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Why safety software fails

If you’ve been in the construction industry long enough, I’m sure you’ve used safety software that felt like a waste of time and whose purpose wasn’t to reduce incidents, but was more about CYA. Basically, the software helped do the bare minimum to demonstrate compliance.  

But while there’s a lot of useless safety software on the market, the technology can be great and still fail for other reasons. That’s because any safety program depends on three fundamentals: process, people and technology. Just like a three-legged stool, each of these fundamentals works with the others to support the program, and if any one of them fails, the whole thing falls apart. So let’s take a look at each of these legs one by one, and identify where organizations often go wrong.

Checklist software and pencil whipping

Far too often, organizations buy safety software to check off a compliance box or placate an executive. That’s backwards. Never buy a solution that’s looking for a problem. Instead, it’s critical to fully understand the problem you want to solve, create a strategy to address the problem and then find a software solution to support it. 

When it comes to safety, the root problem isn’t efficient checklist completion or insufficient reporting. The problem is the recordable incidents, themselves, so the goal should be to reduce and, ultimately, eliminate incidents and injuries on our job sites. If a safety program and the associated software fail to reduce incidents, in my book, it’s a failure.

List of safety observations on web browserLog observations on the Safety Observations module for iOS, Google Play and web browser. 

Unfortunately, checklist-based tools don’t help reduce incidents. That’s not to say checklists are useless — they’re vital tools for aviation, maintenance and surgery — but they work in those industries because they help people follow a precise, repeatable series of tasks. In construction, safety is not a repeatable task, and the enemy isn’t deviation from a process, but complacency. If you’re constantly working on a ladder or around suspended loads, you get accustomed to the danger, and it becomes mundane. We need to ensure people on a job site are always conscious of the hazards around them if we are to reduce incidents. To achieve this level of awareness, we need to create a safety culture through worker engagement, which, in turn, requires good information on the current state of safety at each jobsite.

One might think that checklists would be good for gathering information, but they fail there, too, because they promote pencil whipping. Once the form is finished, boom, they’re done with safety for the day. There’s no tracking an issue to closure and verifying what was once a hazard has now been repaired.

Instead, safety software should enable people on-site to collect information throughout the day and then analyze the data to provide a clear picture of each job site, with recommendations to reduce risk. But software isn’t enough. You also need a good process.

Process problems

So, you’ve decided you want to collect safety observations, and you’ve got the software to support it. But if your safety observations process is flawed, you won’t collect good data. The old software adage is true: if you put garbage observations into the software, you’ll get garbage recommendations out of it.

Some software, like conferencing or text messaging platforms, can be rolled out without a lot of preparation, because it’s fairly self-evident how it works and why an organization would want to use it. You might need a troubleshooting document and usage guide, but for the most part, you turn it on, and the organization starts benefiting from its use immediately. 

Safety observations software doesn’t work that way. You need to ensure that people know what to look for on the job-site, how to report it and, critically, how to react to it. I’ve written an entire blog about how to make good safety observations, but the biggest mistake people make is to use the data to punish those who aren’t following safety protocol. Penalizing people discourages accurate data collection. Observers will think twice before reporting safety violations if they know it will result in a hammer coming down. Also, don’t ignore good safety practice! “Catching” people doing the right thing and rewarding them for it is a far more effective means of encouraging good safety. Use the carrot, not the stick.

People power

Once you have your technology and your process in place, the third leg of the stool is your people. You need their buy-in. Without it, you’ll get poor data and poor outcomes. So make sure everyone knows the goal you want to achieve, exactly how the organization plans to achieve it, and what everyone’s individual responsibilities are. Quality training is critical. If people don’t know exactly what they should be reporting, how to report it and how they benefit from reporting it, the program will fail. 

At Newmetrix (formerly Smartvid.io), we believe so strongly in these three pillars, that we provide a rollout plan complete with in-person training conducted by our people as part of our standard package. It’s not an add-on that companies pay extra to get. Plus, once the software is rolled out in the field, we continue to monitor training, providing support all along the way. 

We don’t want to provide just one leg of the stool and hope our customers figure out how to build the other two. We want every Newmetrix customer to have a strong process and high-quality training in place so they can use our technology to create a strong safety culture and ensure that everyone goes home safe at the end of every work day.

Want to see how the three pillars work in action? Read how Suffolk used Newmetrix to support their safety observations program, which ultimately reduced reportable incidents by 28% and lost time by 35%. Read the case study today.

Written by Tim Gattie

Tim is VP of Industry Strategy at Newmetrix. He has 20 years of construction industry experience working for regional, national and international general contractors in roles ranging from Field Engineer to Project Director. Tim is passionate about using technology as a tool to improve the way construction projects are delivered and is eager to share his story with others in the industry. Gattie graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelors of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering and is a Registered Professional Engineer in Arizona, California and Utah. When not at work, Tim enjoys golfing, traveling and being a great dad to his two boys.

View more posts by Tim Gattie.

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