a new system to encourage user buy-in. Priorities should be set based on ease of implementation, compliance risk, business improvement, and value to your company.
- Select the right consultant – For a CMS, it is valuable to have a consultant who doesn’t just understand technology but also understands your operational needs, regulatory obligations, and compliance issues. More than likely, off-the-shelf software will not be a silver bullet compliance solution. A consultant who can understand the bigger picture of where you want to go and will collaborate to design the right CMS and efficiency tools will bring the most value to your organization.
These tips can help ensure any organization designs and develops the right CMS—one that works within the organization’s operating environment—to reduce compliance risk, create efficiencies, provide operational flexibility, and generate business improvement and value.
In a recent blog post, KTL discussed checklists as a common—and important—way to collect information. Mobile forms and technology make completing checklists and inspections of almost any type easier and faster in the field. The data provided through these checklists is highly valuable, as it can be easily manipulated and analyzed to inform business decisions.
However, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so imagine if those checklists and inspections could be accompanied by photos. This is exactly what KTL has developed to assist clients in conducting various types of inspections—from routine safety checks to environmental reviews to facility-specific inspections.
Photos Tell the Story
In some cases, photos are used strictly to provide visual documentation of inspections conducted. Photos can often highlight best practices and pinpoint concerns better than words. In other cases, photos may be used to help visually document changes over time. A photo log showing daily, weekly, or monthly progression provides the ability to compare photos, making it easier to identify changes that could be missed through regular site visits.
Using Microsoft Power Apps®, KTL has built a custom app that collects typical form data according to the site’s needs, but also has the functionality for site staff to take and upload photos associated with the checklist. These photos have associated latitude and longitude, so photo location can be displayed and reviewed on a map.
Once the photos are taken, they are named, catalogued, and stored directly in Microsoft SharePoint®. As a future enhancement, the app may also be capable of producing PDF reports summarizing the data and incorporating the photos entered into the mobile form.
A More Robust Record
The ability to associate photos with inspections creates a more robust record:
- Provides a visual representation of site features on a specific date and time
- Allows for easy comparison based on date and/or location
- Enables real-time physical monitoring/review/analysis from the office based on photos uploaded from the field
- Helps identify areas for continuous improvement and then assign required follow-up actions
- Integrates with an overall compliance management system for a comprehensive view of compliance status
And, importantly, this functionality can easily be expanded to other business needs where visual representation would provide more comprehensive and valuable data.
For many organizations, the past few months have been anything but “business as usual.” Very few can say that nothing has changed—whether that means new safety protocols for employees, less (or even no) travel, scaled-back operations, or staff working remotely.
Organizations that weren’t previously set up for remote work have had to quickly figure out how to operate under a very different business model, particularly when it comes to managing their regulatory compliance requirements (e.g., environmental, health and safety (EHS), food safety, quality). Some employees are struggling with accessing critical business information, and some work is being postponed, perhaps indefinitely.
Organizations must find ways to overcome these operational challenges, particularly given that compliance requirements still exist and remote work may actually be the new ”business as usual”—whether due to the pandemic or because of the flexibility it can provide if an organization is ready.
The Solution: Compliance Management Systems
Clearly, centralized information technology (IT) is key in connecting staff with business operations when everyone is working in different locations. Technology can facilitate access to critical compliance information, including documents, data, and records needed to manage projects and people. However, IT alone will not make remote work effective or efficient unless there is an underlying Compliance Management System (CMS) to organize it all.
A CMS is used to coordinate, organize, control, analyze, and visualize information to help organizations remain in compliance and operate efficiently. A successful CMS requires thinking beyond just access to documents; it requires managing processes, knowledge, and the work that is critical to help identify and control business risks. That may include:
- Ensuring the right people can access the right information
- Consolidating documents and records in a centralized location to provide easy access
- Setting up formal business practices, processes, and procedures
- Implementing compliance programs
- Monitoring and measuring performance
- Making improvements
- Documenting decisions and how they are made
- Capturing institutional knowledge and transferring that into a sustainable system
- Using task management and tracking tools to understand how people are doing their work
CMS Case Study
For Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO), leveraging a simple CMS solution has provided access to the data, documents, systems, and processes required to allow employees to work more effectively from home.
Like most higher education organizations, SEMO is subject to a wide range of complex EHS requirements, including air permits; Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) plans; hazardous waste regulations; refrigerant management regulations; laboratory safety; and others. With limited EHS staff to manage, maintain, and demonstrate compliance, documenting EHS compliance is challenging. Finding effective information management solutions has been critical.
KTL worked with SEMO to develop a CMS using Microsoft SharePoint® that allows SEMO to effectively manage and communicate EHS information, particularly in remote work situations. Consolidating document, record, and data management into the SharePoint-based CMS has made information more accessible and easier to find. It has provided staff with access to work on their programs remotely when they normally would need to be in their offices. For example, employees have been able to continue compliance assurance work, like creating new inspection documents and records and completing required air permit reports while teleworking.
The SharePoint-based CMS has offered an effective, low-cost technology that can easily be expanded to other areas of the organization that are managing regulatory compliance requirements, documents and records, training, etc., as well. It provides the opportunity to help the entire organization:
- Identify, understand, and document applicable requirements
- Implement easy-to-use information management tools
- Capture institutional knowledge of experienced staff to help ensure operational sustainability
- Maintain compliance with regulations and standards
- Ensure employees are productive and efficient regardless of whether they are working in the office or at home
Ensuring Operational Sustainability
Now more than ever, organizations must adopt a forward-thinking perspective—thinking beyond individual efficiency tools, considering the desired state, and determining how technology can be leveraged to ensure operational sustainability, even in uncertain times.
By leveraging our technology and compliance expertise, KTL offers the perspective needed to implement an effective CMS and the technology needed to provide valuable remote solutions. Our EHS, food safety, and IT professionals understand the regulatory obligations, organizational needs, and needs of the users. This drives design and development of the right CMS—one that works within the organization’s operating environment—to reduce compliance risk, create efficiencies, provide operational flexibility, and generate business improvement and value.
Over the past several months, many companies have had to prioritize business activities given restrictions on travel and social distancing guidelines. Despite these restrictions, however, certain compliance activities are still required, including training.
Training is a key component for maintaining ongoing compliance—whether with regulatory requirements, supply chain mandates, or internal policies. While some training can be postponed, putting training on the backburner can have its consequences, ranging from unprepared employees, to noncompliance, to preventable injuries or worse.
Much like with audits, there are alternatives to meeting training requirements and ensuring employees are well-instructed and prepared to do their jobs, even with current government and/or company restrictions. Online and virtual training are not necessarily new options, but their popularity is most certainly on the rise. In-person, online, and virtual training can all provide quality options if you understand your training needs and understand what type of training works best in different scenarios.
As we have experienced, sometimes there is no substitute for doing things face-to-face. For certain types of training, in-person is clearly the best alternative for a number of reasons:
- It is designed for people who need to genuinely know the material inside and out and for those who would benefit from a more tailored, interactive learning experience.
- With in-person training, learners are able to ask specific questions and get them answered immediately.
- In-person training provides a focused, immersive learning experience, where attendees can have interaction, discussion, and live input.
- Trainers get to know attendees and can adjust training (e.g., material, learning speed, examples) to the group’s learning style.
- In-person training allows attendees to develop relationships with the trainer and other attendees, which can prove beneficial on future projects.
As many organizations have discovered, particularly lately, while in-person training may offer a great alternative, it is not always possible. Beyond travel and social distancing restrictions, in-person training can also be cost-prohibitive. In addition, scheduling of in-person training can present more challenges, as timing is based on the instructor and is not flexible.
Best suited for: Multi-day classes where demonstration of competency is needed, and participants are building skills they will use frequently; introductory classes where participants need to understand new material.
The Online Option
At the other end of the spectrum, we have online training (not to be confused with virtual, which is discussed below). Online training involves an online module that allows participants to watch and/or listen to a pre-recorded class. Generally speaking, online training works best when individuals already know the material (e.g., refresher training) and is most appropriate when the attendee does not have to be an expert in the subject matter (i.e., awareness level vs. functional expertise).
In addition, online training is generally cheaper since it is not customized and does not require travel or an onsite trainer. It can also be faster and more flexible, as attendees can work at their own pace and have the ability to pick their own schedule.
While there are certain benefits to online training, it is not suitable for all types of training. Because online training does not involve a live instructor, attendees are generally unable to ask questions effectively and there is little opportunity for follow-up input on areas covered. This is no opportunity for hands-on learning and interaction. For example, something like 24-hour HAZWOPER training would be difficult to do as an online course, as a hands-on component is valuable in helping participants demonstrate competency, as required. Finally, because of a potentially diverse audience, online training tends to be generic and not tailored to the specific needs.
Best suited for: Courses where participants have had many, many years of experience and just need refreshers, such as HAZWOPER 8-hour, DOT General Awareness, or RCRA refresher training.
Taking It Virtual
Finally, virtual training provides a bridge between online and in-person training. Like online training, virtual training is done via technology (e.g., Zoom, WebEx); however, it takes place live with instructors engaged in the training as it is occurring. Virtual has many of the same advantages as in-person training since it is being done live. Learners can get more in-depth training and benefit from live interaction, questions, and discussion to help develop specialized expertise. Virtual training works best when travel is limited but students still need to have real-time input from the instructor.
That being said, virtual training cannot completely replace in-person training. With screens, it may be difficult for the trainer to read the crowd and accurately interpret learning needs. Hands-on opportunities become more limited—though not impossible—and require cooperation, coordination, and open-mindedness from all attendees. Finally, technology and logistics are critical for this type of training. A computer with good internet access is critical. If internet connections are slow or sound quality is poor, training can quickly become ineffective.
Best suited for: Refresher training (as with online options), more detailed training that can be customized to the specifics of the class (i.e., site-specific, industry-specific), or training for those with less experience who may need to ask questions.
Consider Learning Styles
People learn very differently. Some people are aural learners and can hear material and develop understanding. Others are visual learners so just reading material on a screen “sticks.” Others are tactile learners and need to participate in physical interaction to understand content. It is important to keep this in mind when choosing the best platform, as well:
- With in-person classes, all learner types can be addressed.
- With online classes, typically only visual learners retain the information unless there is audible training coordinated with the material.
- With virtual learning and coordination with the site prior to the training program, all three learner types can be addressed.
While some training can be rescheduled with minimal impacts to the business, many training requirements cannot. Companies need to know their workers are retaining the information, particularly given OSHA requirements that employees must demonstrate understanding and competency. To ensure that training not only “checks the box” but is also effective, it is important to evaluate not just the training, but the delivery options. In-person, online, and virtual all have their strengths based on the training needs and individual learning styles.
Checklists are a common way to collect information. From inspections and maintenance checks to near-miss and behavior-based safety reporting, most companies regularly use some form of checklist to gather information that should help inform operational decisions. Checklists are important. They establish good employee practices for regularly reviewing operational areas. But the information gathered in checklists only adds value to the organization if the data collected is used.
What happens to your checklists once they are filled out? Are they submitted? Is the data reviewed? And importantly, how are you leveraging the data gathered to better understand and improve your organization
There are dozens of options available for gathering data through checklists. Paper checklists are largely becoming a thing of the past—and for good reason. Mobile forms and technology (e.g., Microsoft Forms, Google Forms) make completing checklists of almost any type easier and faster in the field. Mobile forms allow employees to quickly and easily complete forms from a mobile device—without logging in—from daily inspections to near-miss information as it is happening. Any daily, weekly, monthly form/checklist can be turned into a mobile form (e.g., Powered Industrial Truck inspection checklists, monthly tank inspection checklists, incident reports, non-conformance reports). Questions can be multiple choice, yes/no, text, numerical, rating scales, and several others.
Not only is completing an electronic form easy for employees, one of the largest benefits of gathering data via a mobile checklist is that the resulting data is already in digital format—and much more usable than a binder filled with paper checklists.
Checklists can be designed to move the data gathered from the form directly into a database, such as Microsoft SharePoint or a SQL database. Digital data from all electronic forms can then be stored in a centralized system; categorized for searchability; and easily accessed for review, comparison, and analysis.
With all data that is collected being stored in a central database, it then becomes possible to leverage and manipulate that data to graphically display high-level information on a dashboard through the use of technology like Microsoft Power BI. Google dashboards offer another user-friendly alternative for analyzing the resulting data. Dashboards serve as a user interface to display/highlight key information. When companies amass a lot of data in many different areas, the dashboard can provide an integrated view of data pulled from multiple checklists/modules in an easy-to-read display. Dashboards such as this:
- Provide greater visibility and alert to issues that need attention/resolution across the entire organization.
- Allow management to view outstanding issues under their responsibility.
- Display up-to-date graphics of how the organization is performing compared to goals.
- Generate graphs and charts from the data collected based on what information needs to be reported.
- Allow for the use of advanced data analytics to help identify patterns and trends, inform business decisions, and guide resources.
Many companies have a lot of great data at their fingertips but knowing to how access and leverage it can be a challenge. Checklists and forms provide a relatively simple and straightforward method for gathering electronic data and turning it into valuable information that can improve operations and help inform business decision-making.