Do you manage employees in a high-risk industry? Or maybe, you’re an employee who works under the electrical buzz of power generation, manufacturing, transmission and beyond. If so, I’ve been in your shoes — well, combat boots. As a Chemical Operations Specialist in the U.S. Army, I served fatigued and circling under many makeshift streetlamps, all seemingly generated by Afghanistan dusk and crank telephones.
Some days I convalesced bunk-side. Others, I guided a platoon through the donning and doffing of Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear. Even though chemical warfare is mostly obsolete, soldiers still stood safe, trained and ready nonetheless.
Like you, I understand the importance of staying safe in the workplace. I know that in order to stay safe, you have to keep-up with training. You have to interact with process experts, and you have to demonstrate competency for the work you are performing. To be considered authorized to perform high risk work, it requires more than just sitting through annual classroom training.
And thus enters a soldier’s commentary on High Risk Work Authorization, or HRWA.
What is High Risk Work Authorization?
There is a delicate balance of communication, training and learning involved in authorizing workers to perform high risk work. High Risk Work Authorization involves an interaction between employees, supervisors and sometimes a third-party authorization leader. The process to establish total familiarity with hazardous work includes learning assessments, such as completing training courses and physical demonstration (basic training, for some) and confirming that work activities are fully understood.
I acutely remember the 0500 wakeup calls for PT followed by an intense day of HazMat training that Chemical Operations Specialists went through during Advanced Individual Training. This in a way, was the Army’s own HRWA.
HRWA isn’t just about checking the box on training and activities. It’s about a supervisor and an employee working together, having a discussion, and ensuring that an employee is qualified to do high risk tasks safely.
It is essential that both the authorizing manager (drill sergeant) and the employee (soldier) understand the meaning and value of the authorization process. For the authorizing manager, an HRWA is the record of their methodical evaluation of an employee’s training, technical qualifications and experience to perform high-risk operations safely. For the employee, the HRWA is the authorization to do restricted work.
For example, no one would ever expect a rifleman in the Army to perform my job, and vice versa. But each of us had the necessary authorization to perform our own high-risk specialty. The last important component of HRWA is proof. Employees and supervisors must also show evidence of training when requested by customers or regulatory agencies. Now, this leads to some of the issues with maintaining proper HRWA compliance.
Compliance Troubles with HRWA
We know all work authorizations must be documented for proof, but where to store all of this data?
Where did the Army store all of my training paperwork to ensure us Chemical Operations Specialists could adequately protect a platoon you ask? All training paperwork, bloodwork, credit reports, even anything you told your therapist, was stored in a folder in your unit’s orderly room. Most of the Army’s paperwork (at least when I served) was stashed in a file folder. Although it was always all there when they needed it, a full-on integrated and digital system for organizing and maintaining training data would have been helpful.
Imagine though, what would happen if the records weren’t readily accessible. Or worse, what happens when the proof of a worker’s competency to perform work doesn’t exist at all?
When recordkeeping fails, it places these limitations on employee and employer
• The employee may not undertake high-risk operations if unqualified
• A supervisor cannot require an employee to perform a task for which the employee is unqualified
• There is a risk for non-compliance during an audit or inspection
Both documentation issues and failed training have the power to limit daily work operations, thus slowing down productivity for the employee and the enterprise. So how can your enterprise resolve these issues from happening in the future?
Three prerequisites come to mind when wanting to successfully maintain HRWA records: Maintain employee safety, avoid non-compliance audit findings and continue productivity.
If the Army had a centralized, online system the orderly room workers could have been a bit more orderly. Not to mention they would have saved an entire rainforest.
Gensuite is one example of a management software provider that can help with all three HRWA requirements. The Gensuite HRWA tool offers great features:
• Intuitive high risk work authorization workflows and profile builder
• Easy-access portal for employees to request and take action on High Risk Work Authorizations
• Supervisor Summary interface with a comprehensive listing of all direct report HRWA statuses
• System generated email notifications alerting leaders to HRWA status
• Visual employee authorization status reporting interface with browser, PDF and XLS outputs
With a proper tool or software system in place you can minimize, or eliminate, messy paperwork, and in turn stay on-top of work authorizations, ensure you’re ready for audits and maintain a safer work environment.
If the Army had Gensuite, would they have avoided un-orderly rooms? Not entirely. But with technology ever-advancing, they could very well have an entirely digital system in-place today to help reduce these types of issues.
High Risk Work Authorization is necessary, and it can be complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. Even though most of my Army life was documented on paper, I still admire the tangible weight of a boxed file. This is my preference though, and something soon to become obsolete. But if I had to manage an Army – I’d choose Gensuite.