To digitize or not to digitize

What’s the issue?

We are absolutely swamped with app choices these days, and I must confess to being drawn into the digital world in an attempt to improve the presentation and quality of H&S documents.

For those who may not realise what I’m talking about, have a quick look at our website and navigate to the heading ‘Useful Stuff’ then choose ’Sample Risk Assessment Form’.

If you have a play with the choices on the risk assessment form you’ll see that it could be called a ‘smart form’ in that according to the choices that the user selects, different information appears.

By digitizing a long, complex stream of words you can present magically-appearing short-cuts and choices that a plain old paragraph completely lacks. You can also instantly create summaries so that the user can track progress and feel a sense of satisfaction along the way.

Add to this the fact that many people seem to struggle reading through a ‘boring’ paragraph in the first place and the chance to digitize often presents itself as a way to organise the information in a different, more digestible way.

Sounds good, why not?

Well, I often find myself in a dilemma about loading up another H&S process into the variety of app choices at my disposal.

Will it really be quicker, easier and clearer for my client to interpret or process if I present it to them this way?

Wouldn’t just writing it out do the same thing?

One thing that is apparent is that during any ‘creative’ or information-gathering exercise it is rarely the case that pre-prepared text turns out to be useful.

In such cases, plain old scribbling – either on paper, or using an electronic pen is generally quicker, more flexible and importantly can accurately mirror the type of wording or terminology that a client would recognise.

Trainers would recognise that it is much more engaging if the end-user (or trainee) is given the opportunity to input their own views into an exercise rather than read a pre-prepared paragraph and being asked ‘Is this what you mean?’

How about digital ‘prompts’?

Very short digital prompts can be extremely useful – which one of us can instantly recall all possible controls which may be considered for a complex activity?

Of course, one key obstacle is the lack of time and attention that managers these days can give to what is often seen as a bureaucratic exercise.

In this light, trying to make things simpler for the ‘user’, perhaps slightly more ‘entertaining’, would seem to be a worthy goal. By filtering out the information that is not needed, digital methods can be great to help cutting down the extraneous information that tends to bulk up H&S system paperwork.

And lastly, let’s not forget that although handwriting on paper is generally very quick, the quality can suffer. People can take shortcuts e.g. by not filling in important parts (in a digital process this can be avoided), and others may not be able to read their handwriting.

In addition, as form boxes are usually pre-determined sizes, there may not be enough space and psychologically this restricts a person’s ability to express themselves as they’d like to.


In conclusion, some important considerations are:

  • Is the process one of ultra-flexible ‘creative’ work, or of capturing exact terminology recognisable by the client? If it’s creative then prompts are good, pre-prepared digital paragraphs are bad. So it’s likely that capturing the information in a quick way e.g. by hand on a whiteboard/flipchart might be better.
  • Can using digital shortcuts make the process more thorough than, for example, offering the client a blank risk assessment or policy template? For risk assessments, it’s important that the person considers all the likely hazards and controls. It isn’t always easy to come up with these ‘off the top of your head’
  • Who is intended to use the digital process? If it’s a client, then are they sufficiently knowledgeable about how the system works so that they don’t get lost within the program?
  • Are there other advantages to digitizing the process? For example, where workers are very mobile it is often difficult for their office to collect anything produced whilst they are ‘off-site’. by using digital processes, these can be set up to instantly transmit and file necessary forms, thereby keeping valuable records safe.