Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Occupational Health & Safety Online
The dangerous equipment and assets that field service technicians use daily have become increasingly complex and sophisticated, which can lead to more frequent issues and injuries. In fact, equipment failure and machinery issues are among some of the most cited OSHA violations. As such, field service work is ranked among the deadliest of professions. In 2020 alone, there were more than 2.6 million non-fatal injuries and illnesses in private industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. During the same timeframe, the total number of fatal work-related accidents across sectors was 4,764. Yet fatalities and injuries reported in 2021 were even higher, with 25 percent of fatalities reported in the maintenance, inspection and testing category.
Knowing machines can be neglected, creating an increased risk when it comes to equipment operation, doesn’t make it any easier to follow a predictive and preventive maintenance program, especially when a company utilizes hundreds or thousands of machines and pieces of equipment. They all require upkeep, replacement of parts, performance testing and eventual replacement. Manually handling these needs is not only a massive administrative undertaking but can also be prone to human error. Unsafe equipment and working conditions can lead to increased worksite liability issues, lower employee morale and come with significant costs.
Along with the inherent risks of field service work, service technicians must typically finish their work quickly and to a customer’s exact specifications. With the many dangers and challenges technicians face, an increased number are either taking early retirement, leaving their careers early, or choosing not to enter the profession. Companies must find ways to avoid the loss of knowledge in their specific fields, bridge the hiring gap, and prevent slowdowns and shutdowns by finding solutions and strategies that can attract talent and ensure their safety.
Safety procedures embedded into a mobile app
As demand booms in all areas of field service work, organizations must implement tech solutions and get on board with strategies that can ensure worker safety. End-to-end field service management (FSM) solutions are the best way to execute appropriate training, mitigate risks that come with field service work, and reinforce compliance. Adopting field service management solutions that utilize digital technology can decrease compliance incidents by embedding asset, site and safety steps directly into work processes that a technician can access and use on their mobile device. Field service technicians can be empowered through mobile apps and digital tools they need to be safe and effective in their job.
Data from the environment, health and safety (EHS) compliance systems can be provided to workers on site—and within their job’s specific context—to assist teams through complicated and hazardous jobs. Whether on a remote site where a field technician is the sole employee dealing with hazardous materials or under a multitude of other circumstances, instant access to this valuable information—even without a cellular connection—can make an immeasurable difference in their work.
Continuous communication connects the field and the office
As there is a continued and growing need for data, many businesses suffer from the disconnect between field operation solutions and asset management software. A comprehensive software solution that unifies both systems can eliminate this issue and enable the free information flow between field and office. When unaddressed, inconsistencies can obstruct a company’s long-term success and raise safety risks for workers in the field.
A field service management solution supports successful workplace safety communication by allowing workers to have frequent and meaningful interactions. Workers must have constant updates on the safety information that is relevant to them, so real-time communication through phone and video calls can be done in various ways. Messaging, images, file sharing, broadcasts and in-person meetings allow everyone to be aware of safety hazards and adjust their day and plans accordingly. On the flip side, ensuring the information they receive is relevant only to their worksite is just as important as delivering that information. If workers get constant updates that aren’t relevant to them, alert fatigue can set in, reducing urgency and attention. Communication here is targeted and meaningful.
A communication platform that allows for analytics, such as open rates on safety messages, keeps everyone accountable and will enable managers to improve communication if open rates are low. It is not only crucial for workers to get safety updates but also that they have a way to keep each other and management apprised of any safety hazards that should arise. When employees are instantly recognized for reporting safety hazards, it can encourage others to be engaged with the safety program and build proactive habits.
Process automation through an FSM solution will bring consistency and systematic scheduling to equipment and maintenance programs when managing all of an organization’s assets. The platform can predict needs, schedule timely actions, and ensure safe conditions. An effective system can generate work orders in accordance with scheduled tests and other calendar dates through meter readings—such as a machine’s cumulative hours in operation—as well as when triggered by events that would require a repair or status check.
Just one piece of equipment can connect with multiple preventive maintenance schedules, each generating work orders automatically. In addition to scheduling maintenance, the platform can track inventories of supplies and parts required to perform anticipated services or repairs, prompting management to order any needed items in advance to minimize downtime.
Safety through training and dispatch
Field service work requires that employees are thoroughly educated on their job through proper training. Protecting employees and anyone else working around them must be a priority, and many of these systems can be incredibly detailed, encompassing every aspect of what a person does at work while requiring a significant investment in documentation, education and training. Many companies even require a different combination of authorities, classes and certifications, depending on where a field service technician is physically based.
When it comes time for a manager to send a technician, they must be sure they are sending someone with the proper training, certifications and experience. An FSM platform allows managers to unify the tracking, scheduling and maintenance of different requirements in one location. It ties specific skills, training and certification to a technician, matching a particular job site before dispatching begins. Managers can identify and assign technicians based on their specific expectations along with matching training sets and skills. They can also establish a workflow and calendar around a certification process by setting up configurable training and certification fields. This, combined with associated timeframes, allows dispatchers to see which technicians meet specific site location requirements.
Every team member can be visible to dispatch regarding safety training, external certifications and job skills training requirements. Training can be scheduled by dates, as well as tracked through scheduled notifications that prompt recertification prior to expiration. Managing labor assets in this way can eliminate situations such as when an unqualified technician is sent to a job site, which could result in a waste of time, effort, and money. Simply put, unifying these things through an FSM solution will strengthen overall productivity and ensure optimal safety at field service sites.
Putting together the pieces
As the field service industry faces increased production and fluctuating employment levels, technicians and managers must ensure that workflows are as safe as possible. All the pieces of a field service management solution support technicians in monitoring equipment conditions and verifying user qualifications, ultimately reducing safety risks while protecting assets and operators. When accidents and injuries are reduced, employees can be more productive and happier at work. A safer environment guarantees managers who provide an effective work environment with a glowing safety reputation will also help retain current talent while attracting new prospective candidates.
More: Ensuring Field Team Safety & Effectiveness with Mobile Apps