Paper vs Digital for EHS and OHS Solutions


The last decade has ushered in revolutionary changes to our society. We no longer rely on newspapers for our news; our cars can drive themselves, and we can hold video conversations with friends and colleagues around the world as easily as we can chat with our neighbour.

These changes mark the progression of technology and digital communications into our work and social lives. Analog has given way to digital, which is often better, faster and safer than their equivalents.

Yet in some places, we cling to the vestiges of the last century as if they’re still the best way forward as if this revolution in real-time communication never took place as if the technology doesn’t exist for a better alternative.

Paper, for example.

Today, in many aspects of our life, paper has been replaced. Take the news, for example. We turn on our phones, visit a web site or Twitter and events unfold before our very eyes. Not only that, but digital offers us a chance to ‘see’ these events as well as read about them. Pictures taken halfway around the world arrive on our screens as if we’d taken them ourselves just a moment before.

Today’s paper-based newspapers are yesterday’s events…yesterday’s news, yesterday’s information. You’re looking at history, a museum of information. It’s too late to react and respond, we’ve moved on.

Timeliness is not the only advantage of digital; of course, information sharing is another huge advantage. You can, for example, share this article with hundreds of people in seconds. Information flows freely and in real-time, which allows for rapid response and instantaneous discussion.

Mobile devices allow for the gathering of information from the source, which can take place from anywhere in the world. These days we carry the means to record and react with us everywhere we go. Take a photo, send a message, start the conversation. Thanks to the Internet and Mobility, our world has moved to the here and now.

And Yet.

Paper persists.

Digital Real-Time Solutions for Environmental Health and Safety

In the world of environmental health and safety, paper is still a medium that is all too prevalent, and with it, the entourage of slow speed, slow distribution and last-century issues that so many other industries have long-since discarded.

Paper checklists, paper to-dos, paper audits, paper notes: these are unnecessary speed bumps on a path to better environmental management, regulatory compliance and efficiency.

It’s as if all the advantages of digital have been overlooked or somehow don’t apply. Not only is this wrong, it vastly underestimates the impact digital can have on how we can manage risk within our property portfolios.

Recent worldwide events have shown that property management must rapidly adapt to changing circumstances. We rely, more than ever, on those that ensure the environment around us is safe. There is renewed emphasis on surfaces and areas where numerous people may come into contact, for example, elevators in multi-dwelling habitats, common door handles, public egress and entry points.

It is incumbent on us to use the best tools to provide the best service. Hands up if you still feel paper is the way forward or will continue to serve you well into the next decade and beyond.

Let’s look at paper checklists for example.

Paper vs Digital Checklists

Paper checklists represent the norm in far too many EHS and OHS situations. Yet paper creates a needless list of challenges by its continued adoption and use.

  • How rapidly can you create and distribute a new paper-based checklist to your maintenance teams with new instructions on what to address on their daily inspections? 
  • What if that paper checklist was found to be incomplete?
  • What if it applied to Building A but not so much to Building B?
  • What if tomorrow a regulation change required a checklist change?
  • How long does it take before you’re notified if a step was missed?
  • How fast can you respond to change in an ever-changing world?

Mobile devices coupled with network infrastructure solved these problems.
With the right tools, we can create a new checklist and immediately distribute it to our site managers.
We can react to an incomplete checklist or other non-compliant event the moment we are notified about it.
Multiple checklists can be created for different building requirements without the need to start from scratch.
Regulation changes can be adopted into existing checklists, reducing our liability, increasing our compliance.


Data Collection and Distribution

If we’re going to adopt digital checklists and digital data collection, we need to look at where that data ends up and what we can do with it. We must be wary of solutions that offer paper-facsimiles, we’re not trying to reproduce what paper used to do, we’re looking at what our current best-of-breed technologies and infrastructure can do beyond our current solution.

In the past, we may have been content with multiple spreadsheets in multiple departments, each copying the same data and manipulating it to meet an individual or team’s needs. It is the digital equivalent of a photocopier and filing cabinet in each department. It disseminates the data, but in doing so, it breaks the cohesion that an organization needs to understand better the risks, liability and compliance within its operation.

Today, we can use cloud technology to keep our data together and digital dashboards to disseminate the right information to the appropriate parties. Our information stays in one secure location, but everyone gets what they need. And because enterprise-grade technology uses cloud storage, we can reinforce our data with enterprise-grade security solutions, rather than desktop-level consumer solutions.

Completing the circle – Notifications and Audits.

Notifications, follow-ups, audits and compliance are as crucial to our property management workflow as the initial inspection. It is an area where paper is not only a poor choice; it simply cannot provide the same level of functionality and service that digital brings to the table.

By placing our checklists on a digital mobile platform, we allow real-time data collection. We then transmit it to secure cloud-based services and then distribute it to all necessary team members.

From here, using web-based dashboards, we can monitor the progress of inspections and be notified if remedial action is necessary. We can follow-up with site managers if they have not completed their daily checklist. If the answer to a checklist question places the property into a non-compliant state, we can instigate the appropriate action immediately.

We can contact vendors, suppliers, contractors and immediately start procedures and processes the moment we see the issue. Also, because we’ve dispensed with paper, that means real-time data, real-time communication, real-time notifications and real-time actions.

There’s no paper equivalent.

Reshaping Tomorrow, today.

Once you move to a digital, cloud-based workflow, you go to an adaptive solution. This solution can respond to today’s challenges as rapidly as we, as a society, adapt to our challenges.

The internet and mobile technology give us the platform to revolutionize EHS inspections, EHS reporting and EHS responses. Utilizing mobile phones, secure cloud technology and web-dashboards, we can manage and mitigate risks like never before.

Nobody can predict the future. We’re living in a period of rapid, accelerating disruption that will ultimately reshape business, legislation, regulation and every aspect of our society.

We’re dealing with new challenges and expected to adapt at an ever-increasing pace. We need to accept that the old way is no longer good enough and find a better, safer, more efficient path. We need to be nimble to turn our procedures on their head if need be.

Above all, we need to stay safe, our staff, our tenants, our vendors, our society. We can do better than we’ve done before, no, we must do better than we’ve done before; because there’s no going back – so let’s build a better future together!

Published On: August 6th, 2020 / Categories: Education /

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About Refined Data

Refined Data develops EHS, ESG and Insurance management software for the Commercial, Retail and Multifamily real estate sector. With more than 3,500 buildings representing more than a quarter billion square feet on the platform, Refined Data has delivered award-winning value to leading real estate companies for over a decade.   Please contact us to learn more.

About the Author: Hugh Molyneux

Hugh Molyneux is a founder and President of Refined Data, an award-winning developer of EHS and Operations Management Software for Real Estate. More than 3,500 buildings worldwide rely on Refined Data as their platform of choice to manage Environmental Risk, Health & Safety, Compliance and Site Operations.