Engage and conquer: Using mobility to encourage field safety compliance

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The term field force mobility has referred to a range of mobile strategies employed by organisations using mobile technology to improve field productivity. In the beginning, it merely referred to the idea of getting a field resource to the job and receiving feedback that the job was completed. However, as companies move on to their second and third generation solutions, the goal posts change. Mobility now refers to workforce transformation, and among the key targets are safety and compliance.

The problem

You can’t fault a field technician or engineer for treating safety as a secondary concern. They are problem solvers, and their interest and capability in technology have guided them to the job they do today and, if you’re honest, part of the reason they were hired. Therefore, it is easy to see why safety and compliance paperwork can be seen as an impediment in ‘getting the job done’ and why techs understand safety’s importance but aren’t particularly focused on it. So, safety compliance violations don’t come from malicious intent, they come from something we’re all guilty of - forgetfulness.

The all too common response

The unfortunate, yet all too common, response to the paper-based dilemma is the use of bolt-on ‘safety app’ solutions that record all safety-related matters in conjunction with the ‘job app.’ As much as this is seen as addressing the safety concern through automation, safety still takes a back seat to doing the ‘real work’.

To change onsite behavior, all work elements must exist in a single workflow. Safety needs to be a part of the job, not just an add-on needing completion to meet a performance metric. The strategy for your mobile application needs to evolve past the ‘job app’ to become an influencer of onsite behavior.

A better approach

Changes in field processes are often met with suspicion, especially if they come with a new IT system. Therefore, systems intended for the field need to be designed from the ground up for that environment to achieve strong user acceptance. Complex menus and detailed displays work well with a mouse and keyboard but are frustrating on a mobile device being used with gloves. You don’t employ fools, they will know the difference between a system designed to help them and one forced upon them to ensure additional paperwork is completed. The real aim is to design a system that meets all reporting and job compliance requirements while assisting field workers in getting their job done.

To improve job site productivity, it is important to make sure all data and questionnaires are targeted and relevant to the work being completed. The simplest example of this is the presentation of the onsite equipment list. If a field engineer is onsite to perform routine maintenance on a single elevator, this needs to be clearly indicated. If they aren’t expected to work on other elevators, why add other equipment to the list? If multiple elevators are listed, how can the engineer easily identify the equipment they are there to service? Questionnaires and forms presented also need to follow these same rules. The old paper process of ‘If no, go to page 2’ needs to be replaced to ensure only relevant and required questions are presented. We are looking for clear, unambiguous instructions for the work to be completed.

Additionally, a balance needs to be struck between detailed inspection results and minimum required information. One common criticism of big data strategies is the habit of collecting too much data with no real benefit. This has less of an impact when you are collecting it automatically, however you have someone manually collecting this information. Your mobile strategy should use the same approach as your data analytics strategy. Start with a question and work down to the data required to answer it. This will provide a clear justification for the data collected, ensuring a proper balance.

Procedural and legislative reforms often influence onsite behavior. As a result, forms must be able to respond quickly to these changes to ensure compliance. This also applies in reverse. If procedural changes make questions in the application redundant, engagement will wane as field workers see the solution as becoming stale and no longer relevant. These changes can’t wait for traditional IT updates and new application rollouts. They must be applied as quickly as the compliance requirements change and be updated and deployed with minimal effort to ensure the solution reflects even small changes in processes. Ideally, process owners should be able to manage these updates as part of the overall management of their compliance requirements.

Compliance is also achieved with high level of consistency in how work is completed onsite. It is therefore important that any solution be consistent in its behavior. As much as we would like to believe there is mobile coverage everywhere, the reality is vastly different. If the application can’t behave in the same way without mobile connectivity, how can you expect your field staff to be consistent in how they conduct their work. Field technicians’ consistency will reflect that of the application. If it doesn’t work without coverage, they will be reluctant to use it, even in areas with moderate mobile coverage. Worse still, if the application fails and loses previously entered data, you’ve lost your engagement with that field worker. There is very little tolerance for failure.

Finally, the hardware chosen for the solution needs to fit the field environment. For example, an iPad may not be the best solution for confined space inspections. Once you find the right hardware fit, it is important to maintain the hardware. Like stale forms, old hardware can give the impression that the system is no longer relevant and difficult to use. Putting off a hardware refresh can undermine all efforts in maintaining the system as field workers get more and more frustrated with old equipment. As these solutions become core to your business, hardware should be replaced in much the same way as you replace the tires on your vehicles. Failures can occur too, so be prepared to get your field workers back on the road quickly with a spare, and understand, the whole set will eventually need replacement.

The result

Once safety processes are embedded within the job, the on-the-job reminders can be an effective way to identify obvious but often overlooked hazards. People naturally look for extreme hazards, such as exposed live wiring, ledges without safety barriers and protruding objects. However, common endangerments, such as slippery surfaces and tripping hazards, are often missed. Field workers are human and hence can be forgetful, so a gentle reminder on the job can effectively avoid a careless injury. It’s enforcement without force, as it’s presented as a job requirement rather than merely additional paperwork.

Providing a simple way to record and rate hazards can also assist with improving onsite management, feeding this information back to the field worker gives them a sense of ownership of the data quality as they are one of the key users. This feeling of ownership is an important requirement for effective digital transformation.

Well-timed reminders can also prevent the escalation of secondary problems once the primary issue is resolved, improve customer satisfaction and reduce site revisits as all work is completed correctly the first time. These timely reminders are simply workflow, the presentation of information and data capture requirements at a relevant stage of the job process. The obvious point here is that the application workflow needs to match the overall job process flow.

Moving beyond the basic goal of mobile job dispatch isn’t achieved through bolt-on solutions.  The goal now is to transform the job process rather than add additional paperwork, albeit digital. If you engage rather than command, this transformation will occur and compliance will become second nature to your field force.

Read more: Eight best practice tips when developing enterprise apps for field workers revealed

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