Smarter ways of working

26th August 2015

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Bridget Leathley says software and apps can help organisations manage data, but only if they follow some basic rules

Computers were meant to make our lives easier. We now have access to environmental surveys, energy use predictions, ESOS (energy savings opportunity scheme) audits, carbon reporting data, waste management records and demolition surveys on the computer rather than on paper. This should mean that we can reach the information we need at the click of a button. However, although the 30-year-old operations manual, safely stored in its ring binder, still exists in some organisations, it is often a struggle to find those electronic files that were emailed over the previous year. And, if another employee edits the Excel file in which you were compiling your energy stats, how can you be sure which version contains the most up-to-date information?

Organisations and people tend to make two mistakes when they are thinking about electronic solutions. First, they consider computer files to be data rather than the dead documents they really are. Once closed and stored, electronic files – whether that report is sent as a pdf, the Excel spreadsheet containing targets, or the Word document listing outstanding actions – are of no more use than their paper counterparts. Second, where investment is made in software systems it is often piecemeal, and procurement is focused on dealing with one problem at a time; instead, organisations should be thinking about how to integrate information across fewer products. Rather than helping, the growth of the app may be making this problem worse, creating silos of information that are inaccessible to other systems.

Some apps require the user to return to their mobile device to manage the information, while others will email yet another pdf document to be stored and managed. Even where the mobile app feeds into a back-office system to allow issues raised to be managed, the information has a limited lifespan.

Imagine this. The health and safety manager is doing a noise survey, and asks the facilities manager for a pdf version of the CAD (computer-aided design) drawing provided by the fit-out company a few years earlier. The H&S manager uses Photoshop to annotate this with sound levels and saves it as a jpg file, accompanied by an Excel spreadsheet to calculate the exposure for each employee. The environment manager gets a copy of the same drawing, because she wants to audit the energy efficiency of the equipment. She annotates it with equipment numbers in Paint and saves it as a bmp file; and creates a table in Word containing the energy data.

There are now three different versions of the drawing, along with significant tables and spreadsheets, all saved in different locations and in different formats. When the building services manager is deciding whether it is cost effective to replace a piece of equipment, she emails the HS, environment and facilities managers asking what information they have. In an ideal world, they will find all the files and send them to her, and she will probably print them out. Other people in the organisation may have other documents that would help but, without knowing what to ask for, the information is lost.

How can practitioners use software to integrate information in a manageable way?

Bringing data to life

Many organisations see the benefits of electronic management systems, and invest in cloud-based products that enable them to access files from anywhere in the world. But storing everything on SharePoint or Google Docs does not mean that people in the organisation know where to look for the information, or that it will be in a usable form when they find it. Where information is accessible, but it is also dormant and unmonitored, access does not necessarily make a practitioner’s job any easier. Operation and maintenance files might contain information about the required frequency of emergency light testing, the capacity of the fuel tank and the location of the meters, but they will not remind practitioners what to do when. An environmental risk assessment report might contain important actions required to improve the management of legionella, chemical control or air quality, but it will not check that personnel have completed the actions. What is needed is the source data.

It took a lot of time and effort to create the data, so why waste it by turning into a dead document? Part of the reason is commercial. The third-party organisation that carried out the survey or audit this year wants the client to go back to them next year. If they provide access to the background data, the client might decide to do the work in-house next time. Some consulting organisations deliver actions from their audits, surveys and reviews by means of a management system. This allows customers to set deadlines, allocate responsibilities and automate reminder emails. Actions can be signed off when completed, and users can quickly see where there are outstanding actions.

Bureau Veritas, for example, provides customers with managed access to actions from any work it carries out through its Signature management system. Santia’s online tool erisk provides access to any of the risk management consultancy’s recommendations on fire, asbestos, food safety, environment, legionella management, health or safety. Similarly, Assurity Consulting provides the results of its environmental, health and safety audits and reviews for clients through an online database called Assurity Plus. Greg Davies, head of services development at Assurity, says: “Our customers don’t just want a compliance report. They need verifiable management information. Assurity Plus provides real-time position analysis across the whole portfolio, as well as at individual premises level.”

Returning to our original scenario, the jobs of the health and safety, facilities and environment managers might all be made easier if they had software systems that provided them with the live data rather than dead documents. But the building services manager would still have to access three (or more) different systems, probably with different logins and passwords to get to the information that was needed. Organisations must therefore think more carefully about how to integrate the information that they create and use.

Integrating systems

It may seem easier to buy a different computer system to solve each problem, but the effort of finding products that cover more than one problem pays off in the long run. For example, environmental consultant Alessandra McConville is guiding one client through the process of replacing a system for collecting energy billing data and a second system for reporting for the CRC scheme. These are being replaced with a single energy management product that will collect, collate and report energy data and carbon emissions for nearly 600 properties. It will also provide building managers with access to their own energy billing data.

Similarly, rather than separate systems for environment, health, safety and quality management, can an organisation have one system to track all the issues arising for a single location? Imagine that, instead of three separate pictures, the environment, health and safety and facilities managers could all layer their energy, noise and planning information onto one view of the plant room. Envirocheck supports the compilation of environmental information from several sources on a location plan to produce a phase 1 environmental report. Something similar for operational sites would be a step in the right direction.

Online health and safety management systems (panel, p.14) allow health and safety professionals to link accident reports into associated risk assessments. These trigger reviews and new controls to tie risk assessment training requirements into training records and to link online learning to contractor induction processes. Where integration of environmental management exists, it relies on internal processes. The health and safety manager can choose to include the environment manager in the list of people to review and approve contractor documentation, for example, to make sure the contractor has described its waste management process. An audit or checklist module can be used to provide environmental content as well as health and safety content. These systems do not deal with ESOS, CRC or greenhouse gases, however.

Chris Beaumont, marketing manager at SHE Software, says: “We don’t want to supply a full environmental management system. We focus on what we’re best at – health and safety. However, we are working with clients to allow them to import environmental data so that they can use the action tracking, asset management and reporting modules they are already comfortable with in SHE Assure.” Nia Humphreys, training and account manager at Effective Software, says customers are now asking for features to capture environmental incidents or create environmental audits. “Our system is flexible enough to cater for this already,” she says. “If something more bespoke was required, we’d certainly look at what they wanted and see how it could be integrated into Effective.”

The health and safety management systems listed in the panel on p.14 are used largely by organisations during operational phases. Field View, formerly called Priority 1, is different and is principally a construction phase management system. Willmott Dixon uses Field View for quality control, but also for health and safety and environmental management. An important driver for using the system across all three functions was to reduce the number of systems, both paper and IT, the company uses. The system aims is to be paperless where practicable. Field View now manages everything to do with the “physical” part of practitioners’ work, whether they are in a quality, safety or environmental role. “A key benefit has been to provide a tool that allows site managers to spend more time onsite rather than behind a desk. Sub-contractors are also expected to use it, and provided with training and, if necessary, loaned tablet devices so that they can do their own site checks directly on to the same system,” says group environment manager Martin Ballard.

Changing behaviour

A key statistic from 2013 was that 90% of the world’s data had been created in the previous two years. It was also estimated that this was expanding at a rate of 2.5 million million million (quintillion) bytes a day. Although some of this additional data refers to records of credit card expenditure and Facebook postings, workplaces are also generating more information. If it is to be managed successfully, organisations need to change how they procure services and products in two ways:

  • when procuring a service, make sure the results are in a format that allows the organisation to manage actions – do not accept a “dead” document as the only option; and
  • although it might seem easier to buy a new piece of software that will solve one environmental management problem, customers need to seek solutions that can be used to manage different environmental issues – or, even better, where the organisation can manage its environment, health, safety and quality objectives using the same system.

These two changes come with two warnings, however. The first is that, however good the software, it will not make poor management structures work. Ballard says Willmott Dixon already had in place the same structures for managing the environment and health and safety. “People in those roles cooperated on inspections, permits and control of contractors, so using Priority 1 to manage both areas was a natural step for us,” he says. The second caveat is that organisations will get the type of consultants and software products they ask for. If it insists on the cheapest consultant, it may get the one that does not even know how to generate contents page numbers for the report in Word (yes, I’ve met them) and certainly will not provide them with access to the data. Likewise, purchasing a software system that supports the existing piecemeal approach to managing information across time and topic will leave the organisation continuing to manage in an ad hoc way.

Apps and systems

Health and safety systems

Health and safety management systems, such as OSHENS (, SHE Assure ( and Effective ( are modular, enabling organisations to start with a single module, such as accident reporting, and build on extra modules over time. This gets around the problem of having to change too much too quickly, and allows an organisation to gradually build confidence in the system. All three systems include a document library so users can keep waste transfer notes on the same system, for example. Environment does get a specific mention in these systems, but usually only where it fits the same model as health and safety. For example, as well as reporting trip hazards and good personal protective equipment observance, the OSHENS website encourages the reporting of environmental “near misses, hazards and good practice” in its observations module. Similarly, Effective includes environmental incidents among the events that might be reported in its Incident module. SHE Assure includes a separate module for environmental assessment based on the same model as its safety risk assessments and action tracking features. Clients are using this for monitoring and controlling waste, air emissions, land contamination and release to water.


With Geo-sight, workers onsite can use a mobile app to take a photograph of any concerns and send it with location-tagged information to a cloud database, which can be accessed by site managers. The back-end system displays each submission on a site plan using the geographical information from the phone so that the manager can prioritise resources. Each report is marked as “new” when it arrives; “reviewed” when it has been assessed; and “deleted” once the problem is fixed. Although developed originally for highway construction and maintenance projects, Geo-sight now markets to “any company where pictorial evidence would prove advantageous”. With its customisable approach, it would be straightforward to include categories, such as environment or waste.


Envirocheck from the Landmark Information Group assists users to compile information in layers about a location relevant to a phase 1 environmental report. The consultant using Envirocheck has access to current and historical maps and aerial views, which can be overlaid as transparencies. This allows, for example, a view of the position of an old oil storage unit in relation to the current car park, which might become the new swimming pool. Information is saved and the consultant can add their own annotations. Also, information from the office-based desktop review can be analysed onsite on a mobile device or tablet. Additional information can be captured and geo-located from the mobile device and then transferred back to the office at the press of a button, ready to be fed directly into the phase 1 report, which is delivered to the customer as a paper document or a pdf file.

Field View (formerly known as Priority 1)

Viewpoint markets Field View as a system for managing health and safety in construction, providing an efficient means to monitor building progress and to log and close out snags during a project. Plans, photos and other documents are provided to onsite managers on tablet devices, allowing notes to be made, more photos added and actions to be raised, based on location. Using location data from your tablet associates the photos automatically with the location they were taken. Having been renamed Field View, it will now also be sold as part of the software company’s collaboration platform, 4Projects.

Standalone apps

The market in standalone apps has grown this year. Some are free to download and use – at least, initially. Crowberry Consulting introduced its Energy Review app for iPads early, which aims to “support any business on its journey to achieving an energy management system”. The app prompts users to select products from a pre-populated menu or to add their own devices and energy data. Devices are grouped into “projects” – for example, by location – and running hours for each device entered. The app does the maths for the user, and emails a pdf report summarising energy use and providing some standardised text for an energy review report.

Similar apps have been developed to support safety objectives. For example, CDM Wizard from CITB was produced in response to the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, which came into force in April. The regulations extend the need for contractors to produce construction phase plans. CDM Wizard guides a principal contractor through the questions they should be asking about a job, be it maintenance, remodelling or major construction. What pre-existing hazards are there? What types of task are involved? Who could be exposed to hazards? After a few questions, a CDM construction phase plan is emailed, complete with suggested control measures for each hazard. The Risk Assessor app ( has a broader application, and allows the user to review and tailor suggested controls and prompts for an assessment of risk level.

These apps could be useful in reminding a manager to consider energy use or hazards. However, what they produce at the end is a pdf document. Although the document can be distributed to staff, clients or contractors, it is not a tool for management. Energy Review and Risk Assessor allow users to go back into the app to review or change data, while CDM Wizard requires users to start from scratch each time.

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