Safety Management

Build or Buy: How to Get Started on Your Safety Management Software

Caitlin Liboiron @Caitlin
Safety & Compliance
14 min read
February 14, 2022

Construction firms have used software for years in order to plan new projects and prepare for the unexpected. Apps and similar tools serve as useful assists at all stages of a project, from preplanning and design to operations. But now, safety management software plays a vastly more expansive role in today’s construction industry.

Vast changes wrought by the last few years have created more complexities in the industry than ever before; at the same time, demand for increased productivity on construction sites is higher than ever—and businesses are under a great deal of pressure to respond. All of this places heightened focus on safety programs, and other ways construction firms can keep employees healthy.

Your construction safety program can benefit immensely from the right management software, which will streamline processes and reduce administrative time. There are a number of viable options to pursue, but they typically fall into one of two categories. Your company can either buy construction safety management software, or build a system yourself. There is no right or wrong choice; what works for one business might not do at all for another. However, with the right guidelines and a little research, you can develop the ideal safety program for your company.

Do You Need a Construction Safety Management System?

The first question you should ask yourself, of course, it whether or not you need safety management software. Considering the relative costs involved, and the potential benefits—financial as well as personal—it’s safe to call such software a necessity. Technology has advanced so quickly that businesses who can’t adapt are apt to get left behind by their competitors. Proper safety management software can provide a wide array of features, including but not limited to:

  • Improved Documentation. Safety management software can centralize and organize all of your documentation—safety inspection schedules, accident reports, OSHA filings, and so on.
  • Clarity and Transparency. The right app allows workers and business partners to access needed information quickly. This aids transparency and accountability, without sacrificing necessary security and authentication features.
  • Safety Training. Digital safety training tools can determine whether pertinent protocols are being met, and help organize training content with an emphasis on flexibility and ease-of-absorption.
  • AI Analytics. Management apps can analyze data to better determine the source of a given problem and implement a solution more accurately. This includes pinpointing common accident spots, analyzing safety inspection reports, and checking on proper safety training and compliance.
  • Flexible and Customizable. Easily adjust new platforms to match the unique specifics of each construction site—and quickly expand them to take on additional projects as needed. The software will grow with your business, and incorporate changes or updates in your safety protocols as they arise.

There are a number of good reasons to take advantage of such a tool. Fatal construction accidents cost the U.S. some $5 billion a year in health care, insurance, lost income and lost production—over and above the human loss. And yet the leading causes of construction deaths remain unchanged. The “Fatal Four”—falls, electrocution, caught between objects and struck by equipment—still account for over 60% of all construction-related fatalities.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) penalties for safety violations can be severe as well—anywhere from $13,600 to $136,500, even if no accident occurs. Implementing a safety management program and ensuring it functions as intended are the best preventative measures you can adopt. The right safety management software can make that very easy.

Buying Your Safety Management Software

In many cases, it makes more sense to simply purchase safety management software dedicated specifically to the task, rather than attempting to build a platform on your own. It saves time and work on your end; you also get to take advantage of expertise that your company might not possess. That said, there are nuances to consider. The pros and cons can vary according to the specific needs of your business.

The first and most important factor, obviously, is the cost. It’s easy to frame it as an up-front cost, but more accurately, safety management software is an investment. Assess cost with an eye on overall returns: with the intention of using it for an extended period of time—say, at least five years.

Along these lines, utility also matters a great deal. Your software needs to meet your needs, while also providing the flexibility and expandability to grow with your business. It also has to function within your existing software ecosystem—letting you integrate it without wholesale changes—and be readily accessible by both you and your employees. Once a platform fulfills these basics, the benefits will begin to stack up.

Pro: It Saves You a LOT of Time

Building software from the ground up is time-consuming. It requires planning, active development, and testing to work the bugs out. This can take months or even years eating up valuable work hours better spent on other projects. If you don’t feel you can spare the time or effort, simply purchasing a package can save you time and attention.

Urgency is also a factor. Building your own package involves extensive pre-planning, and it will take a while to get your project fully operational. Buying instead of building gets you up to speed very quickly, allowing you to take advantage of the benefits swiftly.

Pro: Maintenance Is Not On You

Even the best software requires constant maintenance. Many large companies keep in-house tech support branches to fix bugs and address similar issues; however that may not be the reality in your company. And if it is, your tech support team likely already has a full slate of duties to perform. Adding a maintaining a home-grown safety management software to the mix can end up the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Software needs frequent updates to keep current. If you’ve built your own platform, your team will likely end up responsible for this. That comes on top of the myriad complexities of integrated softwares, programming styles, hardware adaptability—and the necessities of including all of those details on an active construction site.

If you purchase a software package, the third-party company should take care of all this for you.

Pro: You Can Cancel or Switch

As your company grows, needs change. This is a natural part of business. A purchased software package, and the ease with with you can readjust it to your changing needs, ensures that your company’s growth is enhanced, not stifled, by your digital toolkit.

Adapting a home-grown software package to meet ever-changing needs quickly becomes an unwieldy and frustrating game of catch-up. And once the package inevitably it no longer suits your needs at all, you’ll have to start again from scratch.

On the other hand, purchasing a software subscription keeps your company up-to-date with the latest changes or upgrades automatically. And if you find that your needs change or grow beyond what the software is capable of providing, you can simply cancel your plan and look for a new package that suits you better.

Con: It Can Go Wrong—And You Can’t Fix It

The big downside to purchased software is a lack of control, which can prove problematic if something goes wrong. Every program experiences glitches or bugs at some point. But when it affects your business, you need to address it as promptly as possible.

If you’ve built your own software package, this might prove comparatively easy—and you have control over the process either way. But if you’ve purchased it, the provider needs to fix it, and there’s no telling how fast or slow they might be. Assess whether you can accommodate these potential lags in your business model.

Con: The More You Use It, The More Expensive It Gets

Software subscriptions provide the tech support and updates you need to help your safety management systems grow, but such success comes with a price tag. In a subscription model, the price goes up with the addition of new users and functions. InfoWorld estimates that some 70% of a company’s given software costs take place after the initial launch. You can mitigate this with proper planning and wise choices early on, of course. But even so, you should calculate any software purchase as a recurring investment, just to stay on the safe side.

In many cases, it makes more sense to simply purchase safety management software dedicated specifically to the task, rather than attempting to build a platform on your own.

Building Your Own Safety Management Software

The alternative to purchasing safety management is building a software package of your own. Using the resources and personnel currently available to your company, you can of course construct the tools to handle your safety operations yourself. Businesses can and have done so—and there are some tangible benefits. However, just because a business can doesn’t always mean it should. Building your own safety management software carries a number of significant risks if you don’t know precisely what you’re doing. While it can be the right move for some companies, but the process must to be handled carefully.

Start by accurately assessing your company’s needs and comparing them to existing software packages. Some companies have very specific needs that commercially-available products don’t normally cover. If you have the personnel and resources available, then developing your own package to incorporate those needs might be the solution. Others, however, can more quickly cover their needs with a commercially available software package, saving time and money.

Integration issues factor into this as well. Your business’s software ecosystem must be able to function together. Siloing a safety management package without integrating it with the rest of your business ecosystem will eliminate the advantages such a the system is intended to offer.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it may behoove a company to use a particular feature to establish their brand or provide a unique service. In the event that you need safety management software for such an endeavor, developing it yourself could significantly benefit your brand.

All of this is very specific company-specific, and in many cases involves detailed financial figures to inform the decision. Once you know what you’re working with, you can begin to weigh additional pros and cons of the format. As you contemplate these trade-offs, think about your company’s specific needs, and evaluate how necessary building your own safety management software will actually be.

Building your own safety management software carries a number of significant risks if you don’t know precisely what you’re doing.

Pro: You Get Exactly What You Want

No one knows your business like you. If you have the capacity to build your own software package, you can get exactly what you want out of the product. Details unique to your business that normal software might not readily be able to handle are no problem for a custom-designed piece. Indeed, if such customization is required, then building your own package makes sense: your customized features will likely need specific changes to grow along with the needs of your business.

Pro: You Have Total Privacy and Security

Cyber-attacks used to be the stuff of science fiction, but today they are a very real concern. Recent studies suggest that nearly one in three companies will suffer a cybersecurity breach sometime in the next two years. Relying on an external company means you can never be 100% certain about absolute privacy and security. Safety management features can overlap with and compromise key aspects of your day-to-day operation. With in-house software, on the other hand, your security is as strong as you decide to make it. If you’re not certain you can depend on a provider to deliver security on the level you need, doing it all yourself can ease those concerns.

Con: It Takes Time and Money

The biggest impediment to developing your own safety management software is the cost—not only the money expenses, but the time and personnel it takes as well. The specifics vary by size and needs, which depend on the specifics of your organization. But it will always take more involvement than purchasing a software package.

Generally speaking, organizations with the resources to take on the task themselves are also apt to need a great deal more from it than a smaller company. Making an app readily accessible to a large user base takes more time and effort than one with a limited user base. Similarly, a large and complex software ecosystem will take more effort to integrate; a platform capable of an array of features takes more to develop than one with just one or two. Those complexities can drive costs up even before you’ve started—and continue to do so even after the software is up and running.

This extends to more than just simple monetary sums. Good software can take years to properly develop, and in the interim your business needs might change drastically. Technology might change too, forcing further adaptation. During these periods, you’ll have only limited access to the platform at best, and may need to purchase safety management software in the interim anyway.

Con: The Burden of Maintenance

All software needs properly maintenance and upgrades, which is why most third-party companies offer endless patches and new additions of their platforms. With an in-house development, all of that falls on your team. In some ways, that can be beneficial, since they’re likely the ones who designed the system. That makes them better qualified than anyone to spot potential bugs and keep the software running as intended.

On the other hand, the learning curve for maintenance can be exceedingly steep with home-built systems, which translates to a lot of sunk time and costs early on. That becomes easier once the system is operational and integrated. But even then, it requires a dedicated team for the job. The work hours required will come directly out of their schedule, leaving them less free to deal with other tasks. Considering the workload of most tech support branches, this can add up to quite a bit in practical terms—all of which can be negated with third-party software.

Con: More Long-Term Costs

As indicated above, the cost of building up-front software goes beyond its initial development. When you factor in upgrades, expansions, patches, and other similar adjustments, the costs roll ever on, and can eat up a large part of your budget in perpetuity if you’re not careful. A recent Gallup poll finds that one in six in-house IT projects exceeds its estimated costs by 200% or more, with an attendant extension of the timeline and work hours entailed. While a dedicated company with the right resources can mitigate or absorb that blow, the long-term spending prospects aren’t cost effective enough to justify the effort for most. Spending money on third-party software is less expensive in the long run, and can save your team a great deal of time in the bargain.

The Verdict

The decision whether to build or buy your safety management software must hinge entirely on the needs that it fulfills for your company. Improving the health and safety of your construction sites pays dividends in too many ways to ignore; regardless the method that works for you, serious thought and consideration must be lent to your company’s means of addressing these concerns. If you have the means to reliably construct your own software package—efficiently and with sufficient resources devoted to making it cost-effective in the long-term—then it may be worth it to build it in-house. This will give you control over the project, and allow you to tailor features to match your unique circumstances.

For many companies, however, the opposite is true. As much as safety management software would streamline key aspects of construction works and improve their bottom line, there’s still day-to-day considerations to manage—to say nothing of the construction work itself, which must adhere to more rigorous deadlines than ever before. In light of all this, it sometimes makes more financial sense to look for software on the market and purchase a system that works for your needs, rather than trying to design and build your own package from scratch.

Stay On Top Of Safety and Compliance With Salus

A safe and healthy workplace should be the goal of every construction company, and the right safety management software can help you achieve it. Salus is the ideal partner to help you organize your safety management software. The detailed asset and certificate management features keep your paperwork organized and easy to access, while compliance management and corrective actions features make sure you stay on top of any potential trouble before it starts.

With Salus in your corner, you can face the future of construction work with all the benefits in your corner. Reach out today to schedule a demonstration!

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