Health and safety is an ongoing concern for all organisations, but with a largely field-based workforce, organisations in the utilities, telecoms and solar sectors face daily health and safety challenges. Alan Shelly, COO of Simply Workflow looks at the unique risks these organisations face and how technology is helping them shore up their health and safety strategies.
Workplace accidents, and fatalities, can and do occur. There were 123 workplace fatalities and over half a million non-fatal workplace accidents in the UK in 2021/2022. And though the number of workplace fatalities in the UK is decreasing, Sarah Albon, CEO of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says “[these] figures show we must continue to ensure safety remains a priority”.
What are the health and safety challenges facing the utilities, telecoms, and solar sectors?
For utilities, telecoms, smart metres, and solar firms, managing health and safety can be overwhelming. These firms will typically employ hundreds of field workers and contractors who are on the road every day, visiting new sites. Every day, and every site, is different and can throw up unexpected variables.
Apart from the day-to-day health and safety measures, complying with all the necessary industry regulations can be all-consuming. The constant reporting and auditing is a time-heavy task with no margin for error.
But these firms know that complying with health and safety regulations and implementing effective risk management is essential to their business. As well as their responsibility to their workers, utilities, telecoms, and solar firms can face serious repercussions if there is an accident on-site. Their business reputation can be affected, and there can be financial consequences.
What are the health and safety risks in the utilities, telecoms, power and solar sectors?
Off-site workers or those working in the field are more at risk for accidents than their in-office counterparts. There are more variables in fieldwork. Falling from a height and losing control of a vehicle or its attachments were the leading causes of workplace fatalities in 2022.
Field workers in the utilities, telecoms, and solar sectors face daily challenges. There are general risks that apply across most sites – falling from a height, electrocution, asbestos exposure, and being hit by falling objects.
But there are also specific risks associated with certain tasks. Utilities and telecoms workers may need to work in confined spaces or underground vaults. Solar panel installers can be exposed to heat stress if working on hot days.
An efficient health and safety team can significantly improve an organisation’s health and safety measures. However, in these sectors, where there is no margin for error, and the volume of data is significant, dedicated technology that manages and delivers complete oversight of health and safety procedures has become critical.
How technology is helping to enhance health and safety procedures
The cornerstones of an organisation’s health and safety strategy are risk assessment, training management, visibility, continuous auditing, and incident reporting. These five elements combine to create a solid approach to health and safety. Leading Field Service Management (FSM) systems focus on all of these tasks to deliver a comprehensive health and safety strategy.
On-site risk assessment is a critical first step in health and safety
Before any job is undertaken field workers typically conduct an on-site risk assessment. This allows them to make an effective and safe plan for the job. FSM systems like Simply Workflow require the worker to proceed through a dedicated risk assessment form. The form features a series of checks that need to be confirmed before the worker can proceed to the next step. An inbuilt warning system in the Simply Workflow form flags risks such as incorrect wiring, the presence of hazardous materials, dangerous weather conditions, and prevents workers from proceeding with a job if conditions are not safe.
Matching the right worker with the right job is key to effective health and safety
Training plays a huge part in field worker safety. Up-to-date training and certification mean workers understand the health and safety protocols for specific jobs and have the necessary skills to complete these jobs safely. This is an important factor in effective health and safety, and one that Simply Workflow takes seriously. Unique in the industry, the Simply Workflow FSM system helps organisations keep track of employee training and certification, ensuring that only workers with the necessary training are deployed to certain sites. The system cross-references a worker’s certification against each job type and matches the right person to the right job.
Visibility is an essential part of a health and safety strategy
With the Simply Workflow FSM system, organisations can monitor their field service team in real time. One of our clients in the smart meter sector makes effective use of this feature to generate live performance reports. Using the system on a handheld device, field service workers check in as they complete various steps of a project. Supervisors view this data in a GANT chart, which has been designed to map a project’s timeline. In real-time, supervisors can see how a project is progressing. This useful information can be used to judge if a job is taking longer than expected. Supervisors can then check in with their workers to see if there’s been an incident or if something has happened to stall the job.
Continuous auditing ensures accountability and helps keep health and safety on track
FSM systems help organisations to monitor their field service workers to make sure they are following all relevant health and safety regulations. Our smart meter client is adept at using our auditing feature to fulfil its regulatory obligations. They use it to perform ongoing monitoring. They do this in two ways: on-site audits are conducted by field service workers via their handheld device and supervisors audit each job once it’s been completed. This rigorous auditing helps the client to maintain quality control on each job. The easy-to-use auditing feature on the Simply Workflow system also reduces the burden on our clients to meet their regulatory obligations.
Reporting incidents to allow organisations to quickly take action
FSM software makes it easy for workers to report incidents and hazards directly from the field. Field service workers can upload photos or videos to the system, providing clear documentation of any hazard or incident. The photos and video are pushed through automatically to supervisors allowing organisations to investigate and take corrective action quickly. Effective reporting like this is an important part of any health and safety policy, and plays a key role in documenting so-called near misses and good catches. Near misses and good catches are warning signs that equipment, vehicles or even procedures are not working as they should. By documenting and reporting these incidents organisations can learn from the experiences and reduce the potential for serious accidents to happen.
A customisable approach for robust health and safety
Health and safety in the utilities, telecoms and solar sectors is not a one size fits all. We work with some of the leading organisations in these industries, and we see how demanding and challenging it is to maintain a robust health and safety strategy. That’s why integratable systems like Simply Workflow are so effective. We have created a system that relies on the direct input from the organisations themselves. With this approach, we can be confident that our system is meeting the unique needs of our clients.
If you would like to know more about how we can help your organisation manage health and safety across your field service team visit simplyworkflow.com or call us on +44 2843320496.