Addressing Safety by Utilizing Smartphone Technology

Addressing Safety by Utilizing Smartphone Technology

By Derek Vannice, Executive Vice President and Josh Beaver, Eastern U.S. Regional Manager

Case Study

Keeping employees safe is the number one value for both utility companies and contractors in the utility vegetation management industry. There are always situations that can impact safety, including hazardous weather conditions, distracted drivers, property owners, difficult terrain – the list is endless. In our business, our employees often work alone and are spread out across the country. That’s why delivering ongoing safety messages and keeping safety top-of-mind can be challenging.

The Challenge

At CN Utility Consulting (CNUC), safety is our number one value. We believe one of the best ways for our employees to stay safe is by keeping safety on their minds at all times. Fortunately, we have a very positive safety record. (Knock on wood.)

In summer 2015, we noticed that CNUC was beginning to see our number of minor incidents increasing. We looked at this change as a leading indicator and felt it was necessary to take action before something major occurred. The challenge we faced was how to change the behavior when it was difficult to reach all our employees beyond what we were currently doing.

The Solution

Our management team decided that we needed to be proactive, so we began looking at ways to be even more proactive with our safety initiatives. We reached out to our marketing and communications team to brainstorm ideas and develop some possible action steps.

We considered the issue from all angles by looking at ways we could improve communications to our employees and what platforms were best. Our company website and intranet platform were two of consideration, but we determined that those only work if our employees take the time to go visit the sites often, and those platforms wouldn’t be pushing content to the employees like we wanted.

After much discussion, we collectively determined that by utilizing mobile text message communications along with an email blast of our weekly incidents or close calls, we could tap into the technology our employees are already using (their smartphones) as well as connect with them on a platform that they prefer.

Our marketing and communications team worked with a third party to develop a weekly mobile text message blast that allows us to craft messages, manage time zones and recipient lists, and track our progress along the way. Every Tuesday morning, a safety text message is sent at 8 a.m. in each recipient’s respective time zone, and these recipients are those individuals who have opted in to receive them. Our managers and supervisors rotate who submits the text message content to our marketing team who then edits the content to fit the character requirements.

In addition to utilizing the text messages, we sent out all incidents and close calls to our entire employee base. If an incident occurs the week prior, they are submitted and written into a standardized incident report which is sent out to all employees every Monday afternoon through an email marketing platform called Constant Contact. Even if there are no incidents or close calls the week prior, the report is still sent out stating that there were no incidents. We have weekly safety calls where our managers and supervisors review the incidents that occurred the week prior (if any), and discuss how the incidents or close calls could have been prevented.

Through the mobile text messaging and email marketing campaigns, we have nearly 100 percent of our employee base opted in, which is something that we’re very proud of. As we bring on new employees, they receive the emails as soon as they come on the team and are immediately invited to sign up for the text messages.

One important key factor in this initiative was to stress to our employees that they shouldn’t look at the text message or the incident report email (or any email for that matter) when they are moving in a vehicle. We determined that 8 a.m. was the preferred time when employees thought they would be stationary. In most cases, they would be starting their day in an office, getting into a vehicle or already in the field for the day.

The Result

The results we’ve seen have been even better than expected – with minor incidents dropping more than fifty percent. Our employees look forward to getting the incident report and the text message each week, and it provides an extra layer of engagement for everyone. Our teams have also done a great job of sending in reports of close calls. And with the incident report and lessons learned discussed on conference calls, our employees are being proactive with identifying potential risks and areas for improvement in all areas of our safety practices.

Taking a couple steps back… We originally thought we would utilize the text messaging system until our minor incidents decreased and the problem at hand was addressed. We then extended the program through one quarter of the year. A big part of our company culture beyond safety is the desire for continual improvement. In the process of continual improvement, we utilize the philosophy of Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) for any new initiative. As we went through the PDSA cycle to evaluate the new safety text message process at the end of the quarter, we determined that it has been so successful and positively received by our employees that we have built in as a part of our ongoing safety program. The benefits have far outweighed the costs.

Once we were rolling with this new initiative, we put together a survey that was sent out to all our employees regarding our safety program and safety initiatives. Collectively, our employees felt that the safety texts and incident reports show that CNUC really does “talk the talk” and “walk the walk” when it comes to our commitment to safety. They’re proud of the safety infrastructure that we have and know that we are being proactive to keep their safety and the safety of our customers at the forefront of everything we do.

Everyone has heard that 2016 was going to be the year of mobile. For CNUC, we got a head start in 2015 and are looking forward to all the possibilities in 2016 and beyond.

To see the article published in the Utility Arborist Newsline, click here.

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