By and | March 21, 2022

If you follow regulatory updates and industry trends, you’re likely aware of upcoming changes that will impact the workplace – especially manufacturing and production facilities. Most companies are going through, or considering, a digital transformation. And those who aren’t considering it probably should be. Why? Because these capabilities allow companies to rely on automatic, accurate digital logs for record keeping. This means that there are no excuses for missing or sloppy records, particularly as they pertain to employee health and safety.

A continued emphasis on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) is creating pressure for new and more tightly enforced government policies that reinforce the employer’s responsibilities. Federal agencies are being supported in their efforts to enforce health and safety regulations for the benefit of employees and society at large. This has implications for compliance and corporate governance as regulators can be more diligent in their follow up, and employers are more proactive in their governance strategies. Tomorrow’s health and safety standards may look different from today’s. Which raises the question: If you are subject to an evaluation, will your records stand up to scrutiny?

Keeping Records for the Long-term View

It’s likely that businesses will need to retain documents for longer periods of time. And the rationale for this is reasonable: To learn from previous mistakes, businesses need documentation they can review weeks, months or even years later. This is especially critical in an era of rapid employee turnover and continued mergers and acquisitions.

Take permits – the controls that help you safely manage processes and tasks that carry risk. If a regulatory agency asked you to produce a permit from three years ago, could you provide it? Does the permit still exist? If it does, could you locate it and produce it? If you’ve answered all questions affirmatively, that’s great news. It indicates proactive efforts to retain, catalog and organize your permits. It almost certainly means that your organization is using a system of record and a corresponding, digitalized permit system.

When Things Go Wrong

Permit systems have helped us significantly reduce the number of workplace incidents that result in injury and death. They help eliminate incidents by controlling who, when and how a task is performed. Unfortunately, examples of injuries and fatalities that could have been prevented by an effective permitting system still exist.

In a 2015 incident, an HVAC installer died after falling through a skylight to a concrete platform 15 feet below. The company that hired the HVAC contractor communicated the risk to the contractor, but the contractor failed to take steps that would have prevented the fall. In this case, an effective permit-to-work procedure or job safety analysis may have identified the fall risk and consequently enforced the implementation of controls to prevent that risk and other related risks. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a citation to the contractor for failing to protect its worker from falling into the unguarded skylight.

Paper Records: A Thing of the Past?

Surprisingly, paper processes are still used to document many business-critical processes, which makes sound record keeping almost impossible. Imagine the employees tasked with finding an old permit to satisfy a regulator’s request. They get lost on paper trails, looking for paperwork that may have been inaccurately filed or even thrown away. Even if the permit is located, hours or days of productivity may have been lost in the search.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” you may think. But gaps in record keeping will become huge liabilities for businesses. Consider a scenario in which an accident occurs, despite the presence of a robust permit-to-work program. An investigation into the incident will include a request to see relevant permits, and even if the task was permitted, you may be in hot water if you can’t produce the record. So, businesses will need to fundamentally change their process and enforcing procedures – to ensure both process compliance and document retention requirements are met.

But there’s good news. Better record keeping is like low-hanging fruit: It’s within easy reach. Digitized permits help you satisfy regulators’ needs without putting unnecessary strain on the employees who manage the records. And they ensure a safer and more productive workplace by improving efficiency, fostering stronger communication and allowing for easier standardization of practices and policies – enhancements that can ultimately reduce incidents and save lives.

Choosing the Right System

Where permits are concerned, your operators need a solution that fully integrates their permits into their risk management ecosystem. A digitized permitting system enables organizations to produce records needed for internal purposes or required by a regulatory agency.

Sphera’s Permit to Work software helps workers follow procedures correctly, with information that’s accessible on the go. Workers can complete tasks by referring to the permit, and managers can see completed tasks in real-time.

Reliable and easy-to-access permits help prevent incidents and improve safety performance, even in the most hazardous industries. Inspections, repairs and other maintenance and preventive activities are performed only after all safety measures – such as a LOTO process or safe confined space entry – are in place.

Furthermore, Sphera’s Permit to Work software helps organizations translate policy into consistent practice. Pre-defined templates – built on best practices for worker safety – encourage quick, accurate completion of projects. The solution also makes it easy to reinforce practices and policies as they evolve over time.

The Final Word on Digitized Records

As you plan out the rest of your year, think about the importance of standardizing your work practices for a safe and efficient environment. As regulatory agencies continue to fulfill ESG promises, record keeping requirements will systematically change. By taking the lead now, organizations can force change, break down silos and scale their business to meet the health and safety challenges of the next decade. Make digitized permits your friend.