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July 18, 2000 

Managing environmental health and safety programs on the web

By James M. Testo

James M. Testo is vice president of InteGreyted Consultants of Clifton Park. This is based on his presentation at the July 13 meeting of The Council's Occupational Safety and Health Committee.

Thanks to advances in computing, employers can "digitize" environmental health and safety (EHS) programs. Web-based EHS programs can be more effective and less costly than traditional programs based on paper EHS manuals.

The goal of EHS programs based on management information systems is continuous improvement. Mangement systems can establish policies and procedures, assign accountability for implementation of these procedures, measure their effectiveness and then improve them to increase performance and efficiency.

On-line EHS systems should include:

Complete EHS management systems also can manage things like OSHA reporting, record-keeping and management of tasks such as job-safety analysis, exposure assessment, and lockout/tagout.

Let's compare manual-based EHS management to a web-based system in the case of hazard-communication training.

In a traditional manual-based system, the EHS manager, realizing "hazcom" training is due, would try to find his written training program, make many phone calls to book time and space for training, arrange for employees to leave production work to attend, and then try to document attendance.

Whenever a new employee is added, the process must be repeated.

With a web-based system, an EHS manager posts the complete training program to the on-line library and creates a training action item on the calendar. Employees are automatically notified via e-mail when their hazcom is due.

The e-mail reminder will have a link to the appropriate written program and training course to be taken at employees' convenience. The system would be able to log the completion of the course in the archive.

When a new employee joins the company, the training link would be forwarded automatically, further minimizing the EHS manager's hands-on work and maximizing system efficiency.

There are many other advantages to web-based EHS management.

Shared duties: Often, all EHS planning and tasks are done by one harried safety manager. With a web-based system, management can move responsibility to local supervisors or workers. It is technologically easy to enable some employees to edit or add information on the site while others have read-only access.

Continuity: In many EHS programs, knowledge is lost, and EHS programs needlessly reinvented, when a safety manager changes jobs. With web-based information and procedures, costly and needless reinvention of EHS systems is less likely.

Moreover, plan updates are immediately available to all users, so it is less likely that outdated procedures will survive because of poor "version control" of the EHS plan.

Training materials: Web-based training materials can include video, sound, photos, and plain-language explanations of rules and the consequences of failure to comply.