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(*) EHS&S: Environment, Health, Safety & Sustainability
Blockchain is, according to experts, the most outstanding emerging technology since the creation of the Internet; one of the most recent technologies expected to lead a real disruption in our lifes, from directors roles at any industry, to politicians or any human being with no exception.
Far from trying to provide comprehensive knowledge about this technology (which I´m not prepared to provide, by the way), this article is a visualisation exercise on how the application of blockchain -as it´s being explained by experts- can influence on safety and health, environment, sustainability and related fields (quality, CSR,…) from technical to managerial/decision-making tiers among organisations.
To do so, what we need to know about blockchain is that it´s all about a tool, a technology relating to data record, indexation, storage and retrieval. Thus, nothing to do with the contents of the information itself. Its main strengths reside in the characteristics provided by the system itself[2,3]:
- Reliability. Each data is incorporated to a distributed database, of which each user keeps a copy;
- Traceability. Each incorporated data is referenced with an unique chronological identifier. The uploaded information can´t be modified, but further updates can be recorded (akin to a version system), duly identified;
- Transparency. The stored information remains open to public access and examination, while the privacy of involved parties (people and organisations) is guaranteed.
Influence of Blockchain on organisational EHS&S management
With this transparency, public scrutiny-based approach in mind, disruptive impacts among many professional and industrial sectors may reasonably be expected. Experts point out that, in this context, “each and every intermediate tasks without any additional valuable contribution will disappear”. Sectors and functions like notary, banking entities, registrars or customs and operational procedures in transport are referred in the bibliography below.
Will this system have an impact on the EHS&S performance among professionals, businesses and other organisations? Taking into account the experts´ opinions on its influence on managerial roles, the answer is yes.
Let´s go further, and analise the convergence between what experts say on blockchain and the characteristics of EHS&S management (and management systems) in the organisations:
- Do management and management systems require documented information (documents)? Yes, manuals, procedures, instructions, forms, dossiers,… and, a key item: records that must be kept as evidence of the system´s running;
- Must this documented information be realiable? Of course, yes;
- Be kept safely? Yes;
- Be traceable? Yes;
- Be available for public scrutiny? Yes, think e.g. in audits and other mandatory OSH and environmental inspections, or the open access (transparency) to corporate information that characterises the sustainability and CSR schemes.
The ultimate question is: should blockchain improve the reliability, conservation, traceability, transparency of a management system´s documented information. The point in common between both seems clear. The answer is Yes.
Take the case of a company, fully-blockchain-technology-driven. Once created any record of inspection, report, delivery note, test, etcetera, the document´s owner should upload it to the blockchain system, adding an unique, permanent, unalterable identifier. Documents modification is not possible.
In such highest traceability scenario, rigour must also be maximum. End to false data in forms, data´s modification in existing records or even most sophisticated techniques like retouch files with advanced graphic editors.
Auditors in particular face interesting possibilities, namely when it comes to samples´s validity and the robustness of evidences observed during audit processes.
Threatened organisations and processes
The most obvious threats arise here to those companies -they indeed exist- looking to suspicious practices as those described above. It will be pointless.
Facing the impossibility to show traceability or rigour in their processes, some organisations will try to delay the implementation of the technology as much as posible, thus squeezing the traditional means. This option may avoid some non-conformity in an audit or dodge/minimise any administrative penalty but, ignoring a technology will bring long-term loss of perceived trust and certainty in the way of doing thinks and, finally, loss of competitiveness and business decay.
Another group of threatened organisations or processes are those which, within their own management system´s scrutiny procedures, act as verification bodies with no additional value to the product itself or the management system. This is namely the case of the validation systems based on the recognition provided by the mere publication of client´s information among a communication infrastructure, with no audit, review or improvement proposals… “each and every intermediate tasks without any additional valuable contribution will disappear”
This is e.g. the case of the Global Reporting Initiative´s (GRI) Sustainability Disclosure Database. The transparency (public scrutiny), reliability (info´s accuracy) and traceability (date of publication) provided nowadays by the disclosure of client´s Sustainability Reports in the GRI site, could meet an effective substitute in the blockchain technology. More locally, a similar situation faces in Aragon e.g. the RSA scheme (Aragonese Social Responsibility) and its open-access data base to retrieve all the CSR reports and questionnaires prepared by professionals and organisations involved in this scheme.
As with the companies dodging the adoption of emerging technologies, so with those professionals which will decide not to learn and train command enough to deal with the blockchain-related tools that will increasingly appear. The fate of these people is the professional obsolescence for not adapt to such a basic requirement as the duly day-to-day management of information in the referred fields of OSH, environment and related fields.
The difference between facing a threat of enjoying an opportunity relies frequently on the attitude taken before the issue. This is the case described in this article.
The mentioned blockchain approach rises a challenge. How we face the challenge will make it a threat -as aforementioned- or an opportunity.
In the face of those organisations and professionals which will choose to cheat, avoid or do nothing as much as they can, another will be which will immediately follow the issue up and, eventually, master the blockchain-linked skills and apply it as soon as possible.
If you have reached this point of the article, congratulations, may you be in your way to build a strength that will make a sound difference among your competitors.