Picking the right QMS for your organization

How do I select a quality management system that meets key safety requirements and best practices to ensure its successful rollout and use?

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Responding is David Isaacson, senior director of product marketing, ETQ, Burlington, MA.

According to the results of a recent study – “The State of Quality Management: 2020” – 96% of the 300 manufacturing, life science, and food and beverage company executives surveyed said they had experienced a product recall in the past three to five years. In addition, safety challenges in plants, such as excess pollutants; gas leaks; and slip, trip and fall incidents, are a growing concern. These situations impact not only the safety and well-being of consumers, employees and the public, but the cost of product recalls, regulatory noncompliance to International Organization for Standardization standards and others. Further, a host of other unfortunate events can have significant impacts on businesses.

Rising safety challenges are putting the need for integrated environmental, health and safety and quality management systems in the spotlight. Both EHS and QMS depend on a framework of processes that are documented, actionable and measurable. Both require a way to spot and correct any instances of noncompliance. These commonalities make QMS the perfect place to ensure safety practices, protocols and actions are man-aged enterprisewide through advanced and integrated EHS capabilities.

Challenges of ensuring EHS compliance

One way that safety and quality is maintained in an organization is through adherence to ISO standards. Although compliance to ISO standards is mostly voluntary, developing the internal processes to meet them is important because they reduce safety and health incidents, help companies improve productivity, reduce waste, and earn consumer trust, among other benefits.

The challenge for EHS managers is not only adhering to ISO specifications, but also meeting local and state regulatory requirements, as well as complex international ones, while still meeting critical business needs. They must manage workflows and checklists to track compliance, provide mechanisms for employees to report unsafe conditions, conduct risk management assessments, and create plans for continuous improvement. Traditionally, the way they’ve accomplished these tasks is through manual spreadsheets. Yet, there is growing acknowledgment that automated solutions are the best way to handle document control, corrective and preventive action, employee qualification, internal controls, and other critical safety and quality functions.

Building on QMS to automate EHS functions

Automating the management of health and safety can go a long way to reducing the time it takes to manually enter information into a spreadsheet while providing greater accuracy, control and visibility enterprisewide. When EHS capabilities are part of a comprehensive QMS, there is even greater efficiency. The system can provide a checklist of everything needed to attain compliance and store that documentation in a searchable database mapped directly to work processes. It also can prove legal and regulatory compliance, organize documentation for audits and incident reports, and track employee training, as well as other tasks that are being completed manually.

An integrated approach to software-driven quality and safety and health management is beneficial, but there are key things to look for when evaluating solutions. Here are four key considerations:

  1. Flexibility is a prerequisite to success. It’s important to select a solution that’s flexible enough to change as processes evolve. This means it should have the ability to be configured to changing business needs; ISO and other industry regulations; workflows changes; new forms, fields and reports; and other specifications.
  2. Know the difference between web-based and web-enabled. Web-based software allows users to access all forms, workflows and applications through a browser, and facilitates remote information access and collaboration. Web-enabled applications still run on individual PCs, making collaboration and remote access more difficult.
  3. The look and feel of the software is key to user adoption. Software that is complex and difficult to use is less likely to be adopted broadly, impacting the productivity and efficiencies you expect to gain.
  4. Make sure the system can meet the needs of each department. Integrating EHS with QMS doesn’t mean everybody has to change the way they do their jobs. An automated, integrated system that uses configurable applications and workflows makes it possible for a single solution to function in ways unique to each department. Organizations can build systems that map to their processes and workflows, not the other way around.

Although quality management and EHS management don’t have the same focus, they have the same general purpose: Maintain the highest levels of organizational excellence to enable quality along with safe products and operations. And, in fact, EHS incidents can directly impact quality. Today’s powerfully integrated EHS and QMS solutions give organizations a single source of truth, rather than little slices of data, to help them achieve this lofty goal.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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