Historically, the utilities sector has been heavily regulated, resulting in mature and stable health and safety systems. However, given the growth trajectory and high-risk nature of the industry, there are some common safety challenges that should—and can—be addressed. Is software for utilities companies the answer?
In the US alone, the industry employs over 670,000 people and counting. Furthermore, globally, utility companies are expected to spend US$14 billion a year before 2023 in modernizing and building smarter infrastructure. (Likely accelerated by the pandemic.)
Consequently, as utility firms realize this growth, safety challenges will arise.
To tackle them, utilities safety teams can turn to technology.
In this vein, Verdantix in Market Size and Forecast: EHS Software 2020-2026 has forecasted that the utilities sector will spend US$101 million on Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS) software in 2021. For perspective, out of 25 sectors tracked, that makes utilities the fourth-highest spender.
So, with this in mind, what are the biggest safety challenges for utilities companies this year, and how software help?
1. Employee and contractor engagement in safety
The biggest utilities firms produce billions in annual revenue and employ thousands of people. Therefore, the size of these companies results in widespread and complex organizational structures that sometimes span borders.
Why does size represent a safety challenge?
It all comes down to building a positive safety culture and having a well-integrated system across the organization.
The bigger the company, the harder this can be.
Furthermore, to support the increased spending on utility work, utilities companies will be more likely to use contractors. This brings an additional layer of risk, as contractors may lack experience with utilities-specific safety procedures and may be less engaged in the company’s safety programs.
2. Accessibility to safety information
Yet another challenge accentuated by size is access to information across the company.
Unfortunately, safety professionals are all too familiar with Excel spreadsheets which become intolerable as the business matures. Paper forms and spreadsheets sufficed in the past are no longer fit for purpose in an industry which is rapidly modernizing.
In fact, in the report Global Corporate Survey 2019: EHS Budgets, Priorities & Tech Preferences, Verdantix stated that disconnected IT is the biggest challenge EHS professionals face.
Not only is collating information extremely time-consuming, the disconnected nature of these systems also limits visibility to a select few.
Which begs the question: how can you promote the value of safety if only the safety department sees the data?
Barriers like this pose a significant challenge to safety professionals, undermining efforts to engage everyone in your positive safety culture.
3. Frequent remote work
Funnily enough, working from the comfort of your home is not what we’re talking about here (although this can also entail some risks!).
There are many safety risks related to remote work in the field—beyond the scope of this article. But, there is one with no place in a ‘modernizing’ industry: lack of mobility.
Especially with infrastructure modernization work, many utilities employees are in remote locations.
With older systems, that could mean the cumbersome process of printing risk assessments and other procedures on paper before the day’s work.
Furthermore, if there’s an observation, near miss or other incident on-site, it’s equally as inconvenient. Workers must fill out and hold onto a paper form until they can file it at the office or wait until they’re back at a desktop to report from memory.
Unfortunately, this means less accuracy, delayed response, and, most worryingly, workers not bothering to report at all.
The opportunity for Safety to modernize, too
In an industry undergoing digital transformation, safety professionals shouldn’t have to “make do” with outdated systems.
In fact, time-consuming admin processes are likely costing you money and increasing your risk of noncompliance.
Combined with the increased perceived value of IT due to COVID-19, safety directors in utilities firms have a unique opportunity to modernize.
Luckily, safety software for companies can solve all three of these common challenges in utilities.
Moreover, for the hundreds of utilities companies using Office 365, there’s an even more compelling case.
But how, exactly? Let’s list some specifics.
User-friendly and mobile responsive forms
If the problem is engagement, a user-friendly system should be the first step to encourage participation.
In safety software, that translates to a clear interface and easy-to-use forms.
Unlike paper forms which lack flexibility or spreadsheets which lack intuitiveness, safety software forms can be dynamic. That means they update as the user fills them in, asking for only relevant information—guiding workers through the process, and avoiding that “I’m lost, I give up” response.
In addition, most modern safety software forms are mobile responsive. That means they resize to any device screen size, enabling workers to easily submit information anywhere, anytime.
Not to mention, information is more accurate when recorded on-site rather than hours later from memory.
Compare that to filling out and holding on to a paper form throughout the day. Now, imagine not having to collate the information afterwards into a spreadsheet!
The benefits keep piling up, demonstrating how safety software helps solve remote work problems.
Integrated IT systems
If your utility firm is using Office 365, you should be looking to integrate Safety with it.
Here, there are 3 major benefits to consider: visibility, single sign-on and clear recordable data.
Just because people are aware of health and safety doesn’t mean they’ll buy into it. Visibility is a form of advertising and reminding both employees and executives to think about the bigger picture.
For example, integrating Pro-Sapien with your company SharePoint on Office 365 means you can have a direct link to your safety modules right on your SharePoint dashboard, making it visible and easy for everyone to access.
Which leads us to the second benefit of integration, Single Sign-On (SSO).
What does this mean? SSO is a scenario where you don’t require any additional credentials to sign on. In our example, once you log into your company SharePoint environment, that’s it, you’re in. No new passwords inevitably removes another layer of difficulty to reporting (no one likes forgotten passwords).
While the above advantages are designed to improve reporting, how clear the reported data is also plays an important role in putting safety front of mind.
This contributes to employees understanding the bigger picture, and solid recording of data helps produce tangible evidence of how active safety programs are working. Keeping this data simple means you will be able to share high level statistics that everyone understands, in clear and straightforward graphics or charts such as the ones produced on Power BI.
Digital transformation in the utilities sector
In line with investment in technology so far the utilities sector plans on improving performance to a new level.
Could EHS software be the key to managing the safety challenges ahead?
The truth is the issues identified above are all well within the scope of what EHS software can do, especially that designed for larger, high-risk enterprises, a category where many utilities companies fall.
Breaching the distance between departments and divisions, safety software is designed to produce an up to date database that will contribute to keeping safety front of mind everywhere in the business.
Read SJI’s experience using Pro-Sapien software, a fellow business in the utilities sector that has benefitted immensely from their investment in EHS software on Office 365.