Technology has been part of the environmental, health, safety and sustainability (EHSS) landscape for some time. However, over the past few years, we’ve seen this landscape revolutionized by digitalization and the industrialization and widespread commercialization of technology.

Digital pioneers such as Equinor, United Airlines and formerly DowDuPont, who embraced innovative technologies early on, are already citing benefits that stretch well beyond EHSS metrics and are actually driving operational results. These improvements come not from incremental changes (for example, moving data from a standalone spreadsheet to a central database) but from the radical transformation of EHSS, which can help to reduce risk profiles at an enterprise-level and change the day-to-day roles of frontline workers and EHSS staff.

The adoption of innovative technologies and solutions is not only transforming how organizations tackle their EHSS challenges but is also driving greater efficiency and intelligence. For example: unlocking new insights that have material impacts, such as improving operational performance, driving profitability while simplifying permitting, safeguarding compliance and enhancing safety. For too long, EHSS functions were reactive in nature, responding to issues after they arose and investigating root causes on actual incidents. Technology, especially the availability of data and the accessibility of analytics and visualization tools, is enabling leading companies to move from hindsight to insight and in some instances, foresight.

As EHSS operations take a leap into the digital future, organizations that are not leveraging new technologies and opportunities risk being left behind. We increasingly see a gap between the technology staff have in their own homes (and pockets) and the technology they have in the workplace. This not only alienates younger workers and makes employees question the commitment of companies to the future, it also leaves money on the table, foregoing or delaying the cost savings and EHSS improvements that can come from digitization, done right.

As an example of this, many of us use a home digital assistant to help us work through recipes as we cook in the kitchen, allowing us to keep our hands free to cook and interact with family members and guests. How many firms equip workers in the same way when confronting much more challenging field conditions and higher risks? Instead of having to go back to check guidance in a folder, people are increasingly being empowered with hands-free technology to talk them through complex steps and workflows while on site. This is possible today, but rollout in high-hazard jobs is slower than it is in our homes.

Transformations like this are just the beginning. The potential for the use of mobile technologies in EHSS field situations is both exciting and energizing. Some organizations are already using smartphones to deliver daily bursts of safety micro-learning to workers as well as to issue alerts and monitor actions. As data becomes increasingly connected, these micro-learnings can be informed by a clear view of the hazards that workers are facing today, based on their work type, the weather, other incidents observed across the organization; as well as the time since their last training, their last vacation, or their most recent change in job function. These types of capabilities and interventions will be particularly key for the estimated 1.5 billion mobile workers around the world - many of whom work alone for some or all of the time.

Time to act: Digitalization of EHSS becoming a top priority

  • Employees want - and need - to be empowered to “do the right thing” through the use of smarter technologies and easier access to information.
  • EHSS performance has become a competitive differentiator with customers, regulators and investors setting increasingly high standards.
  • Safety has become a zero-tolerance issue; getting it wrong can come with massive reputational and financial risks.

Making the leap from reactive to proactive

Every organization we engage with is in the midst of their “digital journey.” In many cases, operational teams are leading the way, with innovative solutions that focus on an organization’s strengths as well as strategy. Finance, legal, human resources and other support functions are then following behind, using fairly well-trodden digitalization roadmaps to deliver greater value to the business.

EHSS is often the last out of the transformation starting block. Although half of EHSS decision-makers say they have implemented a digital transformation strategy for their function 1, many organizations then struggle to make the leap from aspiration to solution. We see a profusion of EHSS “pilot initiatives” involving drones, wearables, and mobile apps, yet many of these trials fail to become workable and scalable solutions. Many trial initiatives are stuck in “pilot purgatory,” never failing, never scaling.

To help make their EHSS digitalization goals a reality, organizations need to focus on the key challenges and opportunities they want to address and then identify the technology enablers. “Design Thinking” encourages organizations to start at the end, focusing on the outcome they want to achieve.

Too often, organizations have deployed a number of technology solutions without a clear vision and roadmap of how these solutions will fit together. In some extreme cases, adoption of these solutions without a clear digital and data roadmap has resulted in a mash of different digital technologies feeding a number of cloud-based data siloes without the ability to integrate and generate insights.

This is where advisory support can help organizations deliver on the value of the digitization of EHSS. There is a balance needed to ensure that there is not too much planning around too little delivery, while also mitigating the risk of rushing to solutions without a clear plan in place for the problem, and business opportunity, to focus on. An external perspective with an experienced provider can help maintain this balance.

Bringing safety into the digital age

With a goal for zero incidents and injuries becoming the norm, the need to improve safety performance is a common starting point for an organization’s digital journey.

Having the potential to damage reputations and profits, safety performance has long been a strategic priority - especially for organizations in high-risk sectors, such as oil and gas and mining. However, our 2018 ERM Global Safety Survey Report revealed that although organizations recognize the benefits that data and technology can bring in the drive to improve safety performance, it has not yet translated into an investment priority.

Many EHSS organizations are also still just focusing on collating data to meet specific obligations rather than aggregating and analyzing data to enable faster reactions and encourage safer behaviors. To make the leap from reactive to proactive, organizations need to do more than just implement new technologies; they need to adopt a new mindset.

Enabling both cultural and operational change takes time. People need to be educated and empowered. Processes need to be standardized and automated. Partnerships need to be established and enriched. This is a signal change in how EHSS functions and leaders approach their roles—ultimately transforming perception across the business. Instead of being seen as an administrative, compliance-focused function, EHSS becomes a risk management team that leverages best practice and in-house expertise. As a result, EHSS will no longer be viewed as a “safety cop” but rather a partner that enables safer operations and greater productivity.

To bring this to life, when a major pharmaceutical company deployed a new EHSS information management system featuring a mobile app and analytics, it transformed engagement across a global workforce of 28,000 employees. They’ve seen a 150% increase in the number of events reported and over a 1,000% increase in the number of investigations, which helps to encourage better and safer behaviors, identify areas for improvement and drive smarter EHSS decisions.

How digitalization makes a difference in EHSS outcomes

  • Simplifying data capture: drones, sensors and robots can be used to collate data in hazardous environments or remote locations, eliminating risk and improving information quality.
  • Increasing transparency: block-chain, barcodes and QR codes are facilitating traceability and ethical sourcing, including fair treatment of workers throughout the supply chain. 
  • Optimizing compliance: sensors are reducing costs by automating and simplifying the capture and collation of EHSS data, which is needed for regulatory reporting both on an ongoing basis and following an incident.
  • Boosting competitive advantage: smart devices are being used to detect contaminated or flawed materials to streamline product development and delivery, resulting in greater quality and faster time to market.

Joining this new era in EHSS

Although 83% of EHSS decision-makers cite innovation as essential or a high priority, cost remains a significant barrier to change: half of organizations say they will not be increasing spend in 2019.1

It should be recognized that delivering digitalization on a tight budget will be tough. Applying design-thinking and agile development methodologies will not only help accelerate transformation timelines but also minimize costs. As EHSS teams, processes and technologies continue to evolve, the current bias towards administration versus action will change. As a result, EHSS functions will not only become more proactive but also more predictive and productive.

Data will form the foundation of this new era in EHSS, unlocking richer insights that will influence current decisions and drive future improvements. Aggregating data for compliance purposes and reporting will become more automated—and more accurate. Visualizing data via real-time dashboards will become standard practice and transform boardroom discussions.

By investing now, organizations will be able to unlock these benefits earlier and ensure that EHSS joins the digitalization revolution, delivering better outcomes to workers, managers and communities and driving competitive advantage. Those that wait run the risk of being left behind, which could lead to cost-savings unrealized, unnecessary risk to people and the environment, and struggling in the marketplace for talent, as younger and sought-after workers gravitate to companies that are leveraging technology to solve EHSS challenges.

1 2019 Benchmark for EHSS Budgets, Priorities & Technology Preferences, Verdantix