Mobile safety strategy: Six things to consider

Combine smart devices with flexible technology to provide real-time alerts.

By Jason Dea and Gary Edwards, Intelex Technologies February 3, 2017

Organizations go through significant evolutions in many areas of their businesses. The technical challenges in managing risks around workplace safety are similar in many respects to other parts of the enterprise: there is software to minimize the hurdles that impede getting information from a source into a system which in turn enables the right people to make informed, proactive and actionable decisions.

Archaic environmental health and safety (EHS) programs rely on employees to collect data manually, transpose the information into spreadsheets or disparate, disconnected software products-or worse yet, paper binders-and perpetually repeat this process. Such programs may suffice in meeting minimum regulatory standards, but they typically fall short due to human error and the sheer quantity of information involved. Absent adequate software, actionable intelligence is not available to inform proactive decision-making and preventive actions.

Mobile devices integrated with EHS tools to leverage real-time connectivity, native apps, and easy in-the-field data entry, are game changing. They place employees, not the safety manager, in the center of influence. With mobile devices, data can be collected on the fly from all personnel. Conversely, these same field staff and their managers can receive data-driven insights and alerts as they go. Mobile devices unleash potential by exposing and reducing hazards and unsafe behaviors, facilitating broader employee (and contractor) adoption and by transforming real-time source data lifted from the field into instantly actionable intelligence.

In the case of incident management, for example, no reports are complete without some form of location-based data. GPS and mapping services are embedded into almost all current smart mobile devices (phones and tablets) as native apps. Critical location data can be pushed to managers and employees instantly when on-device apps connect with EHS tools.

Similarly, all smart mobile devices feature some form of a camera capable of capturing high-quality photos and videos. Both capabilities already are frequently used to enrich incident and audit reporting, but when tied to EHS systems they instantly provide essential visual support.

No mobile device is complete without a series of apps designed to fulfill its main purpose: communication. Between the efficient use of phone logs and chat apps, as well as voice recording, dictation and note-taking tools, the burden on frontline staff of collecting and inputting data into an EHS system in the field is immensely reduced. Mobile devices improve accuracy and significantly reduce the time associated with completing tasks. Joining native capabilities with existing EHS enterprise software combines cutting-edge technologies with battle-tested apps. By contrast, adopting new market entrant standalone entities injects considerable risk into risk management.

Rethinking mobile requirements

Unlike other mobile apps, choosing an EHS mobile app is not a simple "feature and functions" race. Because of the complexity and variety of operational requirements both within companies and within sectors, a simple feature list for an EHS app is not helpful in evaluating its potential effectiveness or fit.

Consider the following six essential requirements when adopting mobile EHS apps:

1. Is it field tested and battle ready?

Being developed in the field with frontline user input is crucial. That means the app has been optimized for ease, convenience, speed and relevance in the environments and circumstances where end users put it to use. Beautiful scorecards might light up a safety manager’s interest, but the real question to ask is: Does this tool work in the hands of my workers who are at the frontlines and highest risk? Approaching 100% adoption and engagement of EHS mobile is the only route to achieving 100% safety.

2. Are configurable views unique to and optimized for mobile?

User-friendly design is critical, again, most importantly for field users. Remember that mobile apps are not just about shrinking a screen. Indeed, many mobile apps remain fixated on individual "page" views while neglecting more important design elements. Consider the user experience in navigating within the app versus just the final destination page.

3. Is it optimized to capture leading indicators?

Capturing incidences as they occur in the field is an obvious and base requirement of any EHS mobile solution. To meet the promise that mobile deployment offers, EHS mobile solutions need to focus and optimize features that capture leading indicators, including hazards, unsafe behaviors ("etiquettes") and minor incidences that do not get formally reported to regulators. Benchmarks on leading indicators must be part of the mobile solution if you want your enterprise to achieve a step change in safety results.

4. Does it offer integrated predictive and prescriptive analytics capabilities?

While some apps claim to provide data analysis, they are primarily reports detailing which incidents have happened and when. Descriptive information on past events, while informative, is very limited in enabling action. The abundant streaming data points provided by the broad adoption of a user-friendly mobile app offers the opportunity for a "network effect" in workplace safety. Real-time data processed with machine learning algorithms can provide actionable in-the-moment prescriptive advice.

Data that engaged workforces capture is proving to be highly predictive of future serious incidences. Information collected on reports of pain, near misses, hazards and safety observations all are proving to be strong leading indicators. Dashboards, reports and alerts that highlight risk and provide an immediate opportunity for prevention need to be an integral part of any mobile solution.

Ensure your mobile EHS app has an integral component of a safety ecosystem that prevents incidents rather than just reporting them.

5. Does it have an EHS mobile software as a platform or is it a stand-alone entity?

Ideally, couple your existing EHS software such that changes in the core system are automatically reflected in the mobile app. Need to capture new information? You should be able to seamlessly integrate it into existing software, allowing you to get started in the field and finish back at the office. Get an app that can be tweaked for each different user type in your company and that will adapt to your evolving needs.

6. Does your vendor offer the opportunity for co-creation?

This last requirement builds on the previous one and may be the most important of all. Ensure the ability for co-creation of requirements with your vendor. Additional features you discover are critical to the field must be easily captured, built into the core software and reflected in the mobile app. User feedback and front-line input are critical to success.

Consider all job types, each with their attendant risks and the various experience levels of individuals who perform them. We could know who a person is, what training they need, and the particular time and place when they need a helpful reminder or nudge. Further, consider the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) where we can track the objects and equipment people in our workplaces encounter day to day. Now combine the two.

We can keep people safe in workplaces like never before by targeting their needs in ways that replace disengaged general advice with highly accurate information tailored to the job, the individual and the moments that matter to them.

Consider that your marketing department probably avoids spamming "offers for everyone" and instead uses highly personalized messages and offers. Hence, they evolved from a one-to-many to a one-to-one customer approach. If you want breakthrough ideas in safety management, bring the lessons learned from digital marketing and its enabling technologies to your health and safety professionals and a mobile strategy.

-Jason Dea is director of product marketing at Intelex Technologies, and Gary Edwards is a data science advisor to Intelex.

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