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ERA's Environmental Compliance Management Blog

Environmental Compliance: 5 Ways Spreadsheets Let You Down

Posted by Alex Chamberlain

Alex Chamberlain is a writer for ERA Environmental Management Solutions.

environmental health and safety management system

If you're like most EHS specialists, you're probably using a spreadsheet to keep track of all the environmental data you need for EHS compliance reporting. In fact, you probably rely on spreadsheet functions to calculate your emission quantities to include in your reports.

Spreadsheets can be a useful business tool for keeping track of many things, but your facility's environmental impact and compliance reporting is not one of them.

Many people come to realize that spreadsheets are perfect the moment they are created, but they can quickly become bloated, cumbersome, and a burden to maintain.

If you're looking for a fast and effective improvement to your EHS department, getting rid of your spreadsheets is the way to go.

For some EHS specialists, that idea opens up a lot of questions: why aren't spreadsheets a good long-term option? What would you use instead? This article will answer those questions and highlight why your spreadsheets could be holding you back and making your job harder than it should be:

1. Spreadsheets Are Not Secure

EHS system securitySpreadsheet software does not allow you to configure your security settings. All of your data is available to anyone who opens your spreadsheet. It is impossible to tell if someone has changed your data or when it was last updated. The only way of protecting your spreadsheet is to bury it in a secure folder and make it difficult to access, which typically means it harder for you to access too.

Spreadsheets do not encourage accountability -- If the data becomes falsified or inaccurate, you need a method to determine who is responsible, otherwise it is you who suffers the consequences.

What if your computer crashes and you permanently lose your spreadsheet? Do you have methods available to recover this information in its latest form?

What works better is a centralized database with tiered access. Executives and EHS Managers can see the entire database, while an air emissions specialist can only enter in data related to air emissions, and so forth. You should also look for a method of putting your database onto a secure online server - this will offer better security options and better recovery options. 

2. Spreadsheets Are Error Prone

Because there are no fail-safe mechanisms built into spreadsheets beyond what you construct yourself, they are subject to a huge amount of human error. The more time you spend manually typing in numbers or building formulas, the more vulnerable your work becomes to simple but costly errors like typos or misplaced decimal points. 

And since spreadsheets for EHS are so interconnected, a small mistake in one cell can invalidate all your results for an entire compliance report - putting you at risk for noncompliance fines and other penalties. 

If you've ever had the task of troubleshooting a spreadsheet, you know how time consuming and difficult it can be. Pinpointing the one calculation flaw or incorrect piece of data typically requires starting from scratch and double checking every step of the way.

There are many options for compliance management systems available today, from small reporting tools to comprehensive online enterprise programs. No matter what your size, there's an option that suits you - and most impotatly, many come with built-in safeguards against human error. Your solution should be able to highlight suspicious data as it is being entered and flag potential mistakes on the fly, allowing you to correct them before they become part of your compliance records.  

3. Spreadsheets Are Hard to Pass On

You probably understand your own spreadsheet pretty well… because you made it! But are you a spreadsheet specialist or an environmental expert? Does the work you do reflect how you see yourself?

But this knowledge does not always transfer well to others. Even a perfectly-designed spreadsheet can become a bottleneck for work flows if only one person knows how to use it correctly.

If you don’t already know how to navigate a specific spreadsheet or find the data that you are looking for, the work can be tedious at best, and disastrously inaccurate at worst.  

What if your spreadsheet expert is suddenly ill or unavailable? What if they get transferred to another facility or portfolio? You aren't just losing them as a human resource, you're losing their spreadsheet as a business resource. We call this the Gatekeeper Effect - it just doesn't make good sense for your EHS department to rely so heavily on one person with no future planning in place. Does it make sense to have the entire burden of your compliance on one person's shoulders?

Here's the key: standardize and centralize data management. Even if you are still using spreadsheets, make sure that everyone is using the same standardized processes for entering and recording data. Make sure everything is written down and create a shared series of steps for managing EHS data. Even better, use a database system that has built-in rules and train everybody how to use it.

4. Spreadsheets Are Inefficient

regulatory software reduce work

Most EHS departments that use spreadsheets end up using a separate spreadsheet per report or environmental metric. So if a piece of data (like information about a certain chemical used on site) is used for more than one report, you're forced to enter the same piece of data once for each spreadsheet.

That's a waste of your valuable time and is forcing you to do redundant work.

Even worse, having your data spread out across multiple spreadsheets means that it takes longer to find the data you are looking for - which means it's harder for you to respond to incidents or write corporate-wide reports.   

Every time you update or revise your products you’ll have to go back and manually update all that information in each of your spreadsheets. Wouldn't it make more sense to use just one set of data and do the work once? 

We suggest centralizing with a smart database so that you only have to enter data once in order to use it for any report. For most businesses, that equates to hours each week in saved time. 

5. Spreadsheets Make You Do The Work

When it comes to environmental reporting, demonstrating your compliance takes more than just crunching numbers. The regulations you need to adhere to are constantly changing, and you are required to keep your data up to date with less time and fewer resources. 

Whenever the regulations or formulas change, you will need to go back and manually update each of your spreadsheets. Spreadsheets do not update themselves and do not stay current with the regulatory changes.

The burden of researching environmental regulations falls directly on your shoulders, and that in itself can be a full time job.

If you're using an online system from a provider with regulatory expertise, your reporting calculations and emission factors can be updated on the fly as soon as regulatory changes are rolled out.That removes a huge burden from your workload and eliminates the risk of reporting using out of date data.

A Better Way

Spreadsheets have their role in your business, but EHS compliance management and reporting is only made more difficult if you rely on spreadsheets. Today manufacturers have dozens of options for better environmental data management programs and most cutting-edge businesses have jumped on the trend of implementing smart Environmental Management Systems to help ensure compliance goals are met in a timely, cost-effective, and user-friendly manner. 

When looking at your options, make sure your choice can help solve the issues we've listed above: you should be able to configure security settings to meet your specific organizational hierarchy, enter data just once and create all your reports using that data, reporting should be faster and easier, and your provider should be responsible for maintaining the integrity of the system's calculations and methodologies. 

Imagine the innovation and progress you could bring to your pollution prevention and management areas of your facility if you didn't have to spend countless hours working on a spreadsheet?

Get a free online demo with ERA Environmental's Specialists and see how much time you can start to free up.

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