Software offers clarity in accident reporting

January 11, 2011 By    

Workplace accidents happen everywhere, and at a large company it can take weeks or months to file all of the necessary paperwork. It can take even longer for an alert manager to spot trends and recurring incidents that might happen in a variety of locations.

At a company such as AmeriGas, which has 5,900 employees working at 700 locations in 46 states, the paperwork was often a proverbial nightmare. Layers of documents were required, and each report could only be changed by a superior manager. That diminished opportunities for dishonest reporting, but it prevented reports from being updated as new information became available.

And the sheer volume of paperwork made it difficult to see the big picture.

Now, thanks to a program developed by Cleveland-based Dakota Software, reporting workplace injuries, crashes or other mishaps at AmeriGas is a few keystrokes away. Reports also can be updated at all levels and analyzed with ease.

The process of updating AmeriGas’ accident reporting into a new database started about two years ago, and it took the better part of a year to launch the system company-wide.

AmeriGas officials believe the electronic reporting system will not only streamline its procedures but also help make their workplaces safer.

The problem with the old system of filing incident reports was twofold.

For one, there was the paperwork itself. An initial report had to be typed by workers who were not able to edit it once they hit the “send” button. The market-level manager could make changes, but, like the worker, once the report was sent, it could not be reopened. Changes or updates could then only be made on the corporate level. And with a company the size of AmeriGas, this proved a daunting task, says John Wright, the company’s director of safety and technology.

The second issue for the company was the timeliness of the filing. Precious time would pass as the reports were filed and organized into the final document.

By speeding up the process, Wright says, he can better respond to workplace concerns or map injury trends to uncover their root causes, all with the click of his mouse.

Dakota Software’s David Ganczak says having a single, digital accident report – which can even include other data, such as dashboard camera views of a crash – is not only a timesaver, but it also provides a more accurate accounting of what might have led to the mishap.

The old system of not allowing a worker or mid-level manager to update or edit a report, Ganczak says, left room for interpretation of what might have happened.

AmeriGas’ program will allow safety officials to isolate injuries or accidents by various factors – from the type of equipment involved to gate height on the back of the truck to whether it was snowing at the time of the incident.

“They are charging ahead, trying to be the safest provider of propane,” Ganczak says. “The real benefit is to prevent accidents.”

With about a year of company data at their disposal, Wright says, AmeriGas officials are examining whether any trends stand out. So far, a review of injuries suffered by new employees versus veteran ones has found few differences.

However, they have discovered that, during two mornings each week, there seems to be a larger number of mishaps, Wright says. But, he adds, it is too early to draw conclusions.

“This can point us in the right direction,” he says.

Another component tracks the shipment of propane canisters and provides a tool to document any mishaps that might happen at the company’s self-serve storage racks at stores and gas stations.

And for AmeriGas, the switch also offered a valuable tool in tracking these assets, which range from rental tanks to trucks to 18,000-gallon portable containers.

Prior to the Dakota Software, AmeriGas managers used their own versions of spreadsheets that were updated at different intervals. It would take hours to compile this data into one source. But with the Dakota Equipment Density Smartbook, data can be entered into one source and on a similar schedule. The task of completing real-time inventory and accounting of all company assets now takes just 15 minutes.

It also aids the company’s response to deploy its equipment to meet seasonal demand changes and weather extremes, and helps operations supervisors track and schedule equipment maintenance. Now the task is computerized and scheduled automatically, and instructional manuals for each task are electronically attached to each equipment profile. This eliminates the need to maintain a library of manuals at each location.

The software can be customized to each customer’s need, and the cost varies from as little as $500 for a mom-and-pop grocery store to well into the thousands for a large user such as AmeriGas, Ganczak says. Existing users can have their software updated twice a year; new versions of the program are rolled out about every 18 months.

“It is very easy to use,” he says. “It is designed to be used by everyone from safety experts to truck drivers. This is not complex. You are not flying an F-14.”

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Craig Webb is a contributing editor for LP Gas Magazine.

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