Using spreadsheets to manage your EHS concerns may not be as economical and straightforward as you think.
Spreadsheets are a great tool to work with. They are inexpensive, easy to learn and have an abundance of formulas and functions that you can implement. Best of all, you can design and customize your spreadsheets to fit your particular application such as EHS management. As your application or business grows, so can your spreadsheets… to a point. But when does your spreadsheet turn from an asset to an impediment?
Let’s look at the 5 main limitations that spreadsheets have when using them for EHS applications:
1.Labor intensive. Not able to replace paper.
Everything has to be entered manually in spreadsheets. Their ability to store and manipulate huge amounts of data replaces a lot of the paperwork, but they can’t replace forms or reports. This means the forms and authorizations still need to be filled in and manually moved from place to place.
This is a big one. The bigger the spreadsheet gets, the more the potential for error. The more people using the spreadsheet, the bigger the potential for error. As a spreadsheet grows and evolves, there’s a tendency to create separate spreadsheets with connecting cells. Now any changes to the design can negatively affect connecting spreadsheets.
Any errors that are discovered can be difficult to troubleshoot. There’s not a lot of tools to find the source of any such errors.
3.Best when used by one person.
You can have more than one user in a spreadsheet, but unless cells are locked, their values can be changed by anyone. Generally, the person who designed it, maintains it and evolves it, is the best person to use it. But when it gets too big for one person to handle, others need to jump in.
You can set up a spreadsheet to have people input their name and times when they are inputting information to track data entry, but it’s not ideal. See Human Error above
For example, you can structure steps that must be followed and completed before moving to the next step, till a task is signed-off. Spreadsheets can have structured steps but a person isn’t forced to complete those steps sequentially, or at all.
4.Updates and Reports
Spreadsheets can’t automatically update the latest regulations or government forms. There are no dashboards for overviews or instant reporting. Each report or form that needs to be created for management is done manually, taking a lot of time.
You can share real-time data but the only summaries that can be created quickly are graphs.
5.Limited proof and accountability
If there is more than one user, it can become difficult to guarantee the authenticity of the data. Spreadsheets can be overwritten by anyone with access. There’s not a lot of security. If you have the password or are authorized to open and edit the software, there’s nothing stopping you from making all the changes you want.
Or there could be multiple files saved in different locations, each being very similar. How do you know which is the most up-to-date file?
This can be a big issue in EHS circumstances where there could be risk of fines or penalties. Spreadsheets don’t do a good job of establishing proof. You would still need accompanying paperwork signed and authorized in order to prove proper conduct by the EHS team and other employees.
Dedicated EHS Software to the rescue
I wouldn’t write an article about all the problems with spreadsheets unless I had a solution. CONFORMiT has done a great job of fixing spreadsheet limitations in EHS applications. Their software has been proven to work in many businesses that need to deal with the safety of their employees. Their proprietary software system is specifically designed for EHS management.
It is able to:
…and so much more.
Besides the many benefits that dedicated EHS software can provide, at some point it actually gets cheaper to use than spreadsheets.
Can EHS software actually be cheaper than your in-house spreadsheet?
The best way to figure out if your spreadsheets are costing you more than purchasing EHS software, is to calculate and compare the costs. You can get an overview of that process here: Calculating ROI for EHS Software.
If it ends up being cheaper to use the software (with all the added benefits of the software), then you should do that right away before you have any more issues with your spreadsheets.
For a small company with little safety concerns, paper or spreadsheets may still be the best approach. In a business with growing safety concerns, audits, risk assessments and increasing incidents, spreadsheets can quickly show their limitations. Contact a CONFORMiT representative to get help estimating your costs to see if spreadsheets are still the most economical way to go.
By Ludovic Tremblay Product Manager and Dave Boivin , EHS subject matter at CONFORMiT