Re-Imagining a System for Health and Safety

The construction division at one of my clients used a health and safety database. It enabled them to track health and safety incidents, gain visibility across the division of all incidents, do reporting on what was happening and with what frequency, and more. But I was told the database wasn’t working all that well, and that an upgrade was needed. I was asked to look at this current system.

The word “database” was used in describing the current system to me. That was what the people there called it. And so I asked to see the database. You could charitably say it was a “base of data,” with a “collection” of documents and Excel spreadsheets strewn here and there, and tied together with reporting that was manually done by the health and safety leader by entering numbers from individual Excel spreadsheets and scanned site reports or emailed Word documents into a master “spreadsheet” that lacked any meaningful structure. Although you’d have to be very charitable to say that. The truth was closer to it being a complete mess. I guess the word “database” had been spoken by someone at some point, and that word was captured.

Principle: We see what we’ve been trained to see.

Principle: Teams become saturated with information; everything that the team knows is eventually reflected in how they operate and interact, until there is no uncertainty left.

Implication: Introducing new people and new ideas increases uncertainty, and therefore lays the foundation for doing something different.

The current health and safety “database” was a reflection of what the team knew, and what they could see being done with the tools at their disposal. They didn’t know any better, but that’s not a nasty backhanded slap across the face, it’s just an acceptance that their core task and value focus was on construction not information management.

So the question becomes, how do you see something different? What could be done?

  1. Improve the speed and consistency of routing the underlying documents to the health and safety leader. These were the daily site status reports from the site foremen.
  2. Change the daily site status reports to online forms, with the site foreman using a mobile device to capture.
  3. Actually introduce a database for health and safety, with auto-aggregation of health and safety data points from the daily site status reports that themselves were transformed from printed forms to a proper online form.

What else could be done? What do you see?

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