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The Evolution of Safety at Smith & Nephew: From Spreadsheets to Software and Beyond

Sandy Smith

Billy Powell, regional director of Health and Safety – North America, for medical device and product company Smith & Nephew, has used technology and his passion for EHS to transform safety at the company.

(Adapted from the webinar, "Tackling the Evolution of Your EHS Program," in which Powell explained how Smith & Nephew evolved its EHS management system.)

To understand why safety is a passion for Smith & Nephew’s Billy Powell, regional director of Health and Safety – North America, you must look back to a day over 20 years ago. It’s a day that changed both his personal life and his professional.

On Oct. 17, 1997. Powell was a supervisor at a Mohawk flooring manufacturing facility in Dalton, Ga. He received phone call that his 3-year-old son had fallen from a battery-operated 4-wheeler and had hit his head on the concrete.

The diagnosis wasn’t good; Powell’s son had received a major head injury that resulted in a ruptured blood vessel in his brain. It was a traumatic situation for Powell and his family. His three-year-old son had to go into immediate brain surgery. He suffered from short-term memory issues and had seizures until he was 13.

Skip ahead 22 years and Powell’s son is a healthy 25-year-old father.

“All that being stated, I could have avoided that whole situation,” Powell now says, “I could have purchased a helmet. I didn’t purchase a helmet when I bought the 4-wheeler. Wasn’t even in my line of sight.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t let this happen again. I became obsessed with risk reduction and elimination and this was the beginning of my EHS career. I redirected my focus to learn all I could about environment, health and safety.”

Powell decided to take the safety techniques he was learning and apply them as part of his role as a manufacturing supervisor. “I was leading my team to success in EHS,” says Powell. “The results we got, which were phenomenal, caught senior management’s attention [and they asked] Can you apply this not only to the two facilities you have but the 47 facilities in North America?”

It was at that moment that Powell’s career path changed. “I took on the responsibility to apply this across North American and let me tell you, it worked. I was watching people’s lives be changed.” I

n the webinar, Tackling the Evolution of Your EHS Program, Powell explained how Smith & Nephew evolved its EHS management system.

A 180-Degree Change Leads to Greater Safety Success

Four years ago, Powell left Mohawk for a position at Smith & Nephew. From carpet manufacturing to the manufacture of advanced surgical devices, Powell experienced a 180-dagree change, an opportunity “to try those EHS techniques in a totally new industry.”

After assessing Smith and Nephew’s EHS program, Powell realized the company was stronger in the environmental arena than health and safety. Powell decided to focus on health and safety. As he got to know the company and its EHS programs, he realized several things:

  • Management commitment was inconsistent.
  • The safety program’s policies and procedures were inconsistent. 
  • Accountability at all levels needed attention.
  • Employee involvement, empowerment and engagement was almost non-existent.
  • Hazard identification and controls had gaps.
  • Incident/accident investigation was very entry level.
  • Education and training was only hitting the high points.


One of the things Powell brought with him from Mohawk as his appreciation for software offered by Intelex Technologies.

“I had utilized EHS software for many years at Mowhawk, [so] I had a good feeling about the benefits I could receive from it,” says Powell. “I knew that installing that software was one of the first actions that I had to put in place at Smith and Nephew Memphis to get the execution [of the EHS management system] on track. The software was instrumental to the success that I’ve experienced at both companies.”

“The better we are at true enterprise management systems supported by tools like ours, the better we are at helping our clients understand problems or issues that they may not even know exist in their management system,” adds Scott Gaddis, Vice President and Global Practice Leader - Safety and Health at Intelex Technologies Inc., “and that gives them the information they need to drive to a solution before loss is experienced.”

Powell knew that there were opportunities for improvement in the EHS management system at Smith & Nephew. “We had to hit the ground running, we had to be efficient and we didn’t have a whole lot of time to turn this around,” he says. “I knew the benefits of having a gatekeeping system. I knew there were lot of opportunities that would go in my favor if I had a good gatekeeping system in place.”

Gatekeeping System to Track EHS Program

When choosing a gatekeeping or safety management system to track EHS success, Powell suggested keeping these priorities in mind:

1. Save time – “We knew our EHS teams spend way too much time on administrative tasks. We knew that putting a gatekeeping system in place would address that,” he says.

2. Cost – “We knew that cost was something we really had to keep in mind as well. With a software package like what we put in, we knew without a doubt it was going to improve employee productivity,” says Powell. The cost of the software was offset by the increased productivity and reduced costs associated with reduced injuries and illnesses.

3. Streamline reporting – “One of the most time-consuming activities for an EHS professional,” he admits. “This software that we put in place saves time and allows us to create nice-looking reports. In the past, people would pull up excel spreadsheets and so forth.” Using spreadsheets was complex and time-consuming, he says, and didn’t provide real-time updates or automated reporting. “We knew reporting was easy with a gatekeeping system,” he says.

4. Transparency – Software allows for real-time reporting, tracking and trending. A click of a button can pull up useful dashboards that provide data from across the business and multiple facilities, not just a single facility.

5. Working on the go – Mobile apps mean the software and technology goes where you go.

6. Improving performance – If you can’t track it, you can’t change it. Real-time reporting and tracking means EHS professionals and systems can respond quickly and agilely to workforce changes, production changes, safety challenges, etc.

7. Connecting employees – Bulletins distributed through the software update employees about safety challenges or changes to work, increasing engagement and awareness about EHS. Employees also can be alerted to company news, be provided with updates and upgrades to software, be alerted when certifications need to be renewed or PPE needs to be exchanged, etc.

8. Being able to leverage system intelligence – By gathering data from across multiple facilities, EHS professionals can track trends, understand what’s working and what’s not and strategically plan for system improvements.

9. Standardizing and centralizing – All data collected can be standardized and kept in a secure, centralized location, available to anyone with access.

10. Reduce risk – Smith & Nephew is able to identify and proactively mitigate risk across their entire range of business activities and geographical locations, ensuring that risks and their corrective actions are not managed in isolation. The company tracks and evaluates its risk mitigation performance by ensuring corrective and preventative actions (CAPAs) are carried out in a timely and effective manner.

“We knew we would benefit from applying a gatekeeping system and it would help us get our arms around all the opportunities above,” says Powell.

What Processes Were Developed?

Powell notes that an EHS management program must balance the following critical elements to produce positive results. Each critical element had to be assessed for gaps.

  • Management commitment – “We had to go in and do a gap analysis. Where were we with our commitment? You have to have a well-structured layout with commitment from senior management to get this off the ground,” says Powell.
  • Safety programs, policies and procedures - You must have safety programs, policies and procedures in place “because if your team doesn’t know what’s expected of them, then you’re not going to make progress and you won’t be able to pull in the next element, which is accountability,” he says.
  • Accountability – If an employee, supervisor or even corporate leader doesn’t know what to do or how to do it, you can’t hold them accountable. EHS professionals must pull in accountability at all levels and must make sure they have buy in, according to Powell.
  • Employee involvement, empowerment and engagement – “There’s so many professionals out there in the EHS environment who are struggling because we don’t balance the technical piece with the behavior piece, which highlights employee involvement empowerment and engagement. If you don’t balance the two and all you have is the technical piece and not the behavioral piece, you’ll never reach that pinnacle point of safety success,” says Powell.
  • Hazard identification and control, incident and accident investigation and education and training – “These were all areas we had to put process controls in place to make sure we could achieve and set the foundation where it needed to be so we could have success,” he adds.


Communicating Structured Process to Workers

When Powell joined Smith & Nephew Memphis, he walked into a situation that many in the EHS field face: A company that had done things the same way for many years. In the case of Smith & Nephew, employees and managers questioned the need to do things differently.

Communication: It was critical that the plan of action was communicated effectively and efficiently. Powell held several meetings with employees and managers. “It’s easier to communicate our vision via open team meetings, encouraging team members to open up regarding the plan of action, making sure we had buy-in,” he says.

He communicated via emails so that the key stakeholders had all the information they needed to understand the new process so they could help sell it. Finally, he held one-on-one meetings with team members and those in management who didn’t understand why the company was investing in a new process and technology platform.

The open communication created a receptive atmosphere that avoided any kind of tension, and training was tailored towards communicating the process.

Confidence and seriousness: If you’re not confident in the process and you’re not seen as being serious about its implementation, you’re already missing some critical pieces before you get out of the gate, says Powell.

Use visuals: Powell placed strategic info around the facility, using bulletin boards and digital monitors. He wanted to make sure he reinforced the message and how they were going to do it.

Change Management

There’s more to change than just covering the fundamentals. The emphasis on communication at Smith & Nephew Memphis allowed Powell to understand what was working and what wasn’t working. What parts of the process employees understood and what they didn’t understand. Or as Powell puts it: “What’s flowing and what’s hit a brick wall.”

At both companies – Mohawk and Smith & Nephew Memphis – Powell made it a priority to go out and get a pulse check. At Smith & Nephew, he held four employee roundtables and plant-wide townhalls. His goal was to determine if employees were really comprehending the change process.

“We think we’re at this level but are we at this level?” he asks. Too often, there is a divide between what employees think about the EHS process and programs and how management perceives their efficacy. At Smith & Nephew Memphis, Powell conducts an EHS survey once a year. “Any time you detect a disconnect,” he says, “the EHS management system is going to suffer.”

Intelex’s Scott Gaddis notes, “Change management is a critical key to success. Timelines are tight and designing a system by committee really slows implementation.”

If a company wants success, he suggests they do what Powell did at Smith & Nephew Memphis: Promote the idea with the right balance of stakeholder influencers and taking feedback from frontline workers increases employee partnership in the long run.

“Don’t try to do everything at once,” Gaddis counsels. “Be realistic about timelines and use a phased approach. Phased rollouts build confidence with fewer modules at a time to really create momentum around accomplishments.”

The Use of EHSQ Software and Technology

In order to succeed, Smith & Nephew’s management system had to be built on a foundation of technology. As Powell acknowledges, “The old way of using filing cabinets and excel spreadsheets was a thing of the past.”

By the way, that’s the way the safety management system was being tracked when he got to Smith & Nephew. “Right from the start, I knew I was going restructure a lot of the process, beginning with incident and accident investigation,” he says.

Intelex EHS Incident Reporting and Management Software - Powell needed something to help him capture, track, investigate and report all near misses and incidents, including illnesses, spills, property damage and vehicles incidents. The Intelex incident module was a perfect fit for that.

Intelex Document Control Software - He also knew Intelex software could help him with developing new policies and programs. “I knew I was going to need help with document control and storing all that safety and environment documents in one secure, centralized location was going to be critical,” says Powell, adding, “Implementing a consistent document control process was very, very important and the Intelex document control module helped us with that.”

Intelex Occupational Injury and Illness Reporting Software - The intelex occupational injury and illness module allows Smith & Nephew Memphis to easily produce the appropriate illness and injury reports while ensuring worry-free compliance with OSHA and other regulatory agencies.

“We all hope to go each day without an injury but if we encounter an injury, we need to have a process in place to make sure it’s handled correctly. We were able to effectively report the progress of each injury from start to finish and eliminate duplicate entries,” says Powell, who adds his team is able to spend more time inputting data and improving organizational efficiencies.

Permits Management Software – The Smith & Nephew environmental program handled a lot of permit activity and Powell knew they were going to need help controlling their permits. “The permit management software intelex has… We were able to put this into their central database process to manage track and report all permits and related activities,” says Powell. “This gave us more time to execute the program and not have to worry about the pieces that were going to bog us down.”

Dashboards – Dashboards allowed Powell and his team to display information in charts and graphs. The days of the old excel spreadsheets is a thing of the past.

“I had everything at my fingertips, supervisors had everything at their fingertips, managers had everything at their fingertips to the point where we could see what was happening in real time,” says Powell.

Real EHS Results

When Powell started at Smith & Nephew Memphis, the total recordable rate was 1.50. By the close of the 2018 campaign, they were at a .23.

Powell offers this advice for EHS professionals hoping to improve their safety management program:

  • Make sure you have management commitment.
  • Have safety programs policies and procedures in place so people know what’s expected of them.
  • Have a process in place to hold people accountable at all levels.
  • Make sure employee involvement, empowerment and engagement is an active piece of process.
  • Ensure you have good hazard identification and control in place.
  • Good incident and accident investigation is a foundation of a safety management program.
  • Educate and train your workforce.
  • Continually driving towards improvement.


“If you’re sure each of the critical elements is running at the top level, you’re going to have success,” says Powell.

Scott Gaddis has been an EHS professional for nearly 30 years. “The better my EHS process was at reaching down into the organization and capturing employee value at the front line, the better EHS success was actualized,” he says.

Gaddis notes an example of reaching down into the organization using technology is Intelex’s dedicated group of content writers who help clients with something as simple as a mobile application that sends short bulletins to employees at client sites to make them aware of hazards, to teach them about work changes and even warn them about new hazards.

“The platform is flexible, highly configurable and it meshes well with a myriad of management systems, which many of our clients desire. We really stand apart by how we want to engage with our clients through a platform that encourages employee participation, gaining new partnerships so that employees own a big part of the EHS system,” he says.

When it comes to technology moving forward, says Gaddis, companies like Smith & Nephew Memphis have a lot to look forward to. “Industry 4.0 is becoming normalized in our thinking. The next evolutionary step in manufacturing is understanding a real-time data collection, benchmarking analysis, this whole concept of the connected worker via wearables and sensors. We’re only beginning to scratch the surface.”

“The rate of change is getting faster and faster,” says Gaddis, “and it’s never going to be as slow as it is today.”

July 26, 2019 @ 12:28 PM EDT Manufacturing Health & Safety, Operations

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