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By Greg Duncan, ASP, MELP

For decades, EHS and industrial hygiene professionals have turned to spreadsheets for the data collection, analysis and reporting needed to manage their industrial hygiene (IH) programs. Short of building a custom enterprise IH program management software system from the ground-up, spreadsheets were really the only practical and readily available option for most companies. As a result, many have come to rely on spreadsheets as the data management backbone of their IH programs, but that reliance has become an unsustainable dependence.

At their core, spreadsheets are little more than data entry and storage systems with basic analytics capabilities. They were never intended to serve as an IH program management tool, let alone serve as the technology infrastructure for a proper IH program. They essentially just collect and store raw data.

With the advent of cloud-based IH software as a service (SaaS) solutions, EHS and IH professionals now have ready, cost-effective access to purpose-built IH software tools that are specifically designed to perform the workflow tasks, analysis and other functions that are required in an IH program—simplifying and automating many program tasks and supporting worker health in ways that spreadsheets never could.

Yet, many organizations continue to rely on spreadsheets for IH program management. With long-held IH processes and years, even decades worth of IH data housed in a growing patchwork of spreadsheets and other basic software systems (e.g., email, word documents, etc.), it can be easy for IH professionals to think that upgrading or transitioning away from their existing systems is more trouble than it’s worth. Even worse, they may feel so locked into their existing systems and processes that change is downright impossible.  

I’m here to tell you there’s a better way. Here, we’ll discuss some of the common psychological and organizational barriers to making the transition away from spreadsheets to an IH software solution, explore some of the advantages of IH software over spreadsheets, and gain practical strategies to help you overcome these barriers and build broad stakeholder support and buy-in for digital transformation.

The Status Quo Means Standing Still

Digital transformation continues to shape virtually every aspect of today’s organizations, with companies already moving away from spreadsheets and adopting dedicated SaaS solutions to manage core business functions from finance, accounting, and HR to team collaboration and project management, purchasing and logistics, and many others. The reason? Greater speed, accuracy and simplicity, more flexible analytics and reporting, enterprise-wide scalability, data centralization and process standardization are just a few key benefits.

With so many other critical business functions shifting away from spreadsheets and toward the SaaS model, why should industrial hygiene be any different? Why the continued reliance on spreadsheets when IH SaaS solutions make it easy to bring your IH program into the 21st century? To put it briefly, one big reason for this lag is inertia.

You might be asking yourself what inertia has to do with software adoption but hear me out. The law of inertia doesn’t only apply to Newtonian physics. It also frequently applies to organizations and organizational change. Unless there is some force or combination of forces motivating the organization and its employees to change, things are likely to stay the same. This is especially the case when a proposed change requires the organization to take on a new expense or other commitment of resources, do things in a way that is different from what they’re accustomed to, depend on a new partner or vendor, or generally assume any additional risk.

This is completely understandable, especially in uncertain economic times when organizations should be more cautious about taking on risks. However, maintaining the status quo can present a greater risk when it means delaying or avoiding changes that are necessary if businesses and IH professionals alike want to remain relevant and competitive in a rapidly changing environment—an environment where innovation and continuous integration of new technologies represent a rising tide that lifts all ships. Unless IH professionals embrace this integration, they’re going to be left behind.

The Right Tool for the Job

By their nature, IH software solutions are built to function in alignment with the IH program management process and IH management best practices. This typically starts with development of similar exposure groups (SEGs), performing qualitative exposure assessments (QEAs) for each of those SEGs and using the resulting risk ratings and sampling priority scores to formulate your sampling plan(s). From there you need to perform laboratory analysis of your samples to determine quantitative exposure levels and use that analysis to confirm your assumptions about your SEGs, validate your QEAs, and potentially modify your sampling plans. Following lab analysis, you need to analyze your exposure samples within the context of historical exposure data to assess trends and cumulative exposures. This frequently triggers medical surveillance activities necessary to ensure workers are within acceptable exposure levels and monitor worker health over time. Lastly, all this information needs to be made accessible to affected stakeholders such as executive managers, and in a format that is easily communicated and understood by decision makers. For a helpful breakdown of the IH program management process, download our Industrial Hygiene Program Cycle Infographic

Download the Industrial Hygiene Program Cycle Infographic

Spreadsheets vs. IH Software Solutions

IH management has a lot of moving parts, and if you’re using spreadsheets to do it, you already know how difficult, time-consuming, and complex it can be. Continued reliance on spreadsheets to manage IH program functions burdens IH professionals and their organizations with inefficiencies and other limitations that ultimately introduce unnecessary costs, program bottlenecks, and most importantly, risks to workers’ health.

IH software solutions overcome the inherent limitations of spreadsheets by automating and simplifying many of the administrative and analytical tasks that must otherwise be performed manually when using spreadsheets. They also provide IH professionals and their teams with a highly accessible system where any number of users across any number of locations can go in and manage IH program data and perform tasks in real-time. This allows IH professionals to more easily democratize and distribute your IH program task workload.

It also means that that each functional element of the IH program is integrated with others. We already mentioned the stepwise process of IH program management, and how IH software solutions are designed to perform the specific workflow tasks and functions required for a well-developed IH program. For example, a change in your similar exposure groups (SEGs) may necessitate a corresponding change in your qualitative exposure assessments (QEAs), exposure sampling plans, medical surveillance programs and other IH functions. IH software provides an intuitive framework to quickly and easily perform and switch between these tasks in a way that mirrors the IH management process. This type of cross-functional system integration is extremely difficult, if not impossible to achieve using spreadsheets, but it is a standard feature of well-designed IH software solutions.

For example, with spreadsheets, you might be organizing your IH sampling activities using a table like the one below:

Sampling Plan 3

This example IH sampling plan contains basic similar exposure group (SEG) information including job, task, and associated stressors, along with the number of planned samples (commonly determined either by qualitative exposure assessment (QEA) or by stressor-specific workplace exposure standards) and the progress toward completion for each risk categorization of each SEG. With spreadsheets, this information would all have to be entered manually. It might be possible to set up a complex system of formulas and data rules to achieve some degree of automation, but would be very difficult to create and maintain, let alone validate any data automation to ensure accuracy.

With a dedicated IH software solution like the VelocityEHS Health Solution, part of our Accelerate® Platform, your sampling plan is easier to generate and update using information pulled directly from other areas of the system including your list of SEGs, QEA findings, master list of stressors and OELs, and of course, your samples themselves. Samples can be quickly created right from within your sampling plan and your sampling progress is automatically updated as samples are completed, giving you instant visibility of sampling activity and compliance. All samples, past and future, can be quickly searched and filtered, and each of your other IH program areas (SEGs, QEAs, stressors, medical surveillance info, reporting data, etc.) can be quickly accessed and modified with just a couple clicks, with changes reflected across the system in real-time, all from a single intuitive and versatile interface.

Desktop Web

Enhanced sampling plans are just one example of the numerous capabilities and advantages that the VelocityEHS Health Solution offers over simple spreadsheets. For a close-up look at our full IH program management capabilities, request a demo and we’ll be happy to take you on a tour.

Best Practices for Overcoming Inertia & Motivating Change

Let’s say you’re an IH professional who’s tired of dealing with spreadsheets and you’re ready to look at an IH software solution. You’ve seen the benefits and you’re sold on the idea, but getting everyone else on board…well, that’s the problem. Most businesses are fully aware of the need to continuously improve, innovate and progress forward, but initiating organizational change and keeping the momentum moving towards your goals is much easier said than done. One or more common factors that contribute to resistance to change include:

  • Uncertainty over cost & resource commitments
  • Perceptions of benefits
  • Lack of buy-in (management, users, etc.)
  • Poor communication, awareness & engagement
  • Entrenched attitudes & culture
  • Rigid policies, processes & systems

If you’ve ever tried to implement any substantive change of within your organization, I’m sure you’ve encountered more than one of these challenges at some point. Fortunately, there is a common denominator among these resistance factors; they can all be overcome by finding the right ways to motivate your stakeholders. In other words, who are the people inside and outside of your organization who are impacted by the change, what are their needs and interests, what advantages of an IH software solution are most important or meaningful for them, and how do we get people to really want it?

Understand the Needs of Your Stakeholders

The first three of these change resistance factors (uncertainty over cost & resource commitments, perceptions of benefits, lack of buy-in) can be best addressed by identifying all individuals or groups who are potentially involved in or impacted by your IH program, then actively communicating with them to understand their thoughts and impressions around your IH program, what concerns and questions they may have, and what needs they have which could be met through implementation of an IH software solution. People need to feel heard and that you value their input if you’re to have any chance of getting their commitment and support.

Before you can even think about rolling out a significant organizational change like replacing your long-held spreadsheets with an IH software solution, you need to identify your IH program stakeholders and reach out to them directly to find out what’s important to them. Only then can you match the IH software benefits and advantages that align with those needs.

So, who are your IH program stakeholders? They’re likely to include groups like:

  • Executive managers
  • Exposed workers
  • EHS, IH, HR, risk managers, maintenance staff, and other affected departments
  • Legal, Finance, accounting, and procurement
  • Regulators, community members, and other external stakeholders (e.g., insurers, supply chain partners, ownership, etc.)

Once you’ve done your due diligence to reach out and understand the needs of your stakeholders, you can begin to build and present a business case that will address each group’s unique needs and get them on-board with the transition to an IH software system.

For example, stakeholders in executive management, finance and accounting will be more responsive to business benefits like reduced direct costs, operational risks, administrative burdens, as well as improved ESG performance. Hard figures like ROI calculations, semi-quantitative risk assessments and KPIs are types of information that are more likely to resonate with this group and address their unique interests. Stakeholder groups like exposed workers, facility management, maintenance staff, regulators and insurers are likely to be more responsive to the potential for reduced exposures, occupational illness cases, medical and workers’ compensation costs, and improved worker health and well-being. Whatever stakeholder groups you need to get on board, it all starts with understanding their specific needs and crafting your business case messaging in a way that directly addresses those needs.

To help you build your business case for transition to an IH software solution, download our infographic, Understanding the Business Value of Industrial Hygiene.

Strengthen Communication, Awareness & Engagement

Stakeholder outreach early in the process of formulating your business case is also the first step toward establishing strong lines of communication, generating awareness, and securing the stakeholder engagement that you’ll rely on throughout the duration of an IH software solution implementation. The simple act of sustained, two-way, honest communication with these groups early in the process is a sure-fire strategy to build trust and express that you value their input and expertise. It’s also an early signal that a change to your IH program could be coming. Making stakeholders aware of future improvements to the IH program well in advance and bringing them into the process during the planning and development stages not only helps to reduce potential anxiety and uncertainty around the change, but it is the perfect opportunity to direct the conversation and frame the change as a positive step for the business. This will give you a much greater chance to build the excitement, anticipation and engagement that will motivate your stakeholders to support IH software implementation.

Shift Attitudes & Culture

Speaking of inertia, it requires a shift in stakeholder attitudes and workplace culture to motivate an organizational change like implementing an IH software solution. People become accustomed to ‘business as usual’ and easily grow comfortable with the way things are done (i.e., the status quo). Any disruption to that can easily be viewed as a nuisance, at best. At worst, it can cause anxiety among workers and other stakeholders leading them to disengage and actively oppose implementation of an IH software solution. Equipping yourself with a variety of business case benefits and advantages that address the full spectrum of stakeholder needs and interests is the best way to start swaying the hearts and minds of stakeholders and persuade them that not only is this change good, but that it is necessary to the long-term success of your IH program and the business.

Unfortunately, the problem can be even more deeply seeded than a familiarity with the status quo. Change resistance can be due to a negative culture within your organization where complacency or disregard for the need to remain competitive can lead stakeholders to quickly dismiss opportunities for improvement as unnecessary. It can seem impossible to overcome a negative or risk-averse culture, but when the organization’s culture places an underlying and intrinsic value on innovation, the notion that technology can improve the workplace and benefit the business comes as second nature.     

Improve Policies, Processes & Systems

Similar to the attitudes and culture among your stakeholders, it can be very difficult to change long-standing policies, processes and systems that your organization has in place. Some stakeholders may view a significant change like implementing an IH software solution as too disruptive or difficult and see it as a risk not worth taking. Others simply grow accustomed or comfortable with the way things are done and IH software implementation, even if it will ultimately improve IH program performance and make people’s lives better, is easily viewed as unnecessary or inconvenient. Again, an effective business case specifically targeted at the stakeholders affected by those policies, processes and systems and who have the organizational authority to change them is key to overcoming this challenge. It’s true that changing the policies, processes and systems that underpin your IH program are a change management challenge in and of itself, but an IH software solution that can be configured to align with them as closely as possible can help mitigate this challenge.

There are many people and practices that support your IH program, and the software systems you use for IH program management are only part of it. The ability to persuade people involved in the decision making process is a skill that IH professionals should have if they want to be successful.

It’s Time for Transition

After years of relying on spreadsheets to manage exposure data and sample results, medical surveillance data, respirator fit tests, stressors and their current occupational exposure limit (OEL) values, similar exposure group (SEG) data and qualitative exposure assessments (QEAs), along with all the related statistics and supporting documentation, it can easily feel like transitioning away from spreadsheets is like moving a mountain.

We’re here to tell you it’s easier than it sounds. Like all of our customers, VelocityEHS will help support you throughout that transition by providing the expertise and resources you need to succeed. It’s time to break the status quo and get away from dependence on simple spreadsheets and disconnected software systems. The Industrial Hygiene capabilities of the VelocityEHS Health Solution are specifically designed and built by our in-house Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIHs) to give you an integrated IH program management platform that helps you minimize administrative tasks, maximize your program resources, and better protect workers’ health and safety. If you’re still relying on spreadsheets and wondering how to finally bring your IH program into the 21st century, VelocityEHS gives you the tools and guidance to take that step without missing a beat. Request a demo today and we’ll show you how.