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February 03, 2015

How Technology Improves Compliance with Voluntary Mandates

How Technology Drives Compliance with Voluntary MandatesCompliance drives much of health and safety. Generally speaking, when we talk about compliance, we are referring to regulatory controls put forth by governments. In practice, however, compliance is much more complex – obligations arise from customers via supply-chain requirements, from voluntary programs sponsored by government organizations, from industry, or from management. The fact that these programs are often called “voluntary” suggests that compliance with them might be easy, or that they are less valuable in terms of driving safety excellence. For the safety team responsible for implementing the programs, this couldn't be further from the truth.


Creating the infrastructure to support the wide variety of voluntary requirements can be challenging. However, with flexible and configurable technology in place, health and safety teams can significantly reduce the headache that comes with complying with “voluntary” mandates.

The challenge of voluntary mandates

Because voluntary mandates often lack the formality of enforcement that define regulatory requirements, the best practices for implementation and management of these programs may not be as well established. In these sorts of programs, the implementation challenge within enterprises can be significant – we can’t rely on safety professionals’ shared experience and knowledge because it is often inconsistent and interpreted differently.


So, how can an organization operationalize these voluntary compliance programs in a consistent fashion when its team lacks the familiarity and experience that it has with the more common regulatory compliance programs? One possible solution is software. Health and safety software helps to overcome the challenge in a few ways:


  • It creates standardization by enforcing the health and safety process and procedures.
  • It distributes and updates requirements across sites and geographies.
  • It facilitates the transparency necessary for managers to help ensure things are running smoothly, and identify those team members and tasks that require additional coaching.


OHSAS 18001


OHSAS 18001 is perhaps the most obvious example of a commonly utilized voluntary compliance standard. Let’s look at how organizations overcome the challenges of implementing this program within the scale of today’s enterprises.


Organizations typically face a few new challenges when implementing compliance with OHSAS 18001. Of course, they must create and ensure completion of safety tasks and processes to achieve compliance. While the language of OHSAS 18001 seems simple at first glance, more in-depth reading will reveal that the obligations set forth by the standard are far from clear and prescriptive. The standard ultimately requires that organizations create an operating model to achieve compliance – an undertaking significantly more challenging than performing the safety tasks that everyone is familiar with. On top of this work, an organization is required to document and track the work performed for auditing purposes, in order to demonstrate compliance for certification.


Ideally, rather than having to implement additional and unfamiliar work, the health and safety team would be able to weave the tasks required for compliance into the work they already perform. For some of the software-enabled health and safety teams, this ideal can be achieved. Software flexible enough to be configured to the requirements of OHSAS 18001 can offer the program and process standardization, oversight and automatic record keeping necessary to meet the standard – and all within the framework of the day-to-day work that the health and safety team performs.


Let’s consider the JHA program at Organization A, which is seeking OHSAS 18001 certification without software. In order to achieve compliance, the health and safety team has to comb through their paper-based JHAs one by one, figuring out which hazards matter for each – then collecting the selected hazards together and prioritizing them. When controls are implemented, the team will then have to verify implementation, and update the JHA to reflect the change. All of this work needs to be performed across multiple locations, and in addition to the rest of the team’s responsibilities. Additionally, all of this information must be available for an external auditor in an organized and digestible fashion to ensure the auditing process is completed quickly and accurately. For the director of safety, the management of this work, across locations, is overwhelming.


In Organization B, however, which has a software-enabled JHA program, the time and resources required to get up to speed with the OHSAS 18001 requirements are significantly reduced. The task of hazard prioritization is performed quickly and easily with flexible reporting functionality; controls are assigned and tracked automatically; confirmation of control implementation automatically updates the JHA for the modified job or task. On top of this, the head of the team can monitor completion of tasks from her computer, and all of the necessary documentation is centralized for auditing purposes.


Achieving compliance with voluntary mandates is no simple task, especially for those organizations with a multitude of uncoordinated requirements placed upon them by outside forces. However, with flexible technology in place, health and safety teams can perform the tasks necessary for compliance, without a significant increase in time, resources, or training.



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