Health and safety software is becoming more and more popular across all industries, and for both large organisations and small.
But what should you look out for when choosing your Health and Safety Software System, and what should you avoid? In this post we’ll be sharing our expertise as health and safety consultants to take a look at health and safety management software, and give you some guidance on how to choose a system that will benefit you and your employees.
An honest disclaimer
We’ll get this out of the way up font… we sell Safety First, an online Health and Safety Management Software System that works for all different sizes of business, and across many different industries.
We honestly believe that Safety First is the best H&S management software out there for the money. However, we know that businesses operate in different ways, and do different things. So that’s why we’ve looked at Health and Safety Management Software as a whole, and wrote this blog post so you can make a more informed decision.
A modular approach to Health and Safety Software
Most health and safety management software is based around a number of different modules that each do their own thing, and also work together to let you manage your health and safety provision in the most efficient way.
There’s a good reason behind this. If you look at Health and Safety management as a whole, you can divide it up into distinct “ideas” that all interact with each other to give an overall management system. Modules can include things like Risk Assessments, COSHH assessments, Method Statements, Health and Safety Policy, Training and Competence (people), Asset Management (equipment), Accidents and Incidents (prevention and response), and Monitoring.
A bit about Health and Safety Management
In actual fact, if you look at Health and Safety Management in general, you’ll find that there’s a cycle to successful Health and Safety Management:
Plan – Do – Check – Act.
If you’ve worked in Health and Safety, Quality, Environmental, or any other ISO type field where management systems are involved, this will be very familiar to you.
The HSE break this down further into the following areas, which reinforces why Health and Safety Management Software systems take the modular approach I explained above:
Leadership and Management
Involves writing a health and safety policy, identifying the significant H&S risks in the business, and reviewing health and safety performance through incident records and audits / inspections.
Ensuring that all staff have the information, instructions and training they need to carry out their jobs safely.
Identifying the legislation that applies to a business and ensuring that the organisation remains compliant within that legal framework.
Looking at the hazards that the company’s employees face, and ensuring that these are adequately controlled,. This includes risk assessments, coshh assessments and method statements.
Involving the workforce in all things related to health and safety – ensuring that they have had input into the risk assessment process and the control measures are practical.
So, good health and safety software will cover all these aspects of the management system, and help you to close the plan-do-check-act loop. This will ensure continual health and safety improvement into the future.
Document based Health and Safety Software
Although we’re in the 21st century, we have flying drones, virtual reality and facebook, health and safety management is still very much document based.
When we say “document based”, we don’t necessarily mean physically printed documents, but more virtual documents.
And there are good reasons for a document based approach to health and safety management.
The first reason is that the legislation requires it – most H&S legislation requires that a written record is kept of any H&S information, such as risk assessments, COSHH assessment and so on.
The second reason, is that in health and safety, we do all we can to prevent accidents in the first place. We train staff, we inspect equipment, we monitor the work, we inspect premises and so on. We’re always trying to keep on top of things and reduce the risks our employees are exposed to.
However, there’s no way to completely eliminate accidents. It’s human nature. Look back through recent history – the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the gulf of Mexico; the Challenger space shuttle disaster; accidents happen to even the most cautious and respectable organisations (BP and NASA respectivley).
Hopefully we’re not talking anything that catastrophic, but when accidents do happen, there needs to be an investigation, and a response to defend the company. That’s where the documentation comes in.
Employees, need to be told important information, and you need to keep evidence that they have received and understood that information. Which is where a document based approach works best – send employees a document, they read, sign and return. Hopefully, all bases are covered. If an accident does happen, the organisation can mitigate it’s exposure to it by showing that workers are competent and trained, risk assessments were done etc.
H&S Software should be easy to use
As you can see from the above, your health and safety software should become an integral part of your health and safety management system. However, for this to happen successfully, the system need to be accessible to all members of staff at differing levels, only exposing the parts of the system that matter to each individual employee.
Having said that though, if you have a large organisation, it can become an administrative nightmare to try and keep track of all the system users, and their access privileges.
So, your health and safety software system should be easy to administer, and make it easy to distribute information to individuals, who can easily access the information they need.
Any health and safety software system that tries to stand on its own, just won’t work. Although health and safety should always be on employees minds, the fact is, it generally isn’t.
The only employee who will voluntarily log into your health and safety management software on a daily basis is your health and safety manager.
All the other employees will need an occasional “nudge” to get them to login, and review documents etc.
The best way to do this is through email. A good H&S management software will have the facility to email out documents to employees for them to look at. Even better, those employees will also be able to remotely “sign” the document to say they have read and understood it.
Your health and safety software system contains some pretty important information. Those risk assessments and method statement aren’t just nice pieces of paper, they should be working documents, and available to those who need them for their work.
A good health and safety management software system will allow access to this documentation, to varying degrees based on used privileges, but importantly, at any time, and from anywhere.
It’s no good, if the night shift are on call-out and need to provide the RAMS for an urgent job, but everything is stuck on a computer in the office.
Being available everywhere, all the time means that an internet based system is definitely the way to go.
As a bonus, everything is kept up to date automatically, and there’s no need to download or install any software on your computer.
A website portal to your health and safety management system will also mean that your essential health and safety documentation can be accessed from any device. Phones and tablets are common in the workplace, and the ability to access essential information through these devices can make a huge difference.
The final bonus to an internet based system is the ability to have many different users working on documents at the same time. Employees can be issued with logins, and given access permissions to different modules within the system. This means there’s no bottle neck waiting for one person to log in and access that document you need, anyone can get on the system and find the information they need with ease, whenever they need it.
A template based approach
It’s often the case when writing health and safety documents, that you won’t start from scratch. Even in the days when we used MS Word for our client’s risk assessments and method statements, we would rarely open a blank work document and start typing.
In the vast majority of cases, there’s someone who has done the job before, and the RAMS to go with it.
When we look at health and safety management software, the ability to create a document based on another, previous document, can save huge amounts of time.
Initially, the system can be a bit of a pain to use. There’s no risk assessment for installing sheet piles, or cutting grass on a steep slope.
But what if you could use the normal grass cutting risk assessment as a template, then just tweak it, adding or removing hazards and controls as required. This would save you masses of time and effort.
Then the next time you have a job where you’re cutting grass on a slope, there’s already a risk assessment there. Just use it as a template, this time only changing the client name and address, and you’re done.
The template approach isn’t just for risk assessments, you can apply the same technique to method statements and COSHH assessments too.
Even better than this, what if you could get a health and safety software system that comes pre-loaded with all the basic templates you’d need for your trade. Getting started with the system would take minutes rather than days, and you can go from nothing to H&S bliss in no time.
A robust audit trail
With the majority of health and safety documentation becoming effectively legal documents, it’s important that you can show exactly how that document evolved into the product that you issue to your employees.
This especially applies to risk assessments and method statements, as it is important to show that they have been reviewed and updated at regular intervals.
You might start off with a basic template for the task you’re carrying out, let’s use the grass cutting example from above. You use the template to create your risk assessment, tweak it a bit, then send it out.
After a near miss, you realise that cutting the grass in flip-flops isn’t a great idea, so you review the risk assessment and add a requirement for workers to wear safety boots while grass cutting.
This new risk assessment can then be re-issued to you employees so they can stay up to date.
It’s important that you can track back to exactly when that change was made, and who did it. As I mentioned above, most H&S documentation becomes legal documents, so this kind of tracking is really important in order to show that you are regularly reviewing and updating your documentation based on experience and employee feedback.
Secure employee management
Health and Safety affects all employees in your organisation. It doesn’t matter if they are office based or out in the field, health and safety still has it’s place.
For this reason, it’s important that all employees are listed on the system, and it can track their individual roles to ensure that they are provided with the relevant training and information to carry out their job role safely.
A good health and safety system will provide facilities for tracking employee information in this way. It will allow you to input basic details about an employee, and also allow you to input more detailed information if you choose.
The advantage of having employee information in the system is that it is secured, and only available to those who are permitted access.
With the recent GDPR data protection update, it’s important that employees details aren’t available in a hard copy, which could be left on a desk, or put in the bin, only for someone to come along and identity-theft them.
That’s why online employee management is becoming more of a thing now, and additionally important in your health and safety management software, so that you can track training and competence, assign documents etc. on a per-employee basis.
More than just H&S
While we’re on the subject of employee management… Lets say we’ve just set up our nice new health and safety software system with our employees. There’s no short-cut, we just have to enter the information manually. Or maybe we’re lucky and our system has a data-import function. It would be a bit quicker job but some technical skills required.
Anyway, we’ve got our employee information in there.
But now HR comes along – they want a new HR management system. Oh no – more data input. Having to re-enter all those employees again on another system.
Well, what if you could input your employees just once, and then use those records across many different applications, not just health and safety.
A good H&S software system can do this. We often find that the developers behind these things realise that it’s worth investing in developing software to help will all kind of business administration.
So look for a health and safety software system that is part of a suite of applications, not just stand-alone. It can save huge amounts of work in the long run.
When you look at health and safety software systems, it’s common to find that they offer various packages, where you get the system, but there is a limit on the number of documents you can create, and the amount of time you have to create them.
It’s not uncommon to see things like “3 documents per month” and the like.
This is fine, if you know that the 3 documents will cover you. Or should you upgrade to 6 documents, or 9, or…
And then, what if you don’t use all your credits in a month. That’s money down the drain.
Sometimes, this model can suit an organisation. But in some cases it can become very expensive. We find this especially with construction companies. If our company only has a couple of big painting jobs this month, then a restriction on documents isn’t a problem. But if we then have a month with 20 small repair jobs, our budget has just gone out the window… It’s too unpredictable.
That’s why we recommend a health and safety software system that offers unlimited usage. Your budget is set before hand and you don’t get any nasty surprises.
Backup and support
Even the simplest health and safety management software takes a bit of getting used to. You can’t realistically expect to access the system for the first time and be able to instantly use all the features.
You should be able to get started easy enough, creating risk assessments, and method statements. But when you get to more advanced functions like employee administration, you might need a hand.
It’s important that you have advice on hand when you need it, so always check what support you get when you sign up. And the advice shouldn’t just be from a computer expert who knows nothing about H&S. You need someone on hand that knows the health and safety software, how to use it effectively, and who can alsonadvise on H&S issues too, in order for you to get the most out of the system.
Some companies will even charge extra for support services, so always check this before you signup.
A realistic price tag
At the end of the day, cost is always going to be a huge factor when choosing health and safety management software.
But you also have to think about the benefits and savings that a decent system will make to your business. Reduced admin costs, employees become more independent, requiring less supervision, even lower bills for paper and ink can sometimes be significant.
It’s also important to consider the protection the documentation offers if an employee has an accident. Having proof that you did the risk assessment and method statement can hugely mitigate the effects of any legal action against your organisation. The system could literally pay for itself overnight.
A couple of other important points to consider are if the system has a price-per-user, or a limit on the number of documents you can produce.
We covered the “limited documents” model above, but often we find that online systems also charge on a per-user basis, and every employee must have an account and each one has to be paid for.
But when you think about it, 95% of those users are only accessing documentation on the system, rather than actually creating it. Is it right that all of those uses should pay the same fee?
In an ideal world, the super-users would pay a fee and all the others would be free. This would allow for times when you take on extra staff during busy periods, and then reduce staff levels at quiet times, without having any surprise bills from your provider.
Any limitations on documents you can create, or the number of employees on the system, can make the cost way to unpredictable for it to be a sensible investment. There’s a lot to be said for knowing your monthly costs in advance and that you won’t have any surprise bills!
So always check your payment plan, and what you get from the system before you sign up. Take into account that you can have quiet and busy months, and employee numbers can vary, especially if you use sub-contractors. We recommend you look for a fixed price system where you know exactly what you’ll pay each month.
There’s quite a lot to think about above, but there’s even more you could look at. We mentioned the modules at the start of this post, and we haven’t really looked at them in any detail at all. We’ll do this in future posts.
Choosing a health and safety management software system is quite a big decision, and can be significant investment for your organisation. The market place is growing every day, which makes your decision even more difficult.
But if you take account of the above advice, you can be a bit more confident that you’re making the right choice.
Thanks for reading!