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Stepping up smart safety on the frontlines

Author : Feico Mol, SafetyCulture

08 November 2022

Frontline workers make up 80% of the global workforce and are at the heart of many process industries like oil and gas, petrochemicals, mining, manufacturing and the food & beverage sector. Despite their numbers, they’ve been historically underserved when it comes to technology and just 1% of venture capital funding is invested in tooling that empowers frontliners to do their best work and stay safe in the hazardous environments they operate in.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

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These frontline workers are feeling the pinch, with recent SafetyCulture research revealing that four in ten workers said they’d like to see greater investment by their employer in technology to improve processes, efficiency and safety. Not only that, one in five workers said they have experienced workplace injury due to inadequate processes or communication, while one in four know a colleague who has.

Clearly, something needs to change. The solution doesn’t need to be complicated and it can be led by easy-to-use technology. Leaders should prioritise equipping their frontline workers with mobile-first, modern technology to help manage the risks in hazardous environments and create a culture that values safety. Here’s what you should be looking for.

Start with simplicity

Managing safety is complex and multifaceted at the best of times. Organisations certainly have the intention of creating safe work environments, but many aren’t clear on how to get their operations in check. The right technology can help sharpen our focus, making sure every detail and element of risk is accounted for – but only when it’s implemented correctly. There are low-cost mobile-first solutions readily available, and you can get started in a matter of hours. It’s time to take stock of the digital systems you have in place – how can you enhance what’s there to streamline processes and ensure more consistent and better quality outcomes?

Simple step changes can actually do a lot of heavy lifting. Start by replacing complex tasks with simple processes. Cumbersome processes that involve paper audit trails and reporting can no longer keep up with the rigorous safety practices required in hazardous environments. With a digital checklist, you can centralise records and get instant visibility. This instant gratification also means you can scale your inspection processes incredibly quickly. Adding new locations or auditors is simply a matter of a few clicks and you’re up and running.

Amplify frontline voices and drive action

When clear actions are not assigned, it can mean that time is wasted trying to figure out who is the best placed to remedy a hazard or find a solution. Using technology with features such as corrective actions means that you can quickly assign responsibility to a team member to get things done.

Accountability doesn’t just sit with the individual fixing the problem, but your entire workforce. Businesses should actively encourage employees of all levels to speak up and take ownership. Open discussion should be welcomed, and technology can help to drive the action – it's much easier to lodge an issue in an app than approach senior management.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Raising issues that once took time and effort can quickly be flagged using tech such as scannable QR codes that instantly notify the right people, and this can even include contractors visiting sites. Individual voices can be amplified, and power can be put back in the hands of each and every team member.

Bridging the gap in real-time

Working in dispersed teams comes with its own set of challenges. Now picture teams in high-risk environments like mining, or oil and gas. These workers are often working either in isolation or in silos. Whether it’s a surveyor completing site inspections or a utility worker operating in dangerous or remote areas, the reality is that lack of visibility and timeliness are some of the more significant barriers faced when it comes to lone workers. Our recent research revealed that among workers who’ve ever worked alone, 41% say their employer does not have sufficient visibility of their work and one in three 33% say strong processes are not in place to manage these situations.

When this is a one-off situation, there may be no immediate harm caused. But when near misses and underreporting stack up, it increases the chances of more serious incidents – something we all want to avoid. Today, tooling tailored specifically to lone workers gives organisations visibility of their employees in the field to ensure their safety. Look for mobile tech that is built to be easy for the frontline, with intuitive ways to activate a duress alarm, confirm check-ins, or notify managers when a job doesn’t go to plan. Automated data flows mean that it’s easier to manage, monitor and report on lone worker activities with real-time location and worker status feeding into one dynamic dashboard.

Future-proofing your operations

For businesses who have digitised their procedures, then it's worth exploring harnessing the power of data through transformative technology like IoT, sensors, and automation. For industries like petrochemicals, this can involve technology like humidity and temperature sensors to check working conditions are safe and ensure chemicals are stored safely, ultimately helping to ensure quality to the end user is never compromised.

Consider all workflows as a potential (or existing) data input. And from this data, you have the ability to make your operations more efficient, create predictive models and even identify potential problems before they escalate.

Feico Mol, SafetyCulture
Feico Mol, SafetyCulture

However, these different workflows often demand different devices, resulting in a vast amount of data concentrated in silos. As organisations grow in their capabilities, there’s an increasing need for interoperability between devices for teams to unlock full visibility. Look for solutions that will ‘play nice’ with others: that is, those offering integration or APIs so you can be sure your data will eventually flow where you need it to. There are also IoT integration platforms with the flexibility to read data or create events across a huge variety of business systems, from CRMs to Safety Management, enabling the full automation of a workflow.

Thanks to standardised checks, uniform data collection, and enhanced visibility, businesses now have access to far more organised data. But safety is more than just ticking a box. With the right technology in place, businesses can create a launchpad to build better operations and a more positive culture overall.

In high-risk and hazardous industries, the time to tap into technology and help foster long term safety practices is now.

About the research:

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,976 frontline (860 US, 558 Australia, 558 UK). Fieldwork was undertaken during August 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of US, UK and AU frontline workers (aged 18+).

About the author:

Feico Mol is General Manager, EMEA at SafetyCulture, a global technology company that supports businesses to do their best work every day. SafetyCulture maintains a UK headquarters in Manchester and has recently established an office in Amsterdam.

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