We’ve all heard the expression “better late than never”. Yet when it comes to the safety incident management process, late is just not good enough.
As organizations grow and develop into complex structures, they put in place communication systems to streamline processes that seep vertically through the business.
However, this inevitably impacts the incident management process. Bottlenecks at each organizational level frequently slow down incident reporting and response, which can affect a company’s entire safety culture.
There are typically several stages to the incident management process. Unfortunately, lost time can occur at any one of them.
Here, we’ll look at what those bottlenecks are and how they can be eliminated with the use of an Incident Management Software (IMS) solution.
1. Manual Input and Filing of Data
A study revealed that 40% of workers surveyed spend at least a quarter of their work week on manual, repetitive tasks, with data collection and data entry occupying the most time.
Manual input of data inevitably slows down the incident reporting process.
To add to this, employees may put off reporting an incident if it requires too much effort. They’ve got a day job to do that simply doesn’t allow for 30+ minutes of admin.
Both of these situations delay the reporting process and thus, manual input of data is the first bottleneck in your incident management process.
Further still, it’s no secret that paper forms and clipboards so commonly associated with safety personnel are cumbersome. In cases where you need to take action urgently, the last thing you want is a complex filing system.
To this point, paper copies of incident reports also affect the availability of data. When a similar incident occurs in future, safety managers may spend hours leafing through several binders looking for the previous incident report, which can hold valuable information.
IMS Solution: A single, straightforward digital form
With a user-friendly IMS, reporting an incident is much faster in several ways.
Firstly, the user puts data straight into a digital system without moving physical records around (scanning, printing, filing…).
If the form is mobile-responsive, employees are able to submit a report immediately at the scene of the incident.
If the form is dynamic, the user is asked only relevant information as the form learns from type and location.
What about login, you may wonder? Forgotten passwords? There are systems available that you access through SharePoint, meaning no new logins required. (A SharePoint-based IMS like Pro-Sapien also means your data is already housed in the corporate Office 365 IT.)
Secondly, in contrast to sifting through paper looking for old incident reports, future safety managers will have the benefit of a much more efficient system. Incident management software means all incident reports are held in filterable, sortable, searchable libraries.
All of these features speed up the incident management process, and if something is simpler to do, more employees are likely to do it.
Therefore, a faster reporting and filing method is the remedy to this first bottleneck.
2. Prohibitive Reporting Hierarchy
After it’s submitted, an incident report makes its way to management to ensure the appropriate course of action is taken.
Unfortunately, in systems that rely on manual effort, information can be lost along the way. (Ever played the game Telephone?) The message gets distorted over numerous levels of hierarchy, and actions that should be taken quickly are delayed.
On occasion, this trend emphasizes the lack of transparency in a company’s safety culture.
In this type of situation, it’s not unheard of for Safety Managers to simply hear about an incident through the grapevine.
Furthermore, if incident management involves a significant amount of paperwork, reports can gather dust for weeks on end at each stage of the process.
IMS Solution: Workflows, notifications and reminders
Firstly, user-friendly forms that all employees can complete are instrumental in making incident-reporting part of culture. This, with a review workflow, will improve the reliability of data as forms are filled out in a more timely manner.
Next, management comes in to decide actions.
So, secondly, an IMS that offers automated workflows, notifications, reminders, and a library of open incidents can speed up the approval process.
Moreover, escalation features that inform line managers of overdue actions help remove complacency and encourage a more transparent work culture.
With workflows to keep the incident always moving forward until Close, an IMS goes a long way in solving this bottleneck.
In this respect, it’s clear an IMS makes the distribution of information easier. As a Senior Safety Specialist at a global chemicals company explains,
The ability to input the information in a timely manner, send it out immediately and make the facts of an event available to all employees is a game changer. Now all of our management staff can quickly share accurate information about an event with their work crews. Sharing that information and lessons learned is one of the tools we use to help our employees work safely.
3. Unclear Incident Categorization
When faced with several incident reviews or investigations, it can be a challenge to decide which tasks require your immediate attention.
Trying to solve them all at once, or manually crawling through information without a defined system, can result in a considerable amount of lost time.
In addition, many employees find it challenging to report an incident in the first place if they are unsure of what to report it as.
Each of these problems comes down to categorization.
IMS Solution: Structured data
The problem of categorization cannot be solved single-handedly by an IMS Solution, since it depends on how your organization allocates urgency and severity to incidents. But, an IMS can help.
Perhaps a new IMS is an opportunity to rethink how incidents are categorized. If you’re looking for guidance, the UK’s HSE offers a workbook to help you create a system.
One way software helps solve unclear categorization is with structured data.
Structured data means data that is fixed to a set of predefined values. The following are examples of structured data in incident management:
- Incident Type
- Action Priority
These fields help employees know how to categorize an incident, and help management to delegate appropriately. For example:
- Incident Type (and Subtype) guides front line workers on what information they should report. We’ve written more about categorization as a barrier to reporting here.
- Severity helps reviewers decide whether an investigation is required or not, and to what extent.
- Action Priority helps action owners know what to prioritize in their busy schedules and can influence a mandated due date.
Furthermore, tooltips on IMS forms instantly provide context for users if they are unsure of how to categorize along the way.
Providing these structures helps to ensure the incident management process is an organized, methodical one. This means less chance of miscommunication or confusion, which can lead to avoidance.
4. Neglect and Habituation
Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes we forget to write it down on our To Do List. The point is, we forget things all the time.
For example, 50% of people forget what they have learned within an hour. Supervisors see incident reports, but when the time comes for action to be taken, other things might get in the way.
Try taking out one of the lights in a room at home. You will instantly notice that corner of the room is a lot darker than it used to be. Now give it a day, two days, a week. Eventually, you will stop noticing that corner is dimmer, because you will have grown used to it.
The same happens with incidents: leave them unattended for long enough and they might fade into the background or become the norm, despite the risk of them turning into a more serious event.
IMS Solution: Visible libraries and action management
We cannot change the way we recall things, but we can find tools that do some of the thinking for us.
Frequently, IMS solutions address this bottleneck with a notification and reminder system.
When something needs done, such as completing an investigation, an IMS automatically distributes notifications to all involved.
When something is approaching due date, an IMS sends reminders periodically to encourage users to complete tasks on time. So, Safety Managers don’t have to manually remember and chase up every due date, which can quickly get out of hand.
If something goes overdue, many IMS systems will even trigger an escalation workflow to line managers.
Furthermore, an IMS helps you eliminate the spreadsheets so commonly relied on for task management. Pro-Sapien’s Action Manager tool provides a clear, filterable library of all actions. Users stay on top of their own to-do list, and managers quickly see what’s outstanding for their team or site.
Above all, the objective is to keep safety front of mind to ensure incidents are resolved in a timely manner.
An IMS helps you instill this way of thinking by making it as easy as possible for staff to be notified and reminded of what needs done.
5. Slow Consolidation of Data
Incident Management doesn’t end once a corrective action is assigned. To help surface underlying problems, you must analyze and understand your data.
However, anyone who has worked with large volumes of data knows interpreting numbers over time is no easy task. In fact, this brings us to our 5th bottleneck: slow consolidation of data.
Consolidating data between spreadsheets is extremely time-consuming and can require a high level of technical skill, which safety personnel often don’t have.
In this situation, it’s easy to overlook insights and under-use data. A study performed by independent research firm Verdantix indicated that 55% of EHS professionals felt their team lacked data science expertise.
Alas, numbers without purpose are just numbers. EHS professionals must be able to use these numbers to know what’s working and what’s not, without spending hours they don’t have on data consolidation.
IMS Solution: Configured KPI dashboards
Programs like Excel can help you translate data into clearer diagrams and tables.
However, as mentioned, Excel requires a level of skill which most EHS professionals don’t have (and don’t have the time for). Furthermore, it lacks the configurability and security that specialized business intelligence tools usually have.
Modern Incident Management Software avoids the need for spreadsheet crunching altogether.
Commonly, an IMS supports dashboarding technology. Key Performance Indicator (KPI) dashboards encapsulate incident reporting data into one storage space, and interpret this data into charts, graphs and diagrams so you can understand your data in a much clearer fashion.
Since Pro-Sapien is based on Office 365, users benefit from seamless integration with Microsoft’s Power BI. When set up properly, Power BI is an easy to use tool that all EHS personnel can quickly adopt.
Using an IMS that makes use of such reporting technology lets the EHS team get insights fast, so you can identify trends from incident investigations and do something about them—before another incident report comes in.
For example, Tronox, at their chemical plant in Hamilton, MS, has saved an average of 5 hours a month on data consolidation. With their IMS from Pro-Sapien, they are able to track Days Open as a KPI for how well they’re doing responding to incidents.
Among many other new efficiencies in the incident reporting process, safety personnel can use this information (and the time saved in finding it) to focus on things that matter.
Energize your safety incident management process
Timely incident response cannot be overlooked when there are lives at stake.
By identifying all the issues from above that are relevant to your business, you can start to target them. Or, consider how valuable Incident Management Software could be in your scenario.
If you would like to see a real case study illustrating how these bottlenecks were smashed using Pro-Sapien’s Safety Software on SharePoint, read about Tronox’s experience now.