AI-Powered Safety: Tech's Impact on EHS Compliance and Risk Management
Tom Raftery: Hi everyone. Welcome to the Digital Supply Chain podcast. My name is Tom Raftery, and with me on the show today, I have my special guest, Donovan.
Donovan, welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself? Donovan Hornsby: Hi Tom. Thanks for the opportunity. Appreciate it.
Donovan Hornsby here, I lead strategy and market efforts for Benchmark Gensuite. And for those of you that may not be familiar with us we provide cloud-based enterprise software to global corporations to support their environmental health and safety and sustainability programs. When I'm not doing that type of work, I spend time with my brilliant wife and three kids, not so little anymore out of the US in, in Charleston, South Carolina. Tom Raftery: Okay. And tell me a little bit about the, the company, Donovan. How long has it been around? Where is it based? How many employees, you know, what markets do you cover? That kind of stuff.
Donovan Hornsby: Sure. Yeah, happy to. Yeah, so Benchmark Gensuite. We've been around for, gosh, going on almost 25 years now. And I think probably more specifically the, for those of you that may not be familiar with environmental health and safety and sustainability efforts at these companies, you know, essentially what we're trying to do is to help companies that have made commitments to their employees, to the communities where they operate. Take those commitments and really operationalize them.
So what I mean by that is, you know, essentially all the folks that are going into work every day work at these plants. You know, these companies have commitments to make sure that all those folks go home safely and in one piece at the end of the day. And when it comes to environmental stewardship and sustainability, ensuring that these folks are going beyond compliance and being good stewards for the environment and communities where they operate.
So a lot of it's about risk identification and managing that risk appropriately. And that's not just within the four walls of their company, but also within their broader value chains and supply chains. And so we're, we're a global company. We are headquartered in the US but we have operations in I think nine countries now. So, you know, the folks that we support are global companies in many cases.
They have global footprints. They have, you know, plants and manufacturing operations all over the world. And so we have people also all over the world to ensure that they're successful. Tom Raftery: Okay.
And is there any industry in particular or are you kind of across the board? Donovan Hornsby: We are very much across the board. As you might guess, you know, when you think about, uh, risks related to environmental compliance, health and safety they are I think highest in, in certain industries, manufacturing, industrial. So obviously we're quite heavy in those areas, but we work across healthcare, pharmaceutical, life sciences pretty much, you know, very broad in terms of industry. Tom Raftery: Okay. And just as a quick 101, how does a company Figure out where the risks are within its organization and then go about reporting them Donovan Hornsby: Hmm. Yeah, that's, that's a, that's a big long question.
We could probably dedicate the entire time in time to that. Yeah. I mean, when you think about environmental health and safety, I mean, this is a dedicated function in most companies. And, and so when you think about risk and risk, physical risk to your employees, I mean, obviously folks are managing risk at an enterprise level, but what we're talking about here primarily is risk at the local level.
So if you take an organization, let's say that organization has, you know, a half dozen, plants or manufacturing facilities, or perhaps they have 200 manufacturing facilities. There's folks that are going into work every day. Maybe they're working a production line and they're interacting with heavy equipment perhaps, or maybe they're assembling some types of things.
So there are very real risks physical risks to the health and safety of those folks. You know, probably one of the number one incidents that will typically happen to workers are what they call muscular skeletal disorders, msds. And these are cases where somebody's just lifting boxes and working with, you know, various types of equipment and so you have injuries to this tissue and things like that. And so when it comes to identifying risks such as those health and safety risks, or when you're talking about environmental compliance risks, you know, these are cases where maybe somebody's doing some production and they're emitting greenhouse gases into the air. Perhaps they're discharging some wastewater.
There's always risks to being out of compliance with local regulations or federal regulations, but the real risks are, you know, to the workers themselves as well as to the environment where they might be doing those operations. And so, you know, risk identification you know, historically in the past has always been based off of, you know, these two pairs of eyes, when I'm walking around, I'm looking for things, you know, I'm looking at that person that might be working at heights and saying, you know, are they, do they have the proper safety equipment to ensure that they don't fall off that, you know, piece of scaffolding that they're on, or when they're working with piece of machinery, do they have the types of, you know, physical risk mitigators in place like machine guarding to make sure that they don't have their hand caught in that piece of machinery? And so historically, that's a lot of that risk identification has been done through you know, a pair of eyes walking around the plant. What's, what's happened over the past, you know, couple of decades now, is that we've introduced technologies that can assist folks. So no longer do you have to pin so much on people with that institutional knowledge, knowing what to look for, and we can embed in a lot of that institutional knowledge and capability into the technologies themselves, which is pretty remarkable now. Tom Raftery: Yeah, I was gonna say, . Because we're starting to see now technology, you know, cameras these days, they are of much higher quality than human eyes.
And with some AI behind them, is it possible to walk around a factory with a, some form of camera and have it identify risks? Donovan Hornsby: For sure. Yeah. And you don't even have to walk around with that camera.
You know, right now, I mean, we have a number of deployments we've done where we've partnered up with folks that, you know, spend more time on the hardware side of things. We spend more time on the, on the software side of things, but marry the two together and you can have, in actuality, you can actually make use of a lot of the cameras that already exist in manufacturing facilities right now and tie into those. And so they can be, you know, watching someone as they're working. and they can do things like recognizing whether or not they have the proper, what we call PPE or protective equipment in, in place. Are they wearing harnesses? Are they wearing safety glasses? All these types of things. And so through this computer vision like you, like you described there, I can identify those cases, alert them, and then notify someone you know, such as their supervisor or what have you, to let them know, Hey, guess what? We have, you know, a, a risk out there on the floor.
Someone needs to address it. And obviously the, the goal there is that we don't stop there because you don't wanna keep repeating that mistake over. How do you take those learnings and then factor them back into your learning management system so that folks moving forward are aware of these types of risks and can take the proper task to mitigate them. Tom Raftery: And are, are workers kind of annoyed that the computers are ratting them out? Donovan Hornsby: I suppose so, yeah. I mean there's, I mean there's a lot of, I mean, obviously there, you know, it's, it's a real concern obviously in, in Europe and places where there's, you know, very high degrees of privacy sensitivity and things like that. You know, there's obviously concern about that.
But the great thing about this technology is that you can actually you know, fuzz out the, the image of the person, their face, and so you can't recognize them. So, you know, they just look like objects on the screen at, at the end of the day. Tom Raftery: Okay, cool.
cool. And does this mean then that the rate of accidents is going down? Are workplaces is becoming safer? Donovan Hornsby: No, that's interesting. It's a, an important question.
Something that we as an industry have been wrestling with for a long time. You know, I. The data actually suggests that for several years now, the rate of what I would consider what industry considers minor incidents has been going down steadily over time.
What hasn't been going down, unfortunately, is the rate of significant incidents. These are cases where you have loss of limb, and these types of things, you know, very serious in injuries. And unfortunately what we've been doing for the past few decades hasn't been enough to to address that, and this is really why I think a lot of us are excited about the prospect of some of these advanced technologies like computer vision and others, because now you don't have to depend on just that one person that's been working in the plant for 30 years with an institutional knowledge to recognize these risks.
Now you can leverage advanced technologies like AI, computer vision, and others to identify not just what's happening in real time on the floor, but also identifying risks or what we call precursors. Things that could potentially become significant incidents. So you're getting ahead of the game and attacking those issues before they ever become a significant incident. So to answer your question, we've gotten good at the minors. We haven't been as good with the significance, but the hope is that here, with this advanced technology we can get there. Tom Raftery: Okay.
And. what is driving this? I mean, a lot of this is around compliance. I gotta think. I know, you know, companies want to be seen as safe places to work because that helps with recruitment, and retention obviously. But there's a lot of compliance issues here as well, right? I mean, a lot of it is driven by legislation too, no? Donovan Hornsby: Sure. Yeah, for sure.
Yeah, I mean, I think most of the companies we work with, I think there was a time and, and I think there's still probably companies that only care about compliance. But you know, at some point years ago. Some of the more we'll call 'em forward thinking folks that actually care about the, you know, truly care about the safety of their, their employees started looking to go beyond compliance because, you know, I may be com quote compliant, compliant with OSHA or the equivalent and, and you know, the other regulatory entities around the world. But compliant doesn't necessarily mean that you're gonna keep somebody from going home with a lost finger, at the end of the day.
And so I think compliance is not enough. In a lot of cases, certainly in a lot of jurisdictions compliance is, is definitely not enough. I mean, obviously, you know, in the US and in places in Europe, they're a little bit further ahead, but in some regions around the world, compliance is not gonna ensure that somebody's going home at the end of the day with all their body parts. So, I think the, ultimately folks want to get beyond compliance.
And, you know, you, you mentioned it's, you know, if I'm gonna send my son off to go work for a plant, I'm gonna wanna know that they're one of the safest places in the world to work, obviously. I care about him coming home. But I think a lot of companies that we work with have moved beyond compliance and, you know, despite, you know, the limitations there may be in some of those compliance schemes and things like that the regulatory landscape is now heating up. And it's also impacting the supply chain as well. There's, you know, regulations like the German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act, where now companies are responsible for digging into the supply chains to understand what's going on at those you know, as you look upstream in your manufacturing and you're looking to, to work with your component manufacturers and material manufacturers that are going in your finished products, you now have a responsibility in some jurisdictions to ensure that there are risk identification, risk mitigation plans in place in order to address these very real risks, not just within your own operations, but within your supply chain as well.
Tom Raftery: Okay. And those regulations are are increasing and in the EU and in the US I suspect there's, you gotta think, I mean, people always argue against regulation because they see it as an increased cost burden on businesses, you so for businesses, where does that kind of balance come out between spending more on keeping the workers safe and maybe spending a little less and, you know, keeping the costs down and being compliant. Donovan Hornsby: Yeah, that, that balance is something that we've, we always wrestle with. You know, I think , you know, there's always joke within industry that there's this thing they call the Brussels effect. And, you know, essentially it, it means that, , you know, all regulation kind of is born within the Europe and then it finds its way out into the other parts of the world.
We also, in US, we have the California effect. Essentially the same, the same principles. So whether it's coming outta Brussels or it's coming out of California, ultimately it's gonna find its way into your backyard. And, you know, the reality is the regulation drives a lot of this obviously. But I think a lot of folks don't realize that there's also market forces at work as well.
And so even if you don't have direct, regulatory obligations that you have to fulfill, your customers are gonna demand same of you ultimately, even if you don't have direct, because they might have direct regulatory obligations and they're gonna obviously push that into their supply chain as well. So, striking that balance, I mean, I think this is why folks have to go beyond compliance because ultimately you'll never, you're always trying to play catch up with the regulations. You're never gonna get there.
And so I think a lot of the more advanced, more pioneering companies are always trying to look ahead of this to see what can we do as a company, what can we do in terms of kind of a mission and programs and, you know, employee management systems. In order to ensure that no matter what happens in terms of regulation, we're gonna be one step ahead of the game. And I think if you put your employees first, employee safety is first. If you put the, the environmental stewardship of the communities and the areas where you work first, and those principles first, you're always gonna be ahead of regulation ultimately, but it is a balance and I think those that don't strike the right balance are gonna pay for it. And you hope they don't pay for it in terms of fines and penalties related to worker injuries or, you know, massive environmental disasters and things like that. But now, I mean, with CSRD and what you're seeing with a lot of the climate reporting and things.
You're now paying fines if you make claims on your website that you can't back up and, and validate through third party. And so the, the stakes are very real now, and the cost of non-compliance or even the, the cost of talking about things you can't back up has increased tremendously. Tom Raftery: Yeah, I was just gonna ask about that actually.
Greenwashing is the term that has kind of become quite common and quite used. It's come to the fore in the last few years. How do I know whether or not a company is greenwashing or in in a risk environment, you know, saying that their workers are more protected than they are? Donovan Hornsby: Yeah, that's a, that's a good question. And there's even, you know, this, this terrible trend that we're starting to see now too with certain companies where you know, it used to be that you have the more pioneering companies. They put out a bold statement.
You know, I think you have a, a sister podcast that you do around climates, and I'm sure you've covered this topic before, but it used to be that you had these more pioneering companies that would put out a commitment to net zero by 2030 or what have you. And you could do that and you could choose not to deliver on it. And it was fine, but you got the marketing benefit out of it for sure. Nowadays I think some companies, you're starting to hear about this.
Are now kind of pulling back on some of those claims they're making publicly and on their websites, because they don't wanna be a target for somebody digging into and trying to validate what they're doing. But I think your, your question, to answer your question, I think this is where the regulation comes in because with CSRD and I know within the US we have there's a proposed rule with the SEC that has not been finalized yet, but it's, you know, it's along the same lines as what the CSRD is doing when it comes to identifying, you know, climate related risks and mitigation and things like that, the level of detail that's required in this, in this reporting is pretty substantial. And it also now requires, as part of that obligation, third party validation. So now you have an independent third party that's supposed to come in, take a look at this, validate it. And this is really, you know, a lot of the work that we do.
This is where a lot of our work comes in, because ultimately, . . If you're gonna report to this level of detail around some of these very complicated things, you're gonna need a pretty robust data management system. And this is where we come in, you know, for 20 plus years now, we've been working with these companies and establishing these same, same types of principles. I mean, if you're gonna take a commitment that you're making publicly out there.
Drive that down into the operations and to be able to deliver on those commitments you're gonna have to have a, a management system in place. And by management system, I'm talking about connecting, you know, people with your processes and then ultimately using technology to help enable that connection. And so you're gonna need those types of data management systems in order, first of all to be able to track the data you're gonna need, but then also be able to connect the dots and then report that out to not just the regulatory reporting agencies out there. But also your customers, because ultimately, as I said before, if you don't have a regulatory obligation, your customers are still asking you for this. Or you have investors or other stakeholders are gonna ask you for the same type of information. So it still calls for a need for a robust system.
I mean, the, the scary thing is, Tom, is that there are still very large, sophisticated companies that are using spreadsheets to manage a lot of the data related to health and safety performance and compliance, as well as sustainability data. I think those days are, are numbered. I think all the regulatory intensity that you're seeing out there right now is driving folks to have more robust systems.
So you're gonna see this massive transition away from spreadsheets where it's still happening or even patchwork systems over into more robust unified systems like what, like what we provide. Tom Raftery: Okay. And with that, you know, increase in the amount of regulations that are out there, what kind of challenges is that posing for manufacturing organizations or you know, companies in general? Donovan Hornsby: Yeah, I think there's this, there's this challenge and we, you kind of touched on this earlier. If I have, if I'm a global company and I have operations in several different regions, like a lot of our customers do. I could go bankrupt if I were to take every single one of those pieces of legislation and ensure that my operations, my reporting mechanisms were able to produce and, and meet those obligations.
And this is really what pushes a lot of folks to kind of take a step back, identify what's that common thread that I'm seeing across all of those regions, all of those regulations, and say, okay, instead of building to this and this and this and this and all these other variations, let's build to this up here. And then we know inherently that we're gonna be able to deliver on those obligations that might be found in each of those regulations. And usually you know, a lot of folks don't recognize that right away. It's usually, I mean, the reality is a lot of folks are just fighting fires every single day. I mean, I'm sure you remember this from, from your days as well, within industry and such.
It's these folks, you know, they have very small teams obviously they're trying to work across different functional teams. You know, you're trying to get folks from procurement involved. You're trying to get folks from technology, sales. Everybody's a part of this equation, and if you only have a small team of folks trying to meet the different obligations of these different regions, you'll cripple yourself. And so you have to take a step back eventually.
And sometimes folks learn this the hard, painful way. And take a step back and say, you know, what is common through all these things and let's, let's work to that. Tom Raftery: Okay.
Do you have any kind of customer examples that you can speak to where, I don't know where you've had big wins or where your customers have had big wins off the back of this? Donovan Hornsby: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I think there's you maybe one example I can share. We have a, we have a company called Amphenol Corporation. They're a holding company, essentially primarily in electronics sector. And they have a whole bunch of different operating units that work, you know, globally. They also have a very big complex supply chain.
I mean, we're talking tens of thousands of, of players in their supply chain that are providing them components and circuit boards and all kinds of things that go into their finished products there. And so, you know, we started working with him probably about, I guess about six or seven years ago at this point. And maybe longer.
And you know, they had, because they had all of these different operating units, they had a unique challenge. You know, they didn't have kind of a, a single unified operating model, if you will. Their, basically their corporate function was having to you know, try to drive best practices across a bunch of autonomous operating units was, which is a huge challenge. And so we started working with them really just to try to help, you know, using technology to try to help unify what they're trying to do from a, from a program standpoint and to be able to engage. 'Cause a lot of this comes down to Tom, I didn't talk about this before, but whether you're talking about what's happening within your operations or you're talking about what's happening within your supply chain, it comes down to really good solid engagement.
And so if I wanna make sure that, you know, I'm delivering all my commitments to my workers from a health and safety standpoint, I wanna be able to engage every single one of those people in my manufacturing facilities, in, in what I'm trying to do. 'cause it's an enterprise problem. It's not, you know, unique to just a small group of people. You have to have everybody as we say on the shop floor, engage with what you're trying to do because if it fails on the shop floor, it's gonna fail ultimately for you at the corporate level.
And so, you know, when, when I talk about Amphenol, it's, it's a good example because they're trying to drive standardization across a bunch of autonomous operating units. And then when you look at the, with the supply chain, it's the same issue. If I want to improve the performance of my, the, the suppliers of my supply chain, I have to be able to engage them effectively. And it can't be in terms of cost in building to a spec, it's gotta be, you know, let's take, let's take a step back.
We're trying to accomplish this from a sustainability standpoint. You also could benefit tremendously from, you know, building some of these best practices and some of what you do. Let's work together on this.
And this can benefit both of us, but it also can open up doors for you to other, other markets and other customers within the market. And so that level of engagement is huge and that's really what we've been trying to help you know, Amphenol as an example with 'cause when you're gonna cross tens of thousands of suppliers, the challenge is pretty enormous. But this is, this is where robust cloud-based systems come in.
You know, you're basically taking the work of spreadsheets and emails and consolidating that into something that's more automated. So that the people can work on more strategic things and then the, the tools and the background that, that we're working on can help automate and kind of work in the background on your behalf. So that's, that's probably one of the best examples. I mean, that's an example where I think they had probably 50,000 suppliers in the supply chain that were focusing on. And they're trying to do everything from trying to, to deploy a new supplier code of conduct, but then also working on very real issues like conflict minerals, human trafficking, you know, these are very real things that are impacting procurement teams right now. And how do you engage suppliers and what, and doing what you're trying to do when you have so many of them.
That's really where the robust management systems come into play. Tom Raftery: Interesting and, where is all this going, Donovan? I mean, we've talked about, we've talked about, you know, AI is helping out there, and AI is, AI is helping out everywhere now, it seems. But, and then computer vision particularly. We've talked about increasing regulations. Well, where, where is all this going in though in general, in the, the whole EHS space? What's coming down the line that people may not be aware of? What's, what's next? Donovan Hornsby: Hmm. Yeah, and I think once, you know, I think what would happen probably about three years ago, you, you may have seen this as well.
You know, these, these concepts, when you take a look at ESG, Environmental, Social and Governance, I know that's become a highly politicized acronym at this point. I hesitate to even use it. But the reality is, you know, those of us that have been working in the environmental health and safety EHS and sustainability space for a couple of decades now, these, these concepts are not new to us.
We've been working on sustainability for a very, very long time. I think what's been interesting over the past three years, for the EHS and sustainability function specifically, these are the folks that we work with day in and day out, is that they now, are really the, the champions, the quarterbacks, if you will, for broader ESG efforts within their companies. Because if you look at that umbrella that is ESG, and you're looking at the environmental aspect, you're looking at the social aspect, which includes supply chain and safety and these other issues, governance issues. Probably 75 to 85, 90% of that umbrella is really owned by the EHS and sustainability functions within organizations.
And so it's been tremendous because in historically EHS and sustainability, in some cases have been considered a cost center for organizations. And now they are at the seat, you know, they have a seat at the table they never had used to have a seat at. And they're now quarterbacking these efforts and these efforts, you know, it's not about just compliance again, going back to our earlier part of the conversation. There's huge opportunity here.
You know, if, if, you know, I may be required from a regulatory standpoint to report on emissions, what's that really doing for me? Well, it's, it's really helping me take a very deep look at my operations and identifying opportunities where I can become more efficient. You know, whether it comes to energy use, water use, what have you. And that's real dollars. That's real dollars that you can spend elsewhere within your organization. So maybe that new piece of equipment that was gonna cost you a million dollars to put in this plant to New Hampshire, now you suddenly have the money for it because you've instituted these best practices that are helping you reduce emissions, but it's also freeing up capital for other things. So I think when I look out ahead to what this means for the EHS and sustainability functions in companies in general.
I think there's, there's always this, and we've seen this historically, there's all this ringing of hands and, and fighting over a lot of the regulation and compliance, but in many cases, this forces folks, forces companies to, to think differently about how they run their operations. And to build sustainability into what they're doing every day. I mean, we for 20 years have been helping companies build a culture around safety, and I think we've been successful with that.
Really, I think the next phase of this is really building a culture around sustainability, building a sustainability culture within the organizations. Sustainability and I know you've seen this in your, in your years and working in the industry, sustainability was kind of always afterthought. It was a kind of a marketing exercise for a lot of companies. But what I think this is doing is it's, it's being used as a forcing function now to have organizations build sustainability into what they do every day.
And I think it's gonna open up tremendous opportunities for folks. The world of Van Vex technology is gonna help with this because, you know, . Obviously there's all this fear. I mean, my son and my daughter who are both either in college or headed to college soon, love ChatGPT because it means they're gonna be able to write papers that they can't stand writing a lot more faster than they have it in the past. And maybe dad won't have to do all the proofreading that he had to do in the past as well. So, you know, there's, there's very, I think very, you know, kinda real practical benefits to some of the AI work out there, but . And I think there's some fear that it's going to, you know, end up displacing a lot of workers and things like that.
But the reality is I think it's gonna be doing a lot of things that we were never doing in the first place and never had the capacity do to do in the first place. Tom Raftery: Yeah. Or it helps us be more productive.
I, I mean, is the main thing I, I know just from doing these podcasts, I'm able to output far more work from the podcasts now. You know, I, I now output them in audio and video just because AI helps me to do that. You know, and, and I output a lot more stuff just off the back of having AI help you know, otherwise I'd need a team of people with me to do all this and Donovan Hornsby: Exactly, Tom Raftery: so.
Donovan Hornsby: exactly. Tom Raftery: We're coming towards the end of the podcast now, Donovan, is there any question I haven't asked that you wish I had or any aspect that we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to think about? Donovan Hornsby: Yeah, we've, we've covered a lot. Yeah. Perhaps one, one question that we often get, and maybe I can ask on your behalf here, is I think a lot of times there's this misconception in industry that technology, um, like this, like, like systems, software systems like we provide or some of the AI and things like that that we talked about before are really only the purview or maybe limited to big companies with deep pockets and a lot of resources, things like that. And I think that is what's changed over the past, I would say 10 years.
You know, the great majority, I mean, we, we support probably 20% of the Fortune 500. But that's a small portion of our customer base. Actually, the biggest majority of our customers are folks that are, you know, anywhere from 500 million in revenue to, let's say 5 billion in revenue. So these are, you know, smaller organizations. The reality is that these systems, this type type of technology is accessible to all these companies. You know, these are the companies I mentioned before.
They're using spreadsheets to manage a lot of this. I mean, if, if you can invest. You know, a small amount of money and, you know, move yourself away from spreadsheets and know that this system's gonna be able, and this technology's gonna be help you identify risks that's gonna prevent, you know, a lot more money in terms of, of, you know, potentially terrible outcomes. Then I think it's a worthwhile investment. So I think that's probably one of the messages I wanted to share with folks is that this is very much affordable.
It's very much accessible to to smaller companies that may have felt in the past that this was something limited to the large resource companies that are out there. Tom Raftery: Cool, cool. Donovan, that's been fascinating. If people would like to know more about yourself or any of the things we discussed in the podcast today, where would you have me direct them? Donovan Hornsby: Sure. Yeah, I guess, and I can forward you a link to our website, benchmark gen suite.com.
And then I think one thing that might be interesting too, Tom, was we, we host a lot of webinars informational webinars, and so maybe I can share with you a couple of links to some of those that kind of take some of these concepts that we've been talking about and kind of drill in and take a look at specific case studies. I think that might be helpful to folks, so I'll, I'll share that with you afterwards. Tom Raftery: I shoot them across to me.
I'll put them in the show notes and that way everyone will have access to 'em. Cool. Great. Donovan, that's been fascinating. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today. Donovan Hornsby: Thanks Tom.
Appreciate the opportunity.