Safety Technology

Safety? There’s an App for That

Safety-focused mobile apps are helping employers reduce injury risk and keep employees engaged with safety.
By: | March 14, 2016

More and more employers are putting mobile apps in the hands of their workers to reduce injuries on the job.

Kevin O’Donnell, a principal safety professional for the power generation division at NextEra Energy, said his team at Florida Power & Light was already using custom apps and hand held devices to record daily readings for verification of pressures, temperatures, flow, tank levels and other operational parameters during the daily inspections.

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“They adapted quickly to this technology, so it was natural to extend the apps to the area of safety,” O’Donnell said. “Without the apps, our employees would need to leave the plant environment and log onto a computer.”

Now, utility workers can report an unsafe condition, attach a photograph, add suggestions and do more tasks without the need to remember to enter the event later.

“Each unsafe condition that is reported and resolved is one fewer hazard and therefore one less opportunity to get injured,” he said.

The custom safety apps used by the team were developed in-house specifically for use on company-issued devices. Using these devices, employees can complete a behavior-based safety observation, access the firm’s safety manual, determine heat stress levels, complete a “lockout/tagout” (LOTO) audit, or report a near miss or unsafe condition including the attachment of a photo.

The keyboard locks up with a safety message if the employee is walking and entering data at the same time. The current app in development is an automated safety tailboard to walk the employees thru the potential job hazards and required mitigation steps.

“Employee involvement in the development has been one of the keys to success,” O’Donnell said.

On-the-Spot Reporting

Companies can use private-label reporting apps provided by vendors such as WorkplaceAware. The Parkville, Mo. firm’s solution is made up of two parts — a mobile app and an online dashboard, and the app is branded for the client with its name and company logo, said Rob Sweeney, chief executive and founder. Each employee who downloads the app will use an activation code that pertains to that particular employer.

“This way, the mobile app is associated with the online dashboard and will display each employer’s logo and name,” Sweeney said. “Also, this function lets employers suspend users should they leave employment, or for sending inappropriate reports.”

“Each unsafe condition that is reported and resolved is one fewer hazard and therefore one less opportunity to get injured.” — Kevin O’Donnell, principal safety professional, NextEra Energy

Employees use the app to create reports, view the reports they’ve submitted, including the status of each report, and see alerts and other messages sent by the employer. Employees can also take a picture or use a picture in their camera that they’ve already taken. Moreover, they are able to describe in a free-form field the nature and details of the report, and match up with image with the report.

The focus of the app is primarily to report on near misses, safety violations, or facilities and operations issues that could lead to potential problems in the future, he said.

“Near misses is the big one — that’s where safety managers spend time educating employees about near misses to help them spot issues that occur,” Sweeney said. “For example, a near miss might be when they see an oil spill on the floor and look up and see a leak from a shelf above. That has to be addressed so workers don’t slip and fall, hurting themselves, creating a workers comp issue.”

People are also given the opportunity to submit a report anonymously, “as in the world of safety reporting and near misses, where there can be a fear of retribution for reporting an issue they may have caused,” he said.

When people submit reports, the app time-stamps the report and identifies the location, and then the report is placed on a dashboard. Individuals can review their report and its status, which is determined by one of the administrative users who manages the dashboard.

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Employees may monitor the status of the reports they send when administrators update the status of reports. Administrative users can also use the dashboard to send out safety notifications, either to one person, a group or the entire organization.

“It’s really an interactive tool that improves overall communication to every employee who has the mobile app,” Sweeney said.

Organizations of all types are using the app, including Head Start in the Early Childhood Education sector to help them maintain safe facilities. For example, one Head Start facility was taking a bus on an outing and found a small crack in the foot well window when children were boarding the bus. They took a picture of it and sent a report, and the administrator about 40 miles away immediately received the report.

“She was able to determine that the glass was actually not chipped away and not an immediate danger threat,” he said. “So the children were allowed to proceed while the administrator was able to schedule the glass company to replace the window.”

Steve Farkas, mobile application developer at ThatsMyStapler.com in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has developed a number of safety apps for workers who handle hazardous materials:

  • Hazmat Load and Segregation Guide App
, which helps the hazmat employee determine the requirements for shipping different classes of hazardous materials on the same vehicle. It uses the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Segregation Table for Hazardous Materials” in its Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR).
  • HazMat Reference and Emergency Response Guide App, which serves as a quick reference and educational tool for employees that are involved with the regular handling and storage or incident response of hazardous materials.
  • Chemical Safety Data Sheets App, which displays International Chemical Safety Cards [ICSC] produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Labour Office (ILO), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards (NPG) App
, which provides general industrial hygiene information on several hundred chemicals/classes for workers, employers, and occupational health professionals.

The Hazmat Segregation App was created after Farkas realized how unwieldy it was to use DOT’s online reference guide.

“I wanted shippers and truckers to have an easy reference on the iPhone to double check the items they were about to load on a truck’s shipment,” he said. “Using a sliding horizontal carousel that easily spins with the flick of a finger or thumb seemed like the best idea. I have included it in a bundle with the ERG and my Hazmat General Awareness Training Apps so that users can purchase several at a discount.”

Farkas’ most popular apps are “Chemical Safety Data Sheets (SDS)” and the “Hazmat Reference and Emergency Response Guide (ERG).” The latter is not merely a digitized version of the DOT’s reference guide used by people in incident response — rather, there are also references from various government sources, in addition to information about what to do in an incident.

The SDS app is a two-page reference of common chemicals produced by the World Health Organization as a “shop floor” reference. They are not meant to replace a full 9-12 page Material Safety Data Sheet created by a chemical supplier, Farkas said.

“The goal of each one of my apps was to give professionals a quick reference or lookup that didn’t require the Internet or a period of more than a second to retrieve the required information,” he said. “It is apparent that each user should have a knowledge of the material I’m presenting, although I do have a “General Hazmat Awareness” training app that anybody could use when first starting out in a profession that involves Hazmat.”

Other apps designed to minimize workplace injuries include:

    • Ergonomics App
 By Sidharth Garg. Winner of the People’s Choice Award for the Department of Labor Worker Safety and Health App Challenge. Ergonomics is a complete mobile workplace health solution that offers ergonomic equipment setup advice, a variety of workplace specific stretching exercises, and programmable reminders to help workers time their breaks.
    • Heat Safety Tool
 By US Occupational Safety and Health Administration and US Department of Labor. The App allows workers and supervisors to calculate the heat index for their worksite, and, based on the heat index, displays a risk level to outdoor workers. Then, with a simple “click,” workers can get reminders about the protective measures that should be taken at that risk level to protect them from heat-related illness-reminders about drinking enough fluids, scheduling rest breaks, planning for and knowing what to do in an emergency, adjusting work operations, gradually building up the workload for new workers, training on heat illness signs and symptoms, and monitoring each other for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.
    • Indoor airPLUS Builder Mobile App
 By US Environmental Protection Agency. The IAPLUS Builder mobile app is primarily for the home builder and verifier partner in the field at new home construction sites. Users will see EPA’s Indoor airPLUS Construction Specifications and enter and complete the Verification Checklist via their mobile device.
    • NIOSH Ladder Safety App
 By National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The Ladder Safety App, aimed at improving extension ladder safety, features a multimodal indicator and a graphic-oriented guide for ladder selection, inspection, positioning, accessorizing, and safe use.
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  • SiteDocs App
 By SiteDocs Safety Corp. The app provides construction contractors with the tools and resources necessary to design, implement and manage job site safety on a project-by-project basis.
  • IH DIG App
 By Noble Canary LLC. IH DIG is the Industrial Hygiene Data Interpretation Game – a fun, free app that helps industrial hygienists train their brain to interpret small data sets. Produced in cooperation with AIHA’s Exposure Assessment Strategies Committee.
  • iAuditor — Safety Audit and Checklist App
 By SafetyCulture Pty Ltd. An app for workplace safety audits, pre-start checks and inspections that is customizable for every industry and application. Collaborate in the cloud.
  • The ALTAIR Connect App, by MSA. With this app, paired with any ALTAIR 5X Detector, users can configure instruments, send automatic alarm notifications, monitor calibration and bump tests, and more.
Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at [email protected]

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