Reducing job-site injuries and safety hazards is the ultimate goal for many health and safety professionals. Unlike those in office jobs, field operators and field service technicians face safety hazards on a daily basis. Whether it is the risks of being on the road or the very real perils of working with wind turbines or oil rigs, their jobs come with more than their fair share of safety concerns.
Of course, safety is important not only for people’s wellbeing but also for a business’s bottom line. A 2016 National Safety Council report showed the average cost of a minor workplace injury to be 16 times higher than the cost of prevention and as much as 48 times greater for serious injuries or fatalities. Shockingly, 78% of safety professionals are still using outdated methods to manage safety tasks, and, as a result, only 19% are being notified of safety hazards in real time.
A study published by the American Society of Safety Engineers found that investment in safety programs and cloud technology yield between USD 2 and 6 in return for every USD 1 invested, with an average safety return on investment (ROI) of USD 4.14. Furthermore, a strong injury- and illness-prevention program has shown to achieve a 15–35% reduction in workplace injuries.
As companies look to digitize their paper-based safety audit programs, inspections, observations, work permit procedures, or other operational processes, there are seven key steps:
Step 1: Define Goals
The first step is to define your goals for success and the substeps required to achieve those goals. Plan it out on a white board first if you need to, then operationalize the plan by sharing it with all stakeholders. Remember that forms, checklists, or outputs that were defined on paper do not need to be so rigid on mobile devices and that, in going digital, your contractors and employees gain the ability to assess work metrics.
Step 2: Engage Field Operators Early in the Process
Involve your key field employees earlier in the vetting of new technology so you can get their support and feedback. As a safety manager, it is understood that your employees are ultimately your customers, but the ideal is to involve them from the beginning so that there are no waves or conflict down the line when it is too expensive to go back. This also enables you to socialize your vision and goals, get engagement, and prevent a top-down mentality. Remember that employee engagement is directly correlated with the level of involvement they have in their work processes and activities.
Step 3: Consider the Motivating Factors and Barriers
People are more likely to complete a task when they have the skills, time, materials, knowledge, and motivation to do so, and things tend to fall apart when employees feel the procedure is useless. So make sure that what you are doing is really producing tangible results.
As an example, consider the use of a checklist (digital or otherwise). Is it better to have people pencil whip a 26-item checklist every day or thoughtfully use a five-item checklist once per week? If employees complete the checklist, do they know whether anyone looks at the information and uses it? Does data show that the workplace is safer when employees use this checklist compared to when they do not? Is there any acknowledgment for completing the checklist? If completing or not completing the checklists gets the same response from the boss (i.e., none), people will stop using it. Employees need to understand the tangible value of their actions and that people are paying attention.
Step 4: Pilot and Repeat
A good process can be ruined by poor implementation, and supervisors must be brought on board to help support the implementation. Having employees modify a given process (e.g., checklists, observations, work permits) improves buy-in and increase usage. After digitizing your process, be sure to pilot it with a small group and ask for more feedback, then deploy the new and improved version.
Step 5: Make the Data Actionable
Going paperless provides a canvas that can be flexible and actionable. Defining the problem you want to solve and having a flexible solution can provide managers or supervisors with the ability to view safety audits, work permit procedures, and field observations in a new light. The goal of any safety audit process, for example, is to identity issues before they actually occur. By assessing the data and trending it over time, managers can get visibility into issues well before things go in the red.
Step 6: Enforce Accountability and Visibility
Create a process that holds everyone accountable for being visibly involved, especially managers and supervisors. They are the leaders for a positive change, and true digital transformation cannot occur without visibility and accountability.
Step 7: Celebrate Success
Make your efforts public to keep everyone motivated and updated throughout the process, and be sure to reward employees for their contributions to this endeavor. If everyone feels good about what has been achieved, then everyone will work that much harder to keep it going.
Don’t Forget To Be Patient
Digital transformation takes time, but remember that, because your ultimate goal is to improve the safety of your employees and your workplace, the ROI for this undertaking is massive. When your company culture is safety, you cannot afford to sit back and let technological opportunities pass you by. Be sure to define your goals, get field operators involved early in the process, keep people motivated by connecting change to results, get feedback to improve the process, make sure the data is actionable, enforce accountability, and celebrate success.