The Paris-based EPC Groupe is a world leader in the commercial explosive and blasting sector, producing over 145,000 tonnes of explosive every year for use in demolition, defence and quarry blasting.
Dealing with 'high consequence dangerous goods', EPC's business processes and quality control must meet the strictest levels of safety and compliance.
EPC-UK selected a range of Qualsys's software modules to build an integrated quality management system and drive continuous improvement in one of the world's most dangerous industries.
Business Standards Manager Diane Cartledge and Office Supervisor Louise Lord discuss their journey to an electronic quality solution, and how Qualsys's system has impacted their business since they went live.
Read the interview below.
Qualsys: Could you start by explaining what standards and regulations a company like EPC has to work to? You deal with potentially incredibly dangerous goods - how do you comply?
Louise: As a business, we have a variety of accreditations and standards that we adhere to, largely due to some of the risks that our business has. So therefore we have standards related to quality, health and safety, the environment and information security - but one of our biggest focuses as a business is safety. So lots of our other standards link into that.
Qualsys: How do you approach quality?
Diane: Our biggest standard is actually health and safety. Yes, we have quality, that's the basis for everything. But we deal with high consequence dangerous goods, and safety is through our core.
Louise: We have a very strong culture of safety across the whole business. That means a lot of our documentation, paperwork and day-to-day activities have to lead themselves to good processes and efficient processes.
EPC-UK supplies commercial explosives for demolitions,
quarry blasting, defence and more
Qualsys: What's your biggest business challenge?
Louise: I think as a business we are quite separate in our streams of business across the UK and across the Groupe. Therefore there's an awful lot of information coming from a lot of different parties which needs to feed into one system effectively.
Diane: Our people are spread wide. Although we have two main offices, probably only a third or a half of our staff work there. Everyone else is far flung, so we need to have communication with people far and wide, making sure they receive our communications but can also report things in so we have immediate access.
We have a very strong culture of safety across the whole business. That means our documentation, paperwork and day-to-day activities have to lead themselves to good processes and efficient processes.
- Louise Lord, Office Supervisor
Qualsys: How were you managing quality before you found Qualsys?
Diane: We had Q-Pulse. And that was very well embedded and very well used. The remainder of the business used a little bit of Q-Pulse here and there if they worked in the main offices, but mainly it was paper. Phone calls and paper. We'd send something out, and if it wasn't signed and returned straight away, we were stuck. We couldn't prove what we'd done. Endangering our standards.
Working with high consequence dangerous goods makes quality
and safety management of paramount importance for EPC
Qualsys: So how did the project to find a new software solution begin?
Diane: So about five years ago, we got a new M.D., and I got a new job. I used to work at Bramble Island [EPC's Essex site] and I introduced Q-Pulse there. I was responsible for making sure everyone across the site worked to the same standards and they used Q-Pulse to do it.
Then I got a new job as UK Business Standards Manager, and my job was to make sure everyone across the whole country worked to the same standards. So I got the task of deciding: should we expand Q-Pulse, or should we look for something else?
It was decided to look for something else - Q-Pulse didn't quite fit what we needed it for across the entire business, and we wanted to start again and get everybody's input. So I started looking around.
Qualsys: And what were you looking for?
Diane: We needed something for people that didn't have a huge amount of experience with computers, but which could also support people who did. Q-Pulse didn't give that. It was configured five years in the past for us.
'Team spirit' is a guiding EPC principle - so Diane wanted a system which could support collaborative use from everyone in the business
Qualsys: How did you find the search?
Diane: We started with a different product. I hadn't got as far as Qualsys and EQMS by then, and we actually started down the road with another provider. We were four months into our training and it was clear it was never going to fit. Although it looked like it on paper, it didn't tick all the boxes when it came to the crunch. So we started again.
Qualsys: How did you find us?
Diane: We found it on the web. Started talking to people. Got a good vibe. Everyone was really helpful and said it could deliver. But we were more stringent this time. It wasn't just me looking, there were lots of layers of people looking right up to senior management. We must've had ten meetings with Qualsys to make sure, after being bitten once and it hadn't worked, that this was going to work and that it did tick the boxes all the others hadn't and it would do the things we needed it to.
So we configured it and we've now got a compliant solution. We're just on the verge of taking all our training data from our old system, the only part of Q-Pulse we've still got, and moving it over into EQMS. I can't fault the help and support we've got to do that.
I'm one of those... technophobes, if you like. I'm just not the best at it, I do what I need to do - but I helped configure this. That was huge for me. So we didn't need IT. We have got a couple of IT people on the project, but we didn't need them. Once you'd shown us what to do, we could go in the background and configure what we wanted. We have our own metadata fields and we can make things how we want them. So it's not just an out-of-the-box, it's an out-of-the-box that's customised for us. And that's huge as well.
EPC-UK are rolling out Qualsys' training management module to control and coordinate the professional development of the entire workforce
Qualsys: So how is our software used at EPC?
Louise: Everyone has a login for EQMS. We encourage them to raise actions whenever they can in their day-to-day activities. They use it on their mobiles, on their computers, and they can even give instructions verbally for someone else to put it on for them. We really want everyone, no matter where they're working, to be involved in the using of the system.
It gives us real-time reporting and real-time documentation, and we use it day-to-day to make sure we've got the right information at the right times.
I'm one of those... technophobes, if you like. But I helped configure this. That was huge for me. EQMS is not just an out-of-the-box, it's an out-of-the-box that's customised for us. And that's huge as well.
- Diane Cartledge, Business Standards Manager
Qualsys: Which modules do you use?
Louise: Action Manager is really important for us from lots of perspectives, especially safety. People are using it to report near-misses, incidents and accidents, and so forth.
Diane: We've configured it so that when you go into a meeting, you put the agenda points in first, then with the workflow we can just add an action, add an action. In the meeting, you type it straight in, then as soon as you've finished, press the button and everyone has their actions straight away. No need for notes!
Louise: There's a few KPIs we've been using, one of which is the number of near misses being reported and the amount of reporting being done. Certainly in the last year, there's been an increase in the amount being reported. That doesn't mean there's more incidents, it just means people are more aware there's a system they can now use and therefore they are giving information forward. Of course, the more actions that go onto the system, the more we're learning, we're moving and we're trying to make places safer and more efficient.
Diane: I did more training yesterday for three guys that had become supervisors who were based in the depths of Devon. Two years ago, before we had EQMS, they wouldn't have been engaged as they were yesterday. They asked me to go and train them. They want to learn. They don't want the stick anymore or the disk anymore that has the procedures on which are forever out of date. Or the piece of paper they had. Our trucks had folders in the front - we were forever trying to update 33 trucks, our drill rigs, the guys out there working all day. It's much easier if they've got tablets or laptops.
Updating ever-changing quality procedures for all 33 EPC-UK vehicles was a time-heavy and inefficient task - so Diane implemented Qualsys's mobile applications to keep workers constantly up-to-date
Two years ago, before we had EQMS, our supervisors wouldn't have been engaged as they were yesterday. They asked me to go and train them. They want to learn. They don't want the stick anymore or the disk anymore that has the procedures on which are forever out of date.
- Diane Cartledge, Business Standards Manager
Louise: Certainly, EQMS brings a lot of different aspects of our quality management and safety and everything else together. It also allows our sites to use the same system in the same way, which means our ability to get data out, report and move forward is much easier.
Diane: It certainly helps everyone do what they need to do. It gives us good reporting to ensure we don't make mistakes again. For me, it's peace of mind that everyone has everything they need to do their job. They have the tools in one place - and it is in one place. One of our biggest goals as a company was to make sure we didn't have lots of different systems all over the place doing things.
Louise: In terms of efficiency of looking after raised actions, giving people clear ways to load actions, giving people clear ways to know how to deal with them in a workflow, gives really good reason for people to think about what's happening, deal with it efficiently, and make sure we're dealing with it in the most efficient time.
Diane: I've got nothing but praise for everything that's happened. Everybody's been really helpful and adaptive. If I need anything, I know I can ask any time. If I ask for a meeting - it's not instantaneous, we're all busy people - but within reason, it's a week or two weeks.
It certainly helps everyone do what they need to do. It gives us good reporting to ensure we don't make mistakes again. For me, it's peace of mind that everyone has everything they need to do their job. They have the tools in one place - and it is in one place.
- Diane Cartledge, Business Standards Manager
Qualsys: So what's next for EPC?
Louise: I know looking forward that EPC-UK wants to be very much at the forefront of what we do, using different skills, mindsets, people and training to be the best at what we do. I really hope we can continue to use the system for all it's got, to make us as top-level and organised and on point as we can. Especially as we move forward into other initiatives and schemes and innovations, we can use the system to help us make those changes, monitor and report on them, and act on them as we go forward.
Diane: EQMS grows all the time. It's growing all the time. We're changing it, tweaking it, thinking of different uses for it. We've got so much in Action Manager with the workflows, it's unbelievable. We're always finding new things to do.
EPC-UK wants to be very much at the forefront of what we do. I really hope we can continue to use the system for all it's got, to make us as top-level and organised and on point as we can.
- Louise Lord, Office Supervisor
Qualsys: What advice would you offer to other quality professionals looking for an electronic quality solution?
Diane: Do what I did. Do your homework. Ask Qualsys if you can go and see their customers, which I did.
Louise: You really need to start by looking at what you need out of it, and then work backwards. It's all about the information you're putting in, and making sure the end user can do as little as possible with the best quality information, to allow you to get out what you need, to get those KPIs that will drive you forward.
Diane: Take your time. Don't rush into it. But also look at how it can be configured to how you use it. We all use something in a different way. Nobody uses it the same, even document control, which you would think would be quite standard. Everybody has different requirements.
Take your time to make sure, because you don't want to do what I did, and first time go down the wrong road and get it wrong with somebody, before you can get it right with somebody.
What to do next
Aiming for a robust ISO 14001 management system like EPC? Start with our clause-by-clause breakdown brochure.
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