The environment, health, and safety (EHS) profession continues to be shaped by technology and software. Sometimes it can be challenging to keep pace with all of these changes, and this is especially true as organizations scramble to adapt to the realities of doing business during a pandemic.
On this episode of EHS on Tap, we’re talking with Natasha Porter and Christian Johnson of Gensuite LLC—experts who can help you make sense of the digitization of EHS and compliance.
This podcast was originally published on June 17, 2020. If you would prefer to listen to the episode, please follow this link.
Justin Scace: Hello, everyone, and welcome to EHS on Tap. I’m your host, Justin Scace, Senior Editor of the EHS Daily Advisor. Now, the environment, health, and safety profession is continuing to be shaped by technology and software, and sometimes it can be challenging to keep pace with all of these changes. On this episode of EHS on Tap, we’re talking with two experts who can help you make sense of the digitization of EHS and compliance.
Now, before we dive into our conversation, we’d also like to take a moment to thank our sponsor for this episode—Gensuite. Gensuite is a configurable best practice cloud-based software platform with a diverse subscriber group of nearly 300 companies and over 1 million global users that has adapted rapidly to meet the challenge to manage, and mitigate, the risks from COVID-19 in the workplace. With intuitive best practice workflows built by EHS leaders for EHS leaders, Gensuite’s new pandemic response and risk management solutions are helping organizations mitigate employee exposure to COVID-19 and associated impacts. These rapid extensions demonstrate the value of implementing a robust and agile EHS&S digital management platform, one that can respond dynamically to new business risks and operational drivers. To learn more about Gensuite, please visit http://www.gensuite.com.
Now I’d like to introduce our two guests for today who will be our guides through the realm of EHS digitization: Natasha Porter and Christian Johnson. Natasha Porter is Executive Vice President and Customer Development Officer at Gensuite, LLC, and she has over 20 years of experience in the EHS and digital solution field, taking on a variety of leadership roles. Christian Johnson has more than 25 years of experience as an Executive Risk Management Leader, focused specifically on environmental health and safety, including EHS leadership roles at Avery Dennison and General Electric. So, Natasha and Christian, welcome, and thank you for joining us today on EHS on Tap.
Christian Johnson: It’s great to be here, Justin. Thanks for offering us the opportunity to talk to you today about all of this exciting technology out there.
Natasha Porter: Yeah, agreed. Thanks, Justin. Great to be on this podcast with you and Christian today.
Justin Scace: Absolutely, and we’re happy to have you both. So, first things first: If you could both please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your backgrounds. What has your experience been like in the EHS field, and what sort of work are you doing now? Christian, would you like to start us off?
Christian Johnson: Sure. Well, as you said in the introduction, I’ve spent my whole career in EHS. It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years plus now, and I’ve had roles both as a subject matter expert, particularly in topics like ergonomics, construction safety, electrical safety, and lockout/tagout. I’ve also had leadership roles at both the single-site level and at the global business unit level at the scale of multibillion-dollar business units. What I’ve loved about my career, and am very thankful for, are a few things. One is the opportunity to work in different environments, and so I’ve worked in fixed facility portfolios. I’ve worked with dispersed field services teams that don’t work in your own home facilities, and I’ve worked with portfolios of construction projects. Each of these carries a very different risk profile. I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to work in multiple industry sectors. You mentioned Avery Dennison. I’ve also worked at Honda in the automotive industry and IBM in the high-tech space and, most significantly, at GE, where Natasha and I worked together for about 5 years before Gensuite spun out into this independent, very successful entity that it is today.
Right now, I’m focused on thought leadership, specifically in three areas: first, the broader adoption of technology in the EHS space; second, advanced data science applications, and I’m really excited about that; [and] third, human and organizational performance concepts. I’m actually thinking about, really, the convergence of these three and how they can be best applied to reduce, and manage, EHS risk in the work environment.
Justin Scace: That’s great. Natasha, how about you?
Natasha Porter: Thanks, Justin. I started my career, actually, as an EHS practitioner working on implementing a number of different EHS programs and similar, actually, to Christian in both fixed facility and service settings. So, that really kind of challenged me to be thinking about what are the risks and needs that frontline users have out in the field and how we need to develop EHS programs and, subsequently, digital solutions to meet those needs.
When I started my career, I also had an opportunity to be part of the core group and team that was working on developing a digital software platform that makes up what Gensuite is today. I’ve been really with Gensuite in a number of different roles and aspects over the last 20 years. So, I’ve held different positions as a Compliance Assurance Leader, a Master Black Belt focused on process improvements, and also a program leader responsible for developing and deploying Gensuite solutions with a number of different business teams in General Electric.
Justin, as you have shared, my current role is as the EVP and Customer Development Officer for Gensuite, and now I get an opportunity to work very closely with our existing subscriber community to ensure that they’re getting the most out of Gensuite and also to get an opportunity to talk with new potential subscribers that want to explore and learn more about Gensuite. As Christian also shared, we had an opportunity to work together for a number of years, and Christian was instrumental in helping us design and develop an ergonomic facilitator application in Gensuite, and now we’re having some active discussions on analytics and the next frontier of using artificial intelligence engines to be able to provide insight. So, it’s been really great working with Christian when we were both in GE and now in both of our current roles as it relates to digitization and frontier technology.
Justin Scace: That’s great. Thank you both for that and for your backgrounds. So today we’re talking about digitization and its impact on EHS performance. So, could you tell us a little about what we mean by digitization? What sorts of technologies are we talking about here?
Natasha Porter: I can kick this part of the discussion off. I really think about digitization being focused on converting information into a digital format. You have to have a goal, or objective, surrounding that. I think digitization is about improving the efficiency of business processes, driving consistency, and ensuring that you have quality in that business process. I’ll share, actually, a practical, and a personal, example when I started my career in EHS. This was before we had a software solution, and a digital solution, to help manage quarterly data metrics compilation. So, I was responsible each quarter for reaching out to about 80, 90 facilities worldwide in our service business and compiling records and information surrounding injury and illness cases, hours worked, and other aspects of EHS programs that we were tracking. That process took probably about 3, 3 1/2 weeks each quarter to reach out; compile data; do the data verifications; talk to site leaders to ensure that the data calculations were correct; to compile all that; and then generate injury anomalous rates, or other rates, and things that we were looking at.
I think about it now and how simple that process has become if you have a software solution for managing injury and illness cases that helps you do that along the way, along with hours worked, as an example. It can be a click of a button to generate that report or to get that rate once a quarter or, frankly, more frequently, once a month or real-time data depending on how quickly you’re putting that information into the system.
So, the amount of time, thinking back to the business process, driving consistency, quality, and providing efficiency—that’s just, I think, a simple example of software, and that’s one example of a digital technology. Now I think we’ve got the benefit of being able to access and use mobile phones for gathering data at the point of entry, utilizing tablets, sensors, wearables. There’s all of these different technology solutions that I think really make up digitization today that can provide a lot of power as folks are looking at driving efficiency, consistency, and data quality.
Christian Johnson: Natasha, I tend to think about it the same way. I think about digitization as either taking information you used to record manually or information that you maybe never captured and that’s now being turned into a digital form. In its simplest format, it’s 1s and 0s, but then you’re able to draw insights and actions out of that data that you’ve gathered to help you manage whatever part of the risk equation you’re dealing with. The technologies you mentioned are definitely out there, are definitely growing, and I think about things like geolocation, Bluetooth technology, so we can pinpoint where people are or trigger actions just when you walk by—for example, with a mobile device in your pocket—and then, like I talked about in some of my own personal research interest areas, the whole advancing area of data science, which, basically, now that we’re digitizing and gathering these voluminous amounts of information, what tools do we have in our toolbox to allow us to more quickly, and efficiently, analyze and draw insights out of that digital data?
Justin Scace: Excellent. Now, one thing that I was curious about: advanced technologies. Natasha, you mentioned these very briefly just a little while ago—things like artificial intelligence or the Internet of things, image recognition. We hear about these all over the place. These are becoming more and more prevalent. Can you explain how and the effect that it has on EHS digitization?
Natasha Porter: Sure. As we’ve been talking, I think it’s really exciting to see all of these different types of technology around us. The key is to think about how can we leverage and utilize these different types of technology to harness more data, and information, and use it, mine it effectively and provide more real-time insights. Then, translate that and think about how some of those insights can provide warnings to avoid potential incidents, or issues, from occurring.
I’ll give you an actual example of something that we’re working on now with one particular type of technology—so specifically, image recognition. We have been doing some business case pilots and creating a solution called Genny Vision. The idea behind this is to be able to use security cameras, and image recognition, to detect risks and hazards before they turn into, and become, an incident.
So, one of our subscribers has situations where they will have trucks pulling up to filling stations, and a driver might hop out of the truck, put in the gas pump, and use a wallet or a device to hold that trigger handle open and allow that truck to be filled. Well, that’s obviously a potential hazard because you’re overriding that gas pump trigger, and it has a potential for a spill that could occur from that. So, imagine if you could use image recognition and train an image recognition solution on different scenarios, and images, that are what shouldn’t be occurring versus what should be occurring. Test run that, and actually have an end result where Genny Vision has a very high level of precision on being able to determine when that risk is present, especially in an area that doesn’t have a lot of individuals around. You’ve just got one individual that’s coming in to fill up a truck.
So, if you think about the potential there to use security cameras and technology and image recognition and be able to teach that type of a solution, what it needs to be looking for, you get, again, a lot of efficiency, data quality, and process improvements back, and you also eliminate that hazard from actually occurring. So, that potential spill doesn’t occur when you can get that notification that you have a hazard present that needs to be addressed.
Justin Scace: Christian, anything to add on that?
Christian Johnson: I was just going to say, I think Natasha gave a great example of image recognition, and the power of some of that, too, is that you can utilize existing image data bases to help connect your software to cloud services to harness computing that others have already done. Another example that I can think of from one of my personal areas of expertise is ergonomics. In the old days, there would be a pencil and paper and a clipboard. You’d go out to the factory floor. You observe some people working, maybe use a VHS video camera to record minutes, or maybe even more video.
Now today, you could hook up a sensor to one or more employees. You could have automated video motion capture, and maybe you might even have access to some kind of artificial intelligence algorithm that would actually be analyzing that motion and posture data in real time and maybe even throw off a warning to a worker that says, “Hey, you’re working in an uncomfortable position, or posture, for more time than you should, and you may want to stop and rethink how you do that job.” That’s another example of the Internet of things where today, the sensors are connected through edge devices to the Internet. All that data is being thrown off, and I know we’re going to talk about it more later, but it’s how do you—so much data—how do you choose what you’re going to analyze and what you’re not and what you’re going to be predictive about? It’s just really exciting stuff.
Justin Scace: So, what areas of safety management are most affected by all of these developments that we’re talking about right now? How is digitization changing the landscape?
Christian Johnson: Well, I’m happy to take a crack at that, and Natasha, I’d be interested in your thoughts. I think it really isn’t limited. It can range from things like the mundane tasks that Natasha mentioned before, like just making recordkeeping and reporting easier because you’ve got digital processing or maybe even digital capturing of some of that data available to you. Then it ranges to the more advanced, like predictive analytics, learning from the data you have and predicting future outcomes based, again, on the historical data that you have.
The landscape today makes more data available to more people, and that, of course, creates a paradox because I think, in the most beneficial sense, it’s what I call the democratization of data. More people can draw their own conclusions or analyze that data, and you can put that data, again, in more people’s hands. On the other hand, it can just be overwhelming at times and can create almost an information overload situation. I really think that all areas of safety management are affected by these developments, and depending on your organization, and your level of creativity and interest, there’s just so many directions you can go with it.
Natasha Porter: Christian, I couldn’t agree more with your comments. I think digitization has, and will continue, I think, to impact all of these areas of safety management and give EHS professionals so much more time back that then they can use to focus on identifying the next set of insights or a potential focus area for improving worker safety. I think back to just the 20 years that I’ve spent in EHS and digitization, and it’s constantly changing, which has kept me in it for so long, and it’s always something kind of new and exciting around the corner, something to, a new challenge to work on or a new type of technology that is coming into the fold that you need to think about and figure out how can you harness the benefits of that technology and really leverage and utilize it.
Justin Scace: So, on a sort of related note, what do you both consider to be the most pressing challenges facing EHS professionals today? How are digital solutions seeking to improve the way that these issues are addressed?
Christian Johnson: Well, I think from both being a frontline EHS professional in a single facility to managing teams of up to 300, I think the reality of business today is like it’s been for many years now, where we’re expecting fewer people to do more, so you’re trying to do more with less resource. In the environmental health and safety field, there’s a huge complexity of compliance when you think about any topic, waste, air emissions, water management, safety, all the different technologies that are in today’s work environments and how do you comply with all these various regulations.
Then, a lot of times, unfortunately, because data is more democratized, especially frontline EHS professionals can be faced with a lot more reporting burden. I’ve been on both the giving and the receiving end of that in my career where I’ve heard from teams, “Hey, Christian, you know you’re asking us to report just too much. Let’s discuss what’s most important and most critical, and we’ll report that.” I think that’s one of the, those are just a few pressing challenges. We already talked a little bit about the fact that digital technologies do allow broad adoption. We’ve already talked about the fact that automated data input and processing can reduce some of that reporting burden.
I think, again, in the old days, and I think still in many organizations today, unfortunately, there’s what I would call like a funnel effect, where, at times, an EHS professional, because there are fewer of us than there are of others, can be a funnel point. So, if all the data entry and analysis burden is flowing into that single individual, and we haven’t used more distributed form completions and allowing giving others the power to enter that data and it’s all still resting on us, we’ve got a problem. So, to me, that’s the promise of a lot of this digital technology is it relieves the EHS professional from a lot of that front-end data capture burden.
Natasha Porter: Christian, I’d like to add some thoughts there, as well. I think as it relates to the most pressing challenge EHS professionals face literally today, I think the pandemic also is a big one. I mean, the worldwide pandemic that we’re all experiencing and I think this huge shift that we’ve seen with a large number of EHS professionals that have become the front line for pandemic crisis management support in addition to all of the regulatory and compliance requirements that they have historically been responsible for is definitely adding a lot of pressure and stress—also, I think, creating opportunities for EHS to partner even more closely and tightly with HR, medical, and operations teams to really make all of this stuff happen.
I think when people are faced with pandemic-constrained operations, doing even more with the same or less people, technology becomes even more important. I’ll give you an example here, too, of what we’ve been talking about with our subscriber community, specifically as it relates to auditing and inspecting. I think historically, pre-pandemic, folks would have the opportunity to travel to different locations and support cross compliance, or multimedia audits, or support inspections and be able to do those activities in person.
I think now we are faced with very much having to do a lot of these activities virtually. What we are kicking off a pilot—we’ve done some development work over the past 2 months on this, and we’re getting ready to kick off our pilot next week—is on a solution called Gensuite U Connect, and the goal with this is to provide an application-based collaboration and remote expert, or auditor, engagement solution. So, imagine you’re in your Gensuite software. You are conducting an inspection or working on a part of a compliance audit, and you have questions or you’re not sure how to proceed; you can go in and look at which experts are available for certain topics, who’s online, and who you can automatically engage with quickly.
So, what we’re really thinking about is how can we continue to expand and leverage these technology solutions to keep experts, and team members, connected together, especially when they’re facing so many different types of travel constraints and restrictions without being able to do this type of work in person? The needs are still there. The regulatory and compliance requirements still need to be met, but how can we leverage technology to meet those objectives and ensure folks have the questions to the answers they need?
Justin Scace: Yeah, definitely, some very big challenges there. Now, another challenge on the software side of this is—Christian mentioned it briefly a little while ago—many organizations suffer from data overload, where they’re gathering these vast amounts of data, but they might not quite understand what it means or what to do with it. So, how do we make sure that we’re properly uncovering the key trends from this data and putting plans of action into place based on that insight? Christian, you mentioned that before. Anything to add on data overload?
Christian Johnson: Well, again, it’s a recurring theme because you’ve got data coming at you from so many sources now. When I think about it, first, you have to know your data, so you do need to invest some time apart from maybe the rinse-and-repeat, so to speak, tasks you may be doing with your data to report monthly trends or something like that. So, you got to get out of that mode. You got to kind of ask yourself, how well do I know my data? What do I have? What don’t I have? Then, be a little bit curious. The term I’ve learned recently is data wrangling. Get a little bit, wrangle your data into a form. Think about how you can get comfortable with a little bit more analysis of your own data, and really use your curiosity to help guide where you’re exploring with the data.
If you took a look at your calendar and 80%–90% of your time is just spent capturing, inputting, publishing, maybe those regular reports that you’re accountable to get out. I remember when I was doing this in a recent role in an organization that I had newly joined, monthly report time comes up. Okay, 2 days of all that wrangling and reporting and publishing, and you’re exhausted at the end of it, and you have no time or energy left to actually reflect on the analysis. So, I think it’s incumbent on all of us, despite those pressures, despite that data overload burden, to be curious, to know what you have, what you don’t have, explore it a little bit, and then, I think, also, really step away from the data and, also, say to yourself, “Hey, what questions do I want to ask and get answered with this data?” Then, that can help guide where you spend your time.
Natasha Porter: Christian, I love your reference to data wrangling. I’m going to be using that a lot moving forward. That’s great. I’ll share a couple of insights just from what I’ve seen recently from our subscriber community, as well. It really goes to the data wrangling point and kind of having a goal and an objective when you’re analyzing your data. I think where I’ve seen folks be very effective at taking large volumes of data and being able to do something with it is when they have a goal or objective in mind. Set a hypothesis, wrangle your data, get all your data organized and together, go in and run some tests, and then determine, “Did it work? Am I meeting the objective of what I had said or helping to answer and improve that hypothesis, or is it not really working, and I need to move on and try something else?”
So, call this really an iterative approach that you can take when you’re looking at your data. Where I’ve seen a number of different examples across subscribers where they do this iterative approach, they are very successful at being able to analyze and get quick insights and results from their data.
I think the other piece that’s really important, especially now with the accessibility of information and data, is to look at not only just the EHS data and information that you have available but what other data sets can you connect and correlate together, like operation-specific data, or it can be environmental, literally temperature data. What other data points do you have that are relevant to the hypothesis and thing that you’re trying to test?
One great example I saw from one of our subscribers was the use of looking at production scrap volumes, so how much waste was being generated from a production line, and comparing and contrasting that against incidents that were occurring at a facility. Their hypothesis was that as production scrap volumes increased, so would incidents. So, they combined both of those data sets together, ran a series of tests, and proved that there is a statistically significant correlation between those two data sets and that operations really wanted to get a handle on improving scrap volumes and reducing them for obvious reasons. Obviously, EHS wanted to get a handle on where they had higher risks and potential for incidents. So, they created a fantastic dashboard that combined these data sets together, and that was used as part of their weekly operating rhythm to set thresholds and look at when production scrap got over a certain level that that threshold trigger was hit, and the teams really needed to get together and figure out what was going on and how they could get ahead of it.
I thought that was an excellent example of how you can really take data set, do some testing, iterate on the approach, and then be able to get a fantastic output of that that provides really, really good insights for decision-making.
Christian Johnson: If I could just add, that’s a good example of thinking about adjacent data and thinking about what other data in the organization can you connect. Back to the point about overload, there’s a ton of production data, but maybe there are a few variables of interest, so how can we bring those in and connect and analyze and see what we get out of it?
Justin Scace: Very interesting. Now, anecdotally, we’ve seen some resistance to widespread implementation of technology in the EHS space. Usually, what we hear are things—they’re almost cliché, things like, “We’ve always done it this way” or “Upper management won’t give me the budget.” So, how would you respond to these various hesitations, and obstacles, some professionals have regarding the digitization of EHS? Natasha, I’m sure that you deal with this all the time with customers. What are your insights for overcoming these obstacles?
Natasha Porter: Every business is different. I still hear it today, and it surprises me when I meet with new folks that are exploring software solutions and they’re still using Excel spreadsheets. It really just depends where the business is. What I would encourage folks to think about and do is go back to what is the goal of digitization, and I talked about this earlier. It’s three things: looking at improving efficiency of business processes, driving consistency, and ensuring quality of what you’re doing.
So, if you’re proposing some type of a technology solution software or tech solution, you’ve got to think about, and define, what are you trying to improve? I would suggest doing some type of a proof of concept or a pilot to be able to show tangible results. That’s probably one of the easiest ways that I’ve seen folks be able to debunk the point of, “We don’t need to do it differently; we don’t really have the budget for it. If you can do a very small focused pilot that does not require an enormous budget to get started.” Allow frontline teams the opportunity to purchase one or two pieces of technology, maybe a beacon or two or a sensor, and trial some things, and get some early adopters that can share their stories and the results. I think that can be hugely beneficial and really be a game-changer when you’re faced with resistance in terms of software or a technology solution.
Christian Johnson: I think that Natasha really hit on it, and I think we’ve talked about it already earlier, which is pilot testing at small scale, show proof of concept. A lot of packages these days you can get free trials on to demonstrate the value. If you don’t like it, move on to something else, or you can implement something more out of the box without a large-scale cloud deployment that gets really complex, and you can show business leadership the advantages that come. I think another risk sometimes is that sometimes, you get what I call—what a colleague of mine likes to call—this shiny object factor, which is you can get enamored with a new piece of technology, or shiny object, just because it’s cool and new. I think that applies to digitization, as well. You don’t want to digitize just to digitize.
As I said earlier, you can really leverage the power of having an application that everyone uses to input or capture data the same way to really expand engagement, democratize the input process, democratize the data that’s available, and what that gives you, it gives you the power of getting more people involved and acting on that data. You don’t get that as often when you’re just managing something from a spreadsheet.
Justin Scace: So let’s say we overcome the obstacles, and we get to some form of implementation. What does successful EHS technology implementation, or digitization of EHS, what does success look like?
Christian Johnson: I’ll take a first crack at that one. Natasha talked about that each customer is probably in a different phase of maturity. When I think about it from the organizations that I’ve been part of, and the business units that I’ve been in, I would look for a couple of things to say that we’ve got successful implementation. I would say one would be, “Does the business unit, or group, or company, have some core technology that they’ve really broadly adapted well and are using at scale?” So, they’re kind of wide, as I would say, across the organization on some common things, where there’s benefit almost everywhere in the organization. That could be some of the rudimentary reporting and capturing of metrics that I think we’ve alluded to earlier.
Then, balance that by, “Does the organization have some champions? Does it have some people who were thirsty, or hungry, or curious about really taking some more special technology and going deeper on it?” I recall one that I think Natasha is also aware of where a couple of business units in GE looked into a wearable device that could detect hazardous levels of electrical energy. Of course, you’re not going to deploy that across a massive company globally overnight. You’re going to go to the parts of the business where there’s the greatest electrical risk and see where you can get some people to adopt it early. I view it, Justin and Natasha, as really signs of broad adoption of some core technologies that you kind of continue to improve upon while having the ability to do these smaller-scale pilots and experiments and give local operations the freedom to use specialized technology to help them with their local needs.
Justin Scace: What do you think about that, Natasha?
Natasha Porter: I agree with Christian’s comments. I think that one other thing, I guess, I would share, which is a subset of what Christian talked about, is insuring that the frontline users that are engaging with the technology are happy and they like the solution is super important because if the frontline users aren’t engaging and using that technology, there’s a pain point, or it’s not meeting a current need, you’re never going to achieve broader adoption. So, there need to be kind of overall measures of success that you’re looking at for technology implementation, but you also need to have a good connection point in with those frontline users to say, “How are things going? Is this working for you? What feedback do you have for us?” Because if frontline users engage and get onboard with using that technology, what you’ll eventually see is they will come around, too, and start suggesting where you need to go next and provide you with the next set of ideas of things that can be done more efficiently, more consistently, and drive better data quality.
Justin Scace: Excellent. I’d like to talk about something, and Natasha, you mentioned this as one of the biggest challenges, naturally, right now. The COVID-19 pandemic: It’s drastically changed the way people are working. Much of this change has been a push toward, as we’ve described it today, digitization—working remotely, virtual meetings and trainings, that sort of thing. How do you think the current situation will alter the way work is done in health and safety specifically?
Natasha Porter: I think this is really going to push technology and digital solutions to the forefront even more, if you think about just adoption and use of mobile technology in industry. We’ve shared and showcased some timelines of that with our subscriber community. It’s probably about a 4- to 5-year time range where mobile phones and tech started to come out, and then you start to look at adoption and use from a personal perspective and then just this boom in industry and manufacturing and service settings. That 4- to 5-year time window I see being shortened significantly and really a big push to get solutions that work now and are effective and put them in place quickly.
Again, to give some examples of what our subscriber community is currently talking about right now, it’s needing technology for temperature scanning and doing that in batch or having small groups come in and be able to do temperature scanning quickly, looking at tracking exposures and contact logs, looking at processing and translating large volumes of constantly changing state requirements on what you should and shouldn’t be doing. That’s happening daily, ensuring that sites have a good handle on pandemic and operations-critical PPE and inventories. The list kind of goes on and on. Doing all of these types of activities without technology is a real challenge. I think identifying kind of in your industry, and where you are in your business, what your priorities and needs are, and quickly assessing what type of technology can help you, I think, will be a really significant game-changer.
Christian Johnson: I would just add to that that because so much work is being done remote right now, you need the technology more than ever, so take the temperature scanning for example. If you could have that thermometer hooked up remotely so that that data’s being recorded automatically, the person who might need to analyze that temperature data or to want to track the trends isn’t going to be the one sitting there in the facility where the temperature is being taken. So, the ability to get that data up to the cloud and get it in the hands of others who aren’t there locally is becoming more and more a requirement, and the COVID-19 crisis has forced a lot of businesses to make those transitions even faster than possible.
As EHS professionals we’re—I just always love going out in the field and walking on a construction site and climbing up in the work that’s being done or going out on the shop floor in a factory. It’s a very physical kind of touch, feel, see career that Natasha and I have lived in. I think the other thing here is that if and when things return to some sort of normalcy, how well are we going to trust the remote teams in the field to do some of this? I’m hoping that that trust level goes up and remains high and we use some of these remote auditing and capturing techniques to just get business done more efficiently versus always having to jump in a car, jump in an airplane. Maybe we’ll get to some kind of balance.
Justin Scace: Since you mention it, when things return to some form of normalcy, do you think that these adaptations that were implemented during the pandemic will be taken up as permanent changes going forward, or do you think many organizations just go back to old business-as-usual ways of work?
Christian Johnson: I’ll give you one quick example. I was talking to a former colleague just 2 weeks ago, and she was explaining about how they had used AR (augmented reality) technology to train 4,000 field engineers in a period of a couple of months on energy control and lockout/tagout, and they had uploaded equipment drawings and so forth into that AR application. The old way of doing it would have been to bring those field engineers into the business’s training center, house them in hotels for days at a time, and fly them all back home. I would bet a dollar that they’re not going to go back to the old way of doing it or it’s going to be a blend. It’s not going all the way back to the old way of doing it. That AR technology has now been proven it’s efficient. To Natasha’s point, if the frontline user likes it, that’s going to stay.
Justin Scace: What do you think, Natasha?
Natasha Porter: Spot on, Christian. I don’t have anything else to add to that one. That was an awesome example, as well.
Justin Scace: So, before we sign off, any other key thoughts, Natasha and Christian? Any key thoughts or points you’d like to make about digitization and how it’s changing the face of safety management?
Christian Johnson: Well, I’ve got one that we talked about a little bit, but I wanted to expand on it. I’m really interested in how advanced data science techniques, particularly around unstructured data, are going to help us get more insights and help reduce risk in the workplace. So, if you think about it, the old way, and the way we still gather a lot of data, is it’s categorical. So, think rows and columns in a spreadsheet, variables that are yes or no, drop-down menus, kind of data that’s got 3 to 10 possible values and that’s it.
Well, the new way is the unstructured data. So, imagine an injury and illness report that used to be somebody just checking a box about date and time, body part injured, potential cause, recordable yes or no. Imagine that. Now, imagine a different way of doing it where you just have someone record with their voice a descriptive narrative of the incident. That voice recording is quickly transcribed into text, and then some type of advanced natural language processing algorithm, or NLP, analyzes that narrative, which is unstructured data. It’s just text; it’s narrative text. Some of this work is being done today in the political environment, and in social media, analyze which way sentiment is leaning.
I’m really excited about just how much possibility there could be around applying a lot of these, again, advanced data science techniques to analyzing the unstructured data. We’ve gotten pretty good with the structured data. We can graph and chart the living daylights out of a spreadsheet with 10 variables in it. This unstructured data just really gets me excited.
Natasha Porter: I think, Justin, Christian is framing up our next podcast topic right now. It’s probably another 45 minutes to an hour just talking about this because this is an area that we’ve been doing a lot of work and piloting in over the past 2 years. Gensuite has actually partnered with a management analytics firm to develop and test an artificial intelligence engine—so an AI engine—solution specifically focused on potential serious incident and fatality, so what folks would refer to as an SIF or a PSIF, and being able to identify high-risk incident types that correlate with those SIFs.
So we just—hot off the press, if you will—shared the results of the pilot that we’ve been running with this AI engine on Gensuite data a couple weeks ago during our virtual annual customer conference, and the results are really, really exciting. This AI engine can comb through large volumes of injury and illness case descriptions—as Christian said, “unstructured data.” It’s just a description that somebody’s providing in that case and then determine with a percentage certainty which cases are truly PSIFs and provide insights to some of the key underlying hazards and hidden risks that might not come out of just a standard chart on different types of injuries that might be categorically identified with the actual case.
Again, thinking about what the benefits of digitization and what that brings to an EHS professional, and typically you would spend a lot of time reviewing, combing through that data to figure out what some of those underlying hidden risks are. Now, you can teach an AI engine to start doing that and then coach and train that AI engine to get smarter and smarter at making those determinations for you. I think there’s a lot of potential there, and hopefully, we’ll get a chance to do another podcast with you to talk more about that.
Justin Scace: That’s great. Wonderful. Thank you again very much, Natasha and Christian, for joining us on the podcast and giving our audience some excellent insight into EHS technology, software, and digitization.
Natasha Porter: Thanks, Justin. Really enjoyed this discussion today.
Christian Johnson: Thanks, Justin. This was great.
Justin Scace: You’re both very welcome. It was a pleasure having you today. We’d also like to, again, thank Gensuite for sponsoring this episode of EHS on Tap. For more information, please be sure to visit http://www.gensuite.com. As always, we appreciate our listeners for taking the time to tune in today. Be sure to keep an eye out for new episodes of EHS on Tap, and keep reading the EHS Daily Advisor to stay on top of your safety and environmental compliance obligations. Get the latest in best practices, and keep your finger on the pulse of all things related to the EHS industry. So, until next time, this is Justin Scace for EHS on Tap.
|Christian Johnson, CIH, CSP, is a 25+-year experienced executive risk management leader, focused specifically on safety, health, and environmental. Most recently, he served as the EHS global leader for a major division of Avery Dennison, a $7 billion materials science and manufacturing company based in greater Cleveland, Ohio. Before this role, Johnson spent 19 years in progressive EHS executive leadership positions with General Electric (GE). His GE career included global responsibility scopes in the power, energy connections, and oil and gas business units managing EHS risk in manufacturing, field services, and complex construction projects. Earlier in his career, Johnson held ergonomics, health, and safety roles with Honda of America Manufacturing in Ohio and IBM Corporation in San Jose, California. He holds BS and MS degrees in Industrial Engineering from Virginia Tech. Johnson is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and a Certified Safety Professional. In his spare time, he loves to run, having completed 3 marathons in the last 18 months. He, his wife, and his 2 teenage sons live in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.|
|Natasha Porter, Executive Vice President and Customer Development Officer of Gensuite LLC, has over 20 years of experience and leadership in the EHS and digital solution field, with roles as a Compliance Assurance Manager, a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, a Program Manager, and currently an EVP and Customer Development Officer for Gensuite. Her history of leading large organizational compliance- and regulatory-based digital initiatives for diverse global customers has been a key foundation in her career and current role. Alongside Founder and CEO R Mukund, Porter initiated the development of the first Gensuite Web applications. She received her BS in Civil Engineering (Major): Environmental Engineering (Minor) and graduated with an MSE in Environmental Management and Economics from Johns Hopkins University in 1998. Porter currently serves as an Advisory Board Member on the Center for Leadership Education for Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering. Today, Gensuite supports over 200 company subscribers with a cloud-based, best practice-driven software suite of safety, environmental, sustainability, quality, security, product stewardship, responsible sourcing, and equipment asset management modules, alongside a broad array of innovative products and services. Together, these solutions enable global Gensuite users to foster safe, sustainable work environments and high-performance functional programs worldwide. With best-in-class mobile capabilities, multilingual interfaces, and integrated analytics, Gensuite serves 600,000+ users in 30+ industry sectors and 120+ countries and is supported by a global team located in 11 offices and 8 countries and headquartered in Mason, Ohio.|
EHS on Tap is an environment, health, and safety podcast by BLR’s EHS Daily Advisor. On each episode of EHS on Tap, our host will discuss emerging legal, regulatory, and policy issues with industry experts and the impacts to everyday safety and environment professionals. EHS on Tap topics run the gamut of contemporary issues facing EHS managers and professionals today. Download the podcasts on iTunes here, and also be sure to visit our SoundCloud page for a full listing of all of our episodes!