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Health & Safety Program Cost vs. Profitability Part Three: Paper-based health and safety programs waste a lot more than just paper

Home » Health & Safety Program Cost vs. Profitability Part Three: Paper-based health and safety programs waste a lot more than just paper

This is a continuation of our Health & Safety Program Cost vs. Profitability series.

When considering changing spending decisions, it’s easy to overlook all the paper tucked in binders on office bookshelves or stuffed under the seats of field trucks, particularly paper that contains important programs like your health and safety program. Regardless of how frequently or infrequently those binders are opened, the cost of keeping them on the shelf or under the seat is substantially more than you’d think.

The true value of a health and safety program is in its ability to provide clear direction to people who have to work in potentially hazardous places. That direction may be contained in policies, work practices, technical procedures and forms, and it needs to be readily available to anyone who needs it exactly when they need it, and in a format and language that is easy for them to understand. A binder full of those documents might seem like a good solution, but it’s a very expensive solution compared to what can be accomplished online.

Here are some examples comparing a paper version (meaning printed pages in a binder with tabs), to an online version (meaning something that looks and behaves more like a website) in the typical lifecycle of a health and safety program. Any costs identified in these examples are drawn from experience with our own client projects.

Everybody needs a copy

From senior executives to field personnel, consultants and contractors, every person connected to your company needs to know your health and safety program. Conventionally, that means giving each of them a binder. The size of the program will affect the cost, but we recently assembled a printed version of a client’s health and safety program containing approximately 200 policies, procedures, work practices and forms. The per binder cost was $190 CAD for printing, assembly, binder and tabs. In addition to these costs for creating the binders, the company also paid a significant amount to deliver the binders to their end users.

In the online world, that $190 expense and the distribution cost are eliminated by simply sending the person a link to the web-based program.

It has to be easy to find needed documents

In a paper document, the index is critical to ensuring an employee can find what they need quickly and easily. A good index is alphabetical, lists every topic title in the document along with keywords that appear in those topics, giving the user as many options as possible for finding what they need. However, unless the program is assembled by an experienced technical writer, the index is probably left out and instead, employees have to rely on a table of contents that simply lists topic titles in the order they appear in the document. Tables of contents typically follow the logic of the person who organized the document, not the need of the person looking for something within it.

So how does this affect cost? Time required to search the document is costly when compared to more productive work the person could be doing, and if they can’t easily find what they need and give up, then all the money spent developing and maintaining the program in the first place is wasted.

In a web-based program, all content can be digitally indexed so that the user can enter any keyword in a search bar and find what they need within seconds. No lost time, no lost investment.

It has to kept current

When the documents that make up your health and safety program change because of regulatory amendments, adjustments to where or how you work, or identification of new hazards, those updated documents need to make their way into the hands of your people as quickly as possible. In the print world, that means sending out via regular mail or email a copy of the updated document with the instructions on where it belongs in the binder. Sounds simple, but if the title of the document or its length have changed, then the table of contents also needs to be updated and distributed. And then you have to rely on the recipient to physically insert those pages into their binders and remove and discard the outdated materials. You can probably already see the costs here –inefficiency and the very real potential that many of your updates will simply not make it into program binders, unless you add to your process another costly step of verifying that it has been done.

In a web-based program, the content is updated and distributed online and everyone gets an email telling them where the changes have been made with links directly to the changed documents. And depending on your system, you may be able to monitor whether the changes have been reviewed by your employees. No inefficiency and no lost, ignored or overlooked updates that could have serious implications in your operations.

The problems with forms

A big part of your health and safety program is its forms. They are one of the truly interactive elements in health and safety management because they not only provide direction on a task (e.g., inspection checklists), they cause data to be collected and shared. This is essential in demonstrating due diligence, clarifying specific expectations and enabling follow-up and continuous improvement.

Forms in binders have to be copied before they can be used to ensure the form is available for the next time it is needed. Forms in binders and in preprinted pads have to be filled out by hand, and distribution requires extra steps of either regular mail/courier or scanning and emailing. To be of any use in data analysis, the contents have to be re-entered into a spreadsheet or other program and will only be successful if the handwriting is legible.

Again, there are tremendous inefficiencies in this method that are huge time-wasters, not to mention the lost value of the collected data that might be illegible or simply stuffed into a file cabinet and forgotten about.

Web-based programs offer huge savings as well as opportunities to truly cash in on your health and safety program investment. First, the forms are always available for download. If they have been created as fillable forms, they can be filled in online, ensuring the data is legible. As forms are completed, they can be saved to shared folders where they can be accessed by others as needed. And, the data from fillable forms can be extracted to spreadsheets and other programs. There’s a bit of extra work in formatting fillable forms over static forms, but the end product offers much more value to your health and safety program metrics and continuous improvement.

Paper is more comfortable and we can manage it in-house

The biggest costs of health and safety programs come from creating and maintaining the content.

See: Health & Safety Program Cost vs. Profitability Part Two: What does it actually cost to write and maintain a health and safety program?

If you are going to invest in developing a program in-house, make sure you don’t lose your investment to the inefficiencies and inherent pitfalls of conventional paper. Hire someone to put it together online and maintain it for you. Or better yet, subscribe to a service that can provide both content and web-based delivery so that you can focus your efforts on ensuring your health and safety program is implemented effectively throughout your company.

Your health and safety program budget is as limited as your time, but both can be used effectively to ensure your program protects your workers and your company’s profitability.

See: Health & Safety Program Cost vs. Profitability Part One: Focusing Safety Professionals on their most valuable role

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