As the person initiating the activities of a digital start-up in the HSE field in Germany, my main responsibility is to get in contact with companies from different industries with the aim of getting a good understanding of where they are now and their plans for tackling their HSE challenges.
These could range from Risk Assessments (Gefährdungsbeurteilung) to Site Audits (Begehung) and could possibly include Quality methods like 5S. They should, of course, at least be compliant with legislation and ‘the way we do things here’, the internal processes of each organisation.
The benefits of digitalization include reduced costs, improved HSE practice through culture change, better preparation for future changes and access to a comprehensive suite of HSE functions. But what is the current status for companies in Germany with regards to digital systems in HSE?
Processes Vs. Ad-hoc tasks and reactions to requirements
My first observation identified the major difference between large companies (1000+ people) and mid-sized (100 - 1000 people) Vs. small companies with less than 100 people. While all large and mid-sized companies have HSE processes, most companies with less than 100 people simply react to an immediate HSE need. A typical example of this is something like filling in a form for occupational health insurance when an accident happens.
Current state of HSE digitalization in Germany
When it comes to the digitalization of these processes, most smaller companies are aware of the possibilities. However, the need to focus on core business priorities diverts their attention and leads them to the situation where there is little or no digitalization at all. Of course, Microsoft Word and Excel play a role in creating the necessary documents, and depending on company and project size, an external safety consultant and a company physician may be available. On top of this, the cost to implement a digitized HSE solution may seem too high.
Mid-sized companies have in 2017 mostly started a transition to an on-premise server or cloud-based HSE platform. Core functionality includes responsibilities, follow-ups, document creation for print, an incident database and ensuring compliance with safety legislation. The user base in a mid-sized company is usually restricted to HSE specialists. This often makes the safety mission an isolated activity and place an emphasis on good communication with the shop floor, making sure that the flow of information such as safety incident reports and recommendations is properly managed.
In Germany in 2017, most large companies have seized upon the industry 4.0 and digitalization megatrend and have already implemented a real digital solution or are planning the project to do so within the next 12 months. Many have started with an existing HSE platform and are upgrading it with mobile reporting capabilities from the field with tablets or smartphones. In the main, the drivers for this are coming from internal quality checks and inspections where a completely digital workflow is already standard. With the rise of cloud-based Software-as-a-Service solutions, it is now easier to adapt systems, add and remove users and exert tighter cost control, attracting increasing numbers of larger companies to adopt such services.
What does this mean?
The potential savings and the prospect of increased engagement with the workforce are strongly increased by SaaS, the IoT, and smart HSE solutions. If you are a CEO, it is worth asking yourself if HSE should just be treated as a compliance function or whether you could actually use it as a tool to create deeper engagement with your workforce.
An easy to use hazard reporting and guidance system, that breaks free of a desktop PC and puts it in their pocket on a smartphone can really help to shake up attitudes to HSE. It is vital for HSE specialists to have recognition and support from you, line management and the workforce. Give them a tool that is easy to access and easy to use and watch safety culture spread through your organization.