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Apps seen as valuable safety training tool, but utilization falls short

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INDIANAPOLIS — Contractors and insurers can utilize apps and data for the purposes of safety training, but most of these companies still have not made the shift from paper to applications, according to an expert speaking Monday at the 2017 IRMI Construction Risk Conference in Indianapolis.

When surveyed by information technology services company JBKnowledge Inc., 52% of responding construction companies said they do not use any kind of mobile safety app.

“Most construction companies still have a very paper-based system,” said Rob McKinney, Atlanta-based consultant at JBKnowledge Inc., speaking at a session of the annual gathering sponsored by the International Risk Management Institute Inc.

Having a paper-based system for safety reports leads to? incomplete reports, said Mr. McKinney. “How easy do you think it was to get 15 safety reports back on Monday … try zero out of 15. We start changing the forms into digital apps and PDFs and I went from chasing 15 to chasing maybe two,” he said.

The technology, which can include features like time, date, geotagging and device stamps, can give safety professionals a clearer picture of what happens on the construction site instead of only relying on a worker’s recollections, according to Mr. McKinney.

JBKnowledge also surveyed construction companies to see how data is collected on the job site and found that 45% collect data using a manual process, meaning paper-based, while 37% collect data using spreadsheets and 26% use a software or mobile product.

This manual process lacks efficacy and makes the process of collecting safety data more difficult, according to Mr. McKinney.

“How easy is it (to use paper), when you are trying to do an accident, fatality or damage investigation? When you start interviewing 16 people who wrote scribbles down on a note pad, it’s not very easy. You start asking people for their reports that are digital and include photos, it’s a lot easier,” he said.

Most of the apps and devices that we use in our daily lives can be adopted for workplace safety purposes, said Mr. McKinney.

“Wearables … maybe it’s an Apple watch, Samsung Gear or Fitbit — think about how these are going to change the industry in the next couple of years. If you have a brand-new one that has GPS baked into it and is tracking your heart rate, how much easier is it to know if somebody on the site is in distress and might need an (automated external defibrillator) brought to them. What if an employee goes missing? Now they have GPS,” he said.

Employers must begin to view, for example, an iPad the same as they do hammers, meaning the technology is a safety improvement tool and not a toy that can improve safety culture, Mr. McKinney said.

Apps will be important when training a new generation of workers when it comes to safety, with game-like apps that teach workers how to do things such as putting on a harness already being used.

“Another way to think about it is that we are in a new age … how are we going to train this generation of employees coming into construction and manufacturing?” he said.