Here we present insights from 3 EHS and Engineering leaders into the most common challenges and how to plan for success.
Giving their key insights to form this discussion were three leading authorities in EHS and Engineering – Karen Harbison (Maintenance Standardisation Manager, GSK), Frank Disori (Site Health, Safety & Environment Manager, Mars Wrigley), and Brian DeWitt (Environmental Health & Safety Manager, Abbott).
The panelists, with a combined 40 years of experience in health, safety and engineering, reveal what made them move away from paper processes and embrace electronic permit to work systems. Karen, Frank and Brian speak about the concerns they had in switching, but also how electronic permit to work has changed the future of contractor management in their respective organisations.
WHY MAKE THE MOVE FROM A PAPER TO AN ELECTRONIC PERMIT TO WORK SYSTEM FOR YOUR CONTRACTOR MANAGEMENT?
For most people considering the move, it comes down to three key points - the first would be visibility. Take for example a large international company which has numerous sites with multiple buildings, multiple operations, multiple stakeholders, so visibility becomes a big thing for emergency services providers, for safety people, for engineering, and for project engineers to see what work was going on and who was working on site.
The next point is efficiency - the new versus the old is usually much faster. An electronic permit to work system can help with the on-boarding of contractors faster through a streamlined process, allowing them to work faster. It can reduce the administration time to bring contractors on site by up to 90%.
Point number three is compliance. Let’s look at another example. If we take a multinational pharmaceutical or life sciences company who are involved in making drugs, making infant formula, making medical devices – these companies are all highly regulated and compliance is a major issue for them. To be able to hard-code their business rules into an electronic system is a big plus and the number-one goal is keeping people safe at work through risk management.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES THAT YOU MIGHT FACE WHEN GOING DOWN THIS ROAD?
One of the biggest challenges is the internal justification of a new platform. Often you are trying to justify it based on just cost alone, but there are a lot of qualitative justifications that occur when you really look at it, such as am “I getting something that's going to be available very fairly close to a turnkey solution, and what is going to be expandable to other sites?”
If I'm introducing this new system in to one site, can it expand out to other sites? The internal capabilities of the system and making sure that there's a good process in place for the flow when you're rolling this out is vital - how does it flow at your site and will you be able to take that to other sites and make it work the same way?
WHAT OTHER CHALLENGES COULD YOU COME ACROSS THAT MAYBE YOU MIGHT NOT EXPECT?
The whole internal approval process for IT based systems can be a very big process and being able to navigate that and connect it is important. There will be other people internally trying to get to the same solution as you, so align with those individuals as early in the process as you can.
An additional challenge to consider is getting feedback on the system during the initial design phase. A key consideration here is to ask yourself “how do I appropriately move forward in the design piece but also get the feedback of the people that are actually going to use the system so that it makes sense to them?”
HOW DID YOU GET THE FEEDBACK AND WHAT WAS THE FEEDBACK FROM THE FIRST USERS OF THE SYSTEM?
One option would be to introduce this out initially as a light roll out to your engineering community (or whichever department is going to be the mean users) and then a select launch to possibly your maintenance group. It doesn’t need to be launched to everybody from the beginning. Use the pilot launch at one site to get feedback. There are going to be some ways of working improvements to the actual process flow, so take that feedback, use the information and change it as quickly as possible.
Generally people don't like change, especially when you've got a system (paper-based) that works and that is totally adequate and is doing what it needs to do. It is difficult to convince people to move to an electronic system but if the people who are using the system can see the benefits of it then that certainly helps to bring people around. In short, take this great idea, pick out the toughest environment to roll this out (your most complicated, most resistant to change, and most politically challenging organization), and if you can make it work there it will work anywhere. Know your processes and know your people and accept that you may have to influence key stakeholders.
WHAT STEPS SHOULD BE PUT IN PLACE TO HELP THE PROCESS OF CHANGE RUN MORE SMOOTHLY?
It's really about making sure that you have all the key stakeholders involved, people who are going to be interested in this outside of just EHS. It’s easy to think in a silo, so don’t be afraid to include the quality organization, the engineering organization as well as the environmental health and safety organization. Also consider bringing in individuals from the electronic system provider, especially in the initial roll out, to talk to your peers and those key stakeholders.
IF YOU HAD A KEY PIECE OF ADVICE FOR SOMEBODY WHO IS IN THE PROCESS OF TRYING TO GET FUNDING, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
One way to influence the budgetary manager would be to look at all direct costs. Count up things like printing costs, how long things take to run, things happening behind the scenes, outsourcing contractor safety reviews, and more. Taking all of this into consideration, next prepare a simple cost-benefit analysis and identify if moving to an electronic system would be a good investment. Next, throw all the subjective things on top of it to see if it would pay for itself. This might be something like: we have a thousand contractors and right now we are doing instructor-led training and we are paying somebody to teach that class as well as people to attend it, and all of that money does add up quickly when you take a look at it.
If your company engages in business excellence, then use that expertise and do things like Kaizen events against the old and the new processes to show the efficiencies to be gained and the drawbacks of doing things the same old way.
There are of course non-monetary discussions that can also help to secure funding. Having transparency into the processes on site and having transparency of where work is going on is one of the big benefits to be able to show to the different stakeholders instead of having an old-school paper system. Being able to show those in addition to the pure cost savings can really turn a lot of heads and can really show a lot of value to key stakeholders outside of just the environmental and safety community.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS FROM AN ENGINEERING AND A PRODUCTION POINT OF VIEW?
The biggest benefits are time saved and ease of use. With an electronic system and drop-down boxes, it is easier and quicker, and you are less likely to make a mistake.
A further benefit of implementation is that both Engineering and EHS are involved from the very beginning and that does make a huge difference - it's not a situation where the EHS Department is telling Engineering that they have to do something; it becomes more of a collaboration.
HOW DO CONTRACTORS FIT INTO THE CONTRACTOR MANAGEMENT SYSTEM AND THE PROCESS?
The contractor management system replaces things such as tracking spreadsheets and checklists, as well as instructor-led training that can take up to 40 minutes in a classroom. The system gets all people involved; for example - security guards at gate checks are able to see people's training credentials, their safety reviews, their job hazard analysis – it makes everything very clear.
The system also allows for leading safety metrics - how many contractors have been trained safely, how many hours have they worked safely, how many company safety reviews have been done in the last year, how many hot work permits are happening without burning down the building.
WHAT ARE THE CRITICAL ITEMS FOR MANAGING THE TRANSITION FROM PAPER TO ELECTRONIC?
Knowing your processes inside and out, knowing your permits beginning to end, and knowing your contractor. it's all about the execution and the planning, so it's really understanding the whole process from when a contractor is selected to well after they leave when you're preparing for an audit.
ANY ADVICE FOR COMPANIES THAT ARE LOOKING AT MOVING IN THIS DIRECTION?
Try to get one of your more cynical people to be on the project, because once they're bought in it's easier to sell to everybody else.
Understand what your long-term gains or goals are, and just stay focused on those.
Showcase your idea - when people get to see how it works and get to play around with it, they start seeing the value in it. Getting over that first hurdle is key and then it will sell itself, it will speak on its own merits.