Category Archives: QHSE

The importance of training employees

Proper training is crucial when it comes to creating and maintaining an effective management system. Putting changes to processes on paper is easy but getting these new insights to employees is a different story. Eventually, they are the ones to work accordingly and while processes are created with the best intentions in mind they are not always well understood by everyone. This means training people is an important factor to maintain a successful management system.

To convince employees to work according to processes and procedures it helps explaining why they are as they are. Giving the purpose makes sure employees understand what risks the process or procedure mitigates or what consistency it strives for. Examples include consistency in product quality, customer approach or a smooth production process. People have the tendency to better follow the processes when they understand the reasoning behind them.

How to train people in practice?

Unfortunately there is no silver bullet in training employees. Every company has their own culture and way of doing things and thus should the training approach be in line. Despite the differences some best practices can be applied.

New employee

Regardless of company culture, training newly hired employees when they join the company is of great importance. A management system training should be scheduled to walk him/her through all the important processes for the job. Don’t go into too much detail, especially not for the lesser important processes but make sure all the key process for the job are well understood and explained properly.

Ongoing training

Besides the training at time of joining, continuous training is of major importance as well. Processes and laws change, companies evolve, and thus continuous training is of the essence. Every change within the management system should be communicated on a regular basis and training sessions should be scheduled based on the impact of these changes. In case of for example an alteration to the core production process every employee whose job is impacted by the change should be trained and understand the new process. Again, not only the training itself is of importance but also the reason why the change has been approved. If possible try to elaborate on the NCR that caused the change. When the opportunity arises give credits to the person who noted down the NCR. This completes the communication cycle of the NCR and in addition increases employee engagement with the management system.

Identify training needs

A great instrument to discover training needs are the internal audits. The audits hold valuable information about how employees apply the process and where certain gaps are present. Whenever an employee turns out to not follow procedure, first determine whether the procedure itself is simply not functioning or just not understood. In case of a malfunctioning procedure it should be updated in close cooperation with the executing employee, and do not forget to communicate the update to others as well. For procedures that are not well understood a training can be scheduled to explain the procedure again to employees as a refresher.
Feel free to try out these techniques and let us know the results.

Management system as selling point: practice what you preach

Certifications are often a result of customer demands, rather than a company necessity. Using certifications, like ISO9001, as a selling point, is rather a mere formality and is being utilised by more companies today. By being certified, a company shows it has certain procedures in place to provide optimal quality, but that doesn’t provide quality assurance while the actual management system does.  

Qooling believes a company should not use the certificate as a selling point, but rather to use the certificate’s management system as a selling point. What better way to give potential customers insight in your operations, by showing them the management system? By example, show customers how the management system handles a complaint, and the process the system provides to resolve the issue. Additionally it is possible to give an overview of the qualified employees and how the management system ensures their knowledge is kept up to date.

We have seen users of Qooling show the procedures of their management system through the online interface to their customers. This way they prove to actually utilize the management system to their benefit, instead of just showing the certificate. Furthermore, they demonstrate how they handle incidents, perform quality checks on products and take care of customer service. The notification system ensures clients are always up to date, increasing confidence with the customer that important quality related actions won’t be forgotten.

Being transparent and giving your customers insight in the company’s management system builds trust with customers. Applying this strategy results in the management system becoming its own selling point.

ISO9001:2015 – A practical guide for risk assessment

Over the past months we have seen the introduction of the new ISO9001:2015 standard. To comply with this new standard we applied a strategy to introduce risk based thinking throughout the organisation with one of our customers.

The customer used the migration to this new standard as an opportunity to increase the employee engagement. This blog post describes the steps that were taken to get the employees involved in the risk assessment.

Step 1 — Explanation

Before we started actually identifying risks we explained to all employees what the new standard entails and how it may impact the way they work. The presentation covered all the changes to the norm but had a focus on risk based thinking. We elaborated on the description of what risks are and how they can affect the business negatively and/or positively. At the end of the presentation the employees were given the opportunity to ask questions.

We experienced this step as very important with the employees. These people are not into the ISO9001 content so some explanation really helped. Especially the opportunity to ask questions was important to get everyone on the same page.

Step 2 — Department based risk assessment

Every department of the organisation incorporates very specific risks. The employees of the different departments are the ones that have all the knowledge when it comes to these risks. To leverage this knowledge, we performed the risk assessments together with the employees of the different departments. It was like a brainstorm session where the input of all team members of the specific department was gathered. Doing the exercise with every department gave an enormous amount of data to structure the risk assessment.

Step 3 — Aggregation

All the outcomes of every session were combined in one big register to give an overview of the risks, their impacts and the actions taken by the company. Next, the actions that needed to be taken were handed out to the employees of the different departments. This is done to make every single employee responsible for a part of the risk mitigation strategy. The QHSE manager now only has to check if the employees are performing the actions instead of performing the complete risk assessment while employee engagement increased, because they are held directly responsible for a part of the risk management.

We applied this strategy to a relatively small company but it can be applied to bigger organisation as well. The process can exactly the same but only with middle and lower level management instead of every employee. Do remember that it is imperative to include management in the risk assessment.

The register used for this exercise can be provided to you within your Qooling account. If you would like to make use of this template please let us know.

The non conformance report: When to create one?

Last week I had a very interesting discussion with a QHSE manager regarding Non conformance report (NCR). While working on improvements on their management system we tried to come up with a clear definition of when to write an NCR.

They form a valuable source for a company to learn from and discover room for improvement, however it is often unclear when to write an NCR. Therefore, we discuss a few situations which should lead to an NCR.

Procedure deviation

There is the situation when an employee deviates from a procedure. This is a clear NCR. The company created the procedure to streamline business activities and to define what people should do. Some of these procedures are even implemented to prevent frauds or breaking the law. Whenever an employee deviates of a procedure an NCR should be written. A good example is when a mechanic purchases some goods without approval by the financial manager. Due to rules set by financial auditors it is important that the financial manager signs the purchase orders. In this situation it is important that an NCR is written and the mechanic is trained on the reasons why the financial manager has to sign off on a purchase order.

Product deviation

What if a product is finished but not according to the specification of the customer, which is noticed before delivery? The customer hasn’t seen the product yet so no problem right? Wrong actually. When this NCR is not noted down the company can not investigate what went wrong in the production process. The NCR gives the company the opportunity to find out where the mistake was made and take the measures needed to prevent it from happening again.

Deviation from customer expectation

Inline with product deviation is the deviation from customer expectation. The most obvious deviation is just a customer complaint. But in addition, customers might also have expectations that haven’t been addressed in previous discussions. Though the product has been produced as per contract it could very well be that the customer is not satisfied. As an organisation it is important to notice such situations by discussing the satisfaction with the customer, preferably as soon as possible. Early detection of deviation from customer expectation is especially important because rework can get very costly in later stages of the project.

Qooling -- QHSE tooling

Unsafe situation

Another great example of an NCR which should be written is an unsafe situation. However, in practice the definition of an unsafe situation is unclear to a lot of people. Some might say that almost hit by a car was a near miss and should be registered while others don’t experience it as an unsafe situation. To get the definition consistent within the organisation, clear communication and proper training is required.

Deviation against statutory or regulatory requirements

It is always good to check if an employee acted within company values and of course within the law. It might happen that an employee acted within the boundaries of a procedure but did break with the company’s core values. Employees should never deviate from those values even when the employee acts according to a procedure, because they represent what the company stands for and breaking them causes harm to the integrity of a company. The same can obviously been said about the law.

Conclusion

In the end, there are thousands of reasons for when to write an NCR and when not. However, it is important that everyone within the organisation writes them down. In order to facilitate this it is crucial that the company clearly communicates the criteria the company has for an NCR. This could be elaborated by providing certain cases of when to write a NCR with the employees.

If you have any experience with this, please share it in the comments.

The right tools for your QHSE management

As with all tools, QHSE tools should be making your life as a QHSE manager easier. As of today still a lot of companies use the Microsoft office package as a tool to manage their QHSE management system. The choice for using Office is pretty reasonable at first sight because of the convenience and the wildly accessible resources available on the internet. Moreover, most people possess the skills required to work with Office. However, the use of Office does have some limitations which more often than not boil to the surface during the audit by an External Certified Body.

Version control

Keeping track of versions can be a though job with office documents. At the same time, most norms are very strict on document control: the company should be able to show the latest version of the document at any time and prove that employees do not use obsolete documents.

QHSE management tools mostly automated the mundane task of increasing versions of documents and making sure obsolete documents are not shown to the employees. This helpful feature prevents organisations from making administrative mistakes.

Document Distribution

In line with version control is the distribution of the revised documents. When the document is updated it is important that the latest version is distributed amongst the employees and that they start using this latest version. At a lot of companies the distribution is mainly done by just dropping the document on a particular part of the server and notify employees. Some companies might have their own document system for this but the result is the same.

To make sure that employees can only use the most recent documents the server requires time consuming (manual) configuration. In contrast, proper QHSE management tools enables companies to have one central place where they can stores all the documents. Also do these tools only show the latest version of the documents to the users. No more business risks of using wrong templates or procedures.

Access Rights

Once downloaded, office documents have the issue that they can be altered by everyone (even in PDF). This can partly be prevented by adding passwords or “locks”, but there are plenty of ways to work around such measures. The right QHSE management tool allows organisations to give an employee the precise access rights he or she needs. Configuring who is allowed to view or edit documents is at the base of such a tool. In addition, the approval of documents by the person responsible (e.g. management) is supported as well. The document owner first has to approve a document before it can be used by others: this process increases the data integrity of the documents and reduces administrative overhead.

Broken links

Many office-based systems use the file structure of windows as their architecture. Within these QHSE systems a single Excel file has been developed which holds a lot of links to different documents. This works perfectly until somebody replaces a document without updating the Excel file, introducing a broken link within the document. The lack of validity checks allows broken links to start creeping into the system over the years, which essentially cripples the system and makes the whole system less effective.

Conclusion

QHSE management tools take away a lot of the mundane activities of maintaining the QHSE management, like updating registers, updating documents, fixing broken links and setting proper access rights. These tools don’t take away the need for people who manages these system but they help these managers to get the obligatory administrative activities done and done right. This allows the managers to put more time into improving the system.

Qooling is a QHSE management tool which allows you to benefit from all the points discussed above. When you are interested in having a better aligned QHSE management system feel free to contact us.

QHSE and Employee Engagement

Quality is a very important part of doing business. When a company delivers poor quality products or services it won’t last very long. However, maintaining and improving a QHSE management system can feel like an uphill battle due to lack of employee engagement. Every QHSE management system comes with additional procedures and processes which forces employees into a certain direction, often for the better. Employees can experience this as a need to control their activities which makes them less engaged in the QHSE management system.

Company communication

In order to keep the engagement high among the employees it is of major importance that the added value of the QHSE management system is communicated consistently and on a regular basis. Most of the employees do understand the importance of the QHSE management system for the company. Even when most of the employees understand the added value of the QHSE it is almost critical to the success of the QHSE management system to communicate the importance regularly. The exact number of times this communication has to take place is very dependent on the organisation. Learn what works with trial and error, start for example with every 2 months. When the engagement rises, the frequency can be lowered to once in 3 or 4 months.

Increase engagement

Another good tactic to keep the employees engaged is to make them owners of procedures and allow them to optimize those procedures. Most of the time the QHSE manager creates the procedure together with some employees. However, as a QHSE manager it is important to be open for improvements or changes to these procedures. Some procedure may become obsolete while others become more complex due to changes in the business environment. It is very important to listen to the people who apply these procedures on a daily basis and alter them if necessary. When you do alter a procedure, give the credits to the employee who gave the suggestion. This makes them feel valued and increases the engagement.

Next to the openness to create engagement, a company can make the involvement in the QHSE management system part of the yearly employee review. This doesn’t have to be very strict it just gives an employee with good inputs some extra credit during the review.

There are lots of other strategies you can use to increase engagement. We would love to hear which one you applied. Please put them in the comments.

Risk Management

Risk management is a high priority within every company, regardless of certification efforts. This does not mean that risks are avoided at all costs, just that risks are identified, evaluated, and decisions are made based on these evaluations.

Risk identification is not part of ISO9001:2008, but will be included in ISO9001:2015, and is included in OHSAS18001 and ISO14001. Despite subtle differences, the latter certifications will pave the way for the ISO9001:2015 certificate for companies which already have those in place.

While the importance of risk identification is unquestionable, and implementation of strategies to perform this identification differ wildly, at their core they all deal with the following questions:

  • What are the odds of an incident?
  • What is the impact of that incident?
  • What options do we have to reduce either odds or impact?

Simple on the surface, yet hard questions to answer. Thankfully the exercise of risk identification is equally important, not just the answers to those questions. Identification opens the door to making informed decisions, reducing either occurrence or impact where risks are involved and can’t be mitigated. Below are examples of employee risk identification and evaluation used in OHSAS18001 or ISO45001:

  • What hazard does an employee face?
  • What are potential consequences of a hazard?
  • If no control measures are in place, what is the likelyhood of occurrence? (Pure Risk)
  • Given current control measures, what is the likelyhood of occurrence?
  • What is the effectiveness of current control measures? (Hierarchy)
  • How can we improve upon current control measures? (Continuous Improvement)

In addition to the identification and evaluation of risks, these questions force a company to evaluate control mechanisms reducing risk. Every step of the PDCA cycle is embedded in these questions, and revisiting the questions makes for continuous improvement.

These questions should be asked and answered throughout the company to get a complete picture of all risks involved, and allow for the best decision making process based on identified risks.

Quality Management and the science/art of version control

The version control system of your Quality Management System is very important. Whenever an audit is performed the most common question is:

“How do you know that is the latest version of your document?”

This easy question is pretty difficult to answer. I mean we all have a certain methodology to increase the version numbering, but how do you know it is accurate. We have seen several solutions/answers in order to provide a satisfying solution to this problem. Down below are some potential solutions.

Document Management System

There are a lot of information management systems available to manage document control. Some good examples are Sharepoint and Windchill. The biggest issue is that these systems are relatively expensive. Furthermore, implementing these solutions not only change the version control process but they have a significant impact on your organization. This results in a long implementation process and therefore even higher costs because of the loss of effective hours by the employees of the company and increased consulting costs.

Register

The low cost solution to solve this issue is by creating a register where you track all the changes made to the several documents. The register can be set up in excel/access or any other type of database.

The idea is that whenever a document is edited you update the version number and also add the date when you altered the document. As a result you can always cross check the version number on the document with the latest version in the register. This makes the whole document handling process more secure. However, this setup is very cumbersome and prone to human mistakes. The QHSE employees need to have a strict discipline to change the register every time a document changes.

Tooling

Next to handling the version control of documents manually or with a general Document Management System, more specialized tools can be used. These tools focus on managing and maintaining the complete QHSE management system. As part of this these tools provide a versioning system for documents. Next to the versioning of documents a whole range of other feature are embedded to support the QHSE management system, such as: Issue tracking, Audit support, etc. Qooling is such a tool who automates the proces of version control and therefor allows your to work on more important things.