How Costera’s New Environmental & Waste Services Platform Helped Them Take the Lead in a Competitive Industry and Control their Data
June 28, 2022 / Katarina Rudela
Reading Time: 15 minutes
Environment, health and safety (EHS) is the study and implementation of practices that protect people and the environment within occupational settings. It essentially describes the things that organizations must do to ensure their activities don’t harm anyone or anything. From an environmental standpoint, EHS practices include the development of a systematic approach to complying with government and industry requirements on issues like waste management, control of emissions and reducing a company’s carbon footprint.
Regulatory compliance is playing an increasingly important role in EHS. In the United States, EHS regulations are governed by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), especially CFR 29, 40 and 49. However, many organizations set a higher standard for EHS compliance than what is legally required. Managers must have a clear understanding of the requirements for their organization and the need to communicate compliance gaps to executives, allowing them to implement appropriate measures.
A fully integrated EHS solution provides its users with everything they need to manage and sustain the environment, including air, water and waste. It also helps users assess and minimize the environmental impact of actions like carbon and energy usage, as well as chemical spills. EHS solutions should also minimize the manual tasks that users must perform.
EHS solutions are becoming a core requirement for maintaining an organization’s profitable growth, business continuity and social responsibilities. An organization’s operations as they relate to environmental interaction are also key factors for these solutions to manage, which can be affected by changes in government regulations, economic conditions and new technologies. As a result, organizations from multiple industries consider EHS solutions to be an operational requirement that allows them to minimize future operational expenses to protect the environment, especially from hazardous situations.
A 2022 study by Mordor Intelligence predicts that the EHS software market will experience an average compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.37 percent between 2022 and 2027. The chart below shows the relative effect of this growth on the EHS market:
Fig. 1 Expected Growth of EHS Software
The growing demand for EHS software is largely due to the increasing importance of occupational safety practices. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reports that the majority of work-related deaths in 2020 occurred in the agriculture, construction, fishing and forestry sectors. Self-employed workers accounted for 38 percent of these fatalities, even though they only made of 16 percent of the workforce. The proportion of deaths among self-employed workers was also higher in 2020 than in previous years.
Budget concerns and the lack of analytics are currently hampering growth of the EHR market. The National Association for EHS&S Management (NAEM) estimates that organizations needing a new EHS system are budgeting between $58,000 and $2,000,000 for the initial purchase, with an average budget of $310,750.
New technologies are a major factor in the adoption of EHS software. These technologies currently include drones, mobile applications and smart sensors, all of which contribute to data collection in real time. A 2020 survey by NAEM shows the effect that EHS leaders expect emerging technology to have on their operations in the future. The chart below shows these results:
Fig. 2 Effect of Emerging Technologies on EHS
The largest effects of new EHS technologies after 2020 are on decision-making, process improvement and compliance improvement, with the majority of respondents indicating decision-making to be the greatest area of change. Improvements to regulatory compliance were cited by 41 percent of respondents, while changes in reporting were expected to be relatively uncommon.
The exact capabilities that an organization requires from EHS software vary greatly, and there is considerable overlap in these functions. The following list shows the capabilities that organizations typically expect of this type of software:
- Incident Management
- Audit Management
- Training Management
- Sustainability Management
- Near Misses
- Root Cause Analysis
- Regulatory Compliance
- Work Observations
- Environmental Spills
- Nonconformance Management
Incident management capabilities for EHS software include ensuring compliance with the organization’s occupational health and safety programs with minimal operational overhead. It also encompasses the tracking and reporting of injuries and illnesses in compliance with various regulatory requirements such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR). For example, EHS software should be able to track and record work-related injuries and illness that are ready for OSHA, including OSHA 300, 300A and 301 incident reports. It also needs to document the details of incidents in one place and track reports through their workflow.
Additional capabilities related to incident management include documenting damage to assets, allowing investigators to evaluate causes and improve outcomes. In the case of damage to motor vehicles, this would include vehicle information, location details and eyewitness accounts. Photographs of the damage are also evidence the EHS software needs to track. In addition, organizations often need to track corrective actions and trends to see how they change over time.
EHS software also needs to track spills, discharges and other types of chemical releases, generally for the purpose of minimizing their environmental consequences. As with health and safety issues, this software should ensure the organization complies with all regulatory obligations regarding spills.
Audit management capabilities include the ability to perform audits, assessments and other types of inspections more quickly than with manual methods, while still reporting and tracking findings. Audit reports typically contain action items, notes and photos that the software must track. In most cases, they also have complex checklists to ensure the organization is still in compliance with all its programs.
Additional audit management capabilities include the easy identification of areas needing improvement, which benefits from data visualization when making decisions about what to change. The ability to gain insight into an organization’s audit performance also requires data analysis tools to identify areas that need improvement. Auditors also need the ability to work from anywhere with a mobile device. Synchronizing data when internet connectivity is available also allows them to work offline.
EHS software can provide everything an organization needs to track and manage its employee training, including training records, assessments, course content and certifications. This capability ensures compliance with training requirements while reducing the time needed to manage this process.
These training solutions often include a large library of courses on many topics, often in multiple languages. For example, they can deliver comprehensive training for OSHA compliance by assigning courses directly to workers based on their location and role. An online training library delivered via the internet can engage employees wherever they are, especially if it supports mobile devices. Interactive capability keeps employees directly involved in the learning process, resulting in better comprehension and retention. The ability to provide consistent training regardless of employees’ physical location or schedule means they can be trained as soon as they’re hired.
Workers also require refresher training at periodic intervals to ensure they remain current, which includes regular safety meetings. Software can comprehensively track the participants and minutes of these meetings. Analytics tools can then use this data to generate deficiency reports that predict who will need what training at specific points in the future across an entire organization.
The creation of online training courses is another useful capability of EHS software, which often includes the use of tools like Acrobat and PowerPoint to develop knowledge checks to verify comprehension. Users can also develop kiosks to provide training to employees without their own computing device.
Training software saves time by delivering an effective learning experience, while reducing the effort needed to create these courses. Trainers can then focus on training issues that require greater attention. An integrated training management solution also eliminates the cost of using spreadsheets and other manual processes.
Sustainability management includes gathering, measuring and tracking data for the purpose of minimizing the consumption of resources and production of waste. It also includes the management of sustainability processes like carbon emissions and recycling. Software is particularly useful for the collection and analysis of data from multiple sources, generally for the purpose of developing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) related to sustainability.
These KPIs show how well the organization is performing specific sustainability tasks, which can number in the thousands for some companies. The ability to analyze data and target the most cost-effective areas of improvement is crucial in sustainability management. For example, it can identify individuals who need additional assistance in meeting their goals. This aspect of EHS also benefits from software that provides transparency in an organization’s sustainability activities.
Manual sustainability management often involves the use of spreadsheets to gather information and decide on a course of action. The right EHS software can greatly reduce the time needed to accomplish these tasks. It can also reduce errors through a review process that automatically validates data, leading to KPIs with greater quality. In addition, software can create an audit trail that increases the credibility and reliability of sustainability reports.
Many organizations also want to track “near misses” that didn’t result in an incident but had the potential to do so. The ability to capture the details of near misses while distinguishing them from actual incidents is a common requirement of EHS software. The primary goal of tracking and reporting near misses is to ensure the organization learns from them before an actual incident occurs. EHS software often ties near misses into incident management, allowing the entire organization to share lessons learned.
It’s also important for EHS software to include data analysis tools that allow users to gain insight into near misses, both identify people and processes that performed well, in addition to areas that need improvement. The ability to recognize risks and take action is a key requirement for making the greatest use of near misses. KPIs help with this capability by providing information on the number and type of key misses that occur within a particular time frame, allowing users to focus on the areas needing the most attention. Achieving improvement also requires the ability to visualize data on near misses, especially leading indicators.
The near miss capability of EHS software allows organizations to improve all aspects of their occupational health and safety program, provided they treat them as an opportunity to learn. It’s also important to share these lessons learned, so that mistakes aren’t repeated. Software can reduce the effort required for data entry, which tends to be particularly high in operational roles. In addition, near miss capability allows software to increase the EHS team’s effectiveness by allowing them to focus on proactive measures instead of data collection.
Root Cause Analysis
The ability to identify and mitigate the root causes of an incident helps ensure that an organization doesn’t repeat them. EHS software often has root cause analysis built into it, eliminating the need to implement additional software.
Root cause analysis requires best practices to investigate any type of incident quickly and efficiently, allowing the organization to make the appropriate response. These practices may consist of industry standard methodologies, but users can also create their own. The resources dedicated towards the investigation of each incident should be based on the incident’s severity.
EHS software should also enable the gathering of all data in one place, making it easier to report findings. Once the root causes have been identified, the EHS team can develop corrective actions, assign them to the appropriate personnel and track those tasks to completion. Each task should be addressed as soon as practicable, with software that provides a common register for action items. Automatic emails and support for escalations is also essential for providing the transparency that root cause analysis requires.
Reporting capability is a key part of this process, which should include details such as the identified cause, recommended actions, person assigned to these tasks, priority and due date. KPIs can help assess the impact of an incident on an organization’s performance, including quality, safety record and reputation. Analyzing this data is also for understanding the risks that root causes pose.
EHS software should be able to significantly reduce the time needed to complete a root cause analysis. It should be able to quickly generate a report that includes photos, notes and other details, along with the recommended corrective action. Mobile support is particularly important for these investigators, since they often spend a good deal of time out of the office.
Regulations that govern a company’s actions may come from the government, the industry or the company itself. Maintaining compliance requires planning in advance and automation to get this done with a minimum of effort. Transparency is particularly important for accountability in regulatory compliance.
EHS software can help users schedule audits and other activities that ensure compliance programs remain in effect. Best practices are necessary to ensure these processes are completed before their due date. Compliance software may also include data analysis tools to gain insight into a company’s compliance posture by identifying areas that are performing well and those that need improvement. KPIs are essential to finding the biggest risks due to the large number of compliance tasks many organizations must complete.
Software can save time on regulatory compliance by recommending appropriate action based on the equipment. This capability may use radio-frequency identification (RFID) devices to associate equipment with its records. Compliance management also benefits from the ability to complete these tasks while the user is away from the office.
Work observations consist of tracking and reporting hazardous conditions in the work place, generally for the purpose of ensuring the organization learns from them. EHS software also disseminates this information throughout the entire organization, allowing the development of behavior-based programs for identifying hazards. This software allows users to identify the areas needing the most attention by visualizing observations, especially leading indicators. The insight gained from this process thus enables the implementation of corrective actions to prevent recurrence.
The ability to track and report all aspects of an organization's health and safety program allows users to treat these observations as an opportunity to learn. EHS software must also share these lessons to ensure the organization improves at each opportunity. KPIs are commonly used in work observations to analyze the reporting of hazardous conditions within a given timeframe. Software can analyze this data quickly to identify areas where organizations need to focus their efforts.
Minimizing the effort needed to enter observation data is also a key requirement of EHS software. It should allow users to replace manual processes with automated ones as much as practical, enabling greater efficiency. Mobile devices are particularly useful for making workplace observations, even when an internet connection isn't available. This capability requires the software to synchronize data on the user’s device with the online database.
Organizations that work with hazardous substances must track and report releases, discharges and environmental damage. The regulations governing these activities may derive from a variety of sources, including various governments, industry standards and the company's own policies. EHS software needs to handle all environmental incidents by ensuring compliance with regulations and other requirements, regardless of physical location.
The ability to track correspondence with regulators is vital to ensuring an organization is meeting legal requirements regarding environmental spills. Software must also keep accurate records of all incidents in the event the organization is ever audited. Analyzing this data can provide insight into spills, ensuring the organization can implement the necessary corrective action. For example, data analytics can identify people and processes that need improvement to prevent future spills. This capability includes the generation of aids like charts and graphs to visualize the data more effectively.
As with other areas of EHS, software should be able to reduce the burden of data entry, especially for people in operational roles. This benefit allows team members to focus on proactive measures for preventing future environmental spills rather than collecting data. The investigation of environmental spills takes place outside of the office, making mobile support an essential capability of EHS software.
Nonconformance management is the process of tracking and reporting problems related to regulatory compliance, generally for the purpose of fixing those problems. EHS software allows an organization to improve each time it takes corrective action. Best practices in this area include capturing the details of nonconformance, such as the identified problem, recommended actions, persons assigned to this task, due date and priority.
Tracking these action items to completion is also a requirement of nonconformance management, as it ensures that actions are taken as soon as practical. EHS software should also provide the transparency this process requires by offering a common register for corrective actions, automatic e-mails and a process for escalating unresolved issues. In addition, software must also ensure that an organization's nonconformance management meets local requirements, regardless of jurisdiction.
KPIs are a common tool for assessing reports and corrective actions on nonconformance, allowing them to be resolved within an acceptable time frame. It's particularly important that these issues not slip through the cracks for industries subject to unscheduled audits. The ability to visualize data is also important for identifying trends that indicate a need for improvement in people or processes.
This case study shows how an environmental services firm took the lead in a competitive industry by controlling data with a platform developed by Baytech Consulting. This custom enterprise-grade web application incorporates best practices like domain-driven design and OAuth2.
Costera Waste & Environmental Inc. is an environmental services contractor that manages projects requiring remediation efforts. It’s based in Orange County, California and has less than 10 employees. Costera’s overall mission is to guide customers in the process of addressing environmental concerns. The company provides consultations as well as the coordination and management of vendors who fulfill services for environmental projects. The founders have over 20 years’ combined experience and have established their reputation on the West Coast.
Costera specializes in managing the cleanup of hazardous or contaminated cleanup efforts, which typically begins when a client approaches Costera with an environmental concern. Costera then analyzes the client’s data and advises them on the most cost-effective way of remediating the problem. The company also provides transportation and disposal services, including operators and heavy equipment.
The founders of Costera had recently started their company and needed a platform to help them manage the operations of their unique industry if they wanted to continue growing. The company’s operations had reached the level of complexity where they needed to capture data like who was responsible for waste disposal and what equipment was needed. They wanted a platform that would capture all this data in a single location for accounting, invoicing and project management. The founders also needed a system that could quickly print government forms on hazardous waste forms and pay their vendors.
One software option was commercially available, but it was prohibitively expensive and didn’t follow Costera’s business process perfectly. For example, the company’s workflows wouldn’t be optimized, requiring Costera to develop its own solution to scale operations.
Costera engaged Baytech to handle all stages of the software’s development. Mike Bruno, Costera’s VP, checked local Yelp reviews of Baytech and a few other local companies. Bruno initially selected Baytech because it was the first to respond to his queries. He also found that Baytech’s team members had personalities that were compatible with his own. Bryan Reynolds and Jeff Skvorc, Baytech’s senior partners, communicated directly with Bruno to identify Costera’s requirements, understand its business and determine the best solution. They had a couple of face-to-face meetings at the beginning of the project, and continued to work with Reynolds, Skvorc or their developers.
Baytech’s team started development in July 2020 by using an iterative process to build the web application while continuing to gather requirements from Costera. This approach meant that Baytech could release the software at regular intervals and provide a demonstration of each release to create a feedback loop.
The end product exceeded the project’s original scope by including functionality to manage the following:
- Job estimates
- Accounts payable
The platform can also reconcile accounts and print the forms that the government requires to transport materials. Furthermore, it can match potential vendors with jobs based on their location and the services they provide.
Many of the tools used to develop the platform are open-source, which reduces costs and the possibility of vender lock-in. The web tools include Angular and Bootstrap. Angular is an open-source web framework, while Bootstrap is a front-end framework that includes tools for creating websites and web applications. Other frameworks used in development include .NET and Entity Framework (EF). .NET is an open-source, computer software framework, and EF is an open-source object–relational mapping (ORM) framework for .NET.
The platform needed virtual machines to achieve the required scalability, which involved the use of containerization tools like Kubernetes, Rancher and Docker. Kubernetes is an open-source container orchestration system that automates the deployment, scaling and management of software. Rancher is a management platform for Kubernetes, while Docker is a set of Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) products that use OS-level virtualization to deliver software in containers.
The final scope of the project was the development of a custom all-in-one multi-tenant solution, which began in July 2020. The development cost of the project was about $100,000, and Costera still works with Baytech’s developers, who provide ongoing support. The system has been running smoothly, allowing the company to successfully create thousands of jobs, invoices and quotes within a short period of time. Costera already had a strong presence on the West Coast, and it is now able to scale its operations to expand nationally.
Mike Bruno, Costera’s VP, reports that he is happy with Baytech Consulting’s results in developing the platform. He says that its services have consistently remained top-tier throughout the development process, allowing Costera to manage its projects in a highly organized manner. He adds that Baytech clearly communicates its availability and timelines. Bruno summarizes his experience with Baytech by saying, “Baytech’s ability to make the system come to life and make it easy to understand is impressive.”
Costera does about 600 jobs per year, which the platform keeps streamlined and organized. The company gets all job-related information from the platform because everything is one place. Otherwise, Costera would be tracking this information with Excel spreadsheets, according to Bruno. He adds that he is most impressed with the way Baytech has built a system from scratch that is so useful for his company. Bruno says, “[Baytech] has created a program from absolutely nothing to something that’s user-friendly and speaks our proprietary environmental service language.”
Companies specializing in the EHS sector have traditionally been the only users of this type of software. However, the growing awareness of environmental issues is causing organizations in other fields to adopt EHS software. The regulations that govern EHS activities are also becoming stricter, increasing the need for software to prevent compliance gaps from going unnoticed. The range of capabilities that this software can provide means that organizations often benefit from a custom-built EHS solution that accurately reflects their existing workflow.