As the world keeps changing, so does the world of occupational health and safety. While technology continues to evolve, workplace safety needs to adapt as well. That’s why cell-phone apps designed for oh&s functions have become an important in the marketplace. New programs for Smartphones and tablets can assist with all kinds of tasks, ranging from safety inspections and incident reports to emergency alerts and contacting remote colleagues when alone and in danger.
“Lives are at stake,” says Matthew Ross, media manager with ProntoForms Corporation, a mobile-solution company based in Kanata, Ontario. “People absolutely need to be able to process these types of info as fast as possible.”
ProntoForms has created an app that sends and receives forms and vital work information quickly. “With the push of a button, the info is sent to wherever you like,” Ross explains. “You can send to a variety of cloud services.” Such forms could include inspection checklists, safety lists, data on hazardous materials, action reports and even statements from accident witnesses, he adds. “We’ve got such incredible positive feedback from clients because the processing is so much faster.” Apart from increased safety, a side benefit of the ProntoForms app is a sharp reduction in paperwork.
“People are looking to help make their lives easier and make their jobs easier,” says Jason Grouette, business manager of the personal safety division for 3M Canada in London, Ontario. “I think any app — be it a safety app or any app — can make their lives easier; it adds value. And that’s what we are hoping to do with our safety apps.”
3M Canada provides a practical new app that assists employees assigned to buy safety equipment for their companies, including distributors, health and safety managers and some end users. Simply called Safety, the app gives the user instant access to more than 2,400 workplace safety products available from 3M. You can call up a list of products matching any oh&s category, which saves time browsing through lengthy lists; Safety asks the user very specific questions that really help narrow the search down.
“So after asking you five or six questions, it really narrows the available product from what could be hundreds to generally one, two or a small handful,” explains Grouette.
“What we wanted to achieve with our app is to help the distributor app or the end user or the health and safety manager, help them make a decision as to what is the appropriate product for their application,” Grouette adds. “So try to help them turn info and make it valuable.”
Honeywell Safety Products in Morristown, New Jersey offers a similar product, the Media App, which gives users access to product information and learning resources on personal protective equipment available from Honeywell. Other apps with various workplace-safety functions to help keep workers safe:
So why have workplace safety apps become more prevalent? “We are in a different world that we were a decade ago,” says Grouette. “People have an expectation of finding answers very quickly and addressing problems quickly.”
“It’s driven by a bunch of things,” explains Ross. “The technology on Smartphones and tablets has gotten stronger and more powerful. So it has enabled us to include better features, time-savings, cost savings, high-productivity features. Another thing is the BYOD trend – bring-your-own-device trend – in businesses, so companies are more comfortable with employees to using their own devices.”
Ross points out that the construction and oil and gas industries tend to supply ProntoForms’ biggest customers for health and safety products. “The job risks,” he explains. “People working with hazardous materials. It’s the higher-risk types of industries.” But restaurant chains also use the ProntoForms app for information about cleanliness and other oh&s issues, he adds.
“They are able to identify challenges in the field, or opportunities related to health and safety, that they may have otherwise missed or not seen several days later,” Ross says about customers who use ProntoForms. “And that is always putting workers or customers at risk, depending on the type of business that they are doing.
“The speed of data collection and processing is something that is invaluable in the industry.”
Grouette lists oil and gas, mining and manufacturing as sectors that benefit highly from 3M’s products, including the Safety app.
“There is a real need for understanding what the appropriate products are,” Grouette notes, “and regardless of industry, I think our app does a very good job of helping them understand that.”
Many safety apps, including some of the aforementioned ones, are available to employers and workers for free. But Grouette doesn’t feel that customers should be concerned about that. “I would be looking to the owner of the app, as to whether you think it’s a company that you think can stand behind in terms of the application,” he points out.
“3M has been in the safety business for many years, and the company has been around for over 100 years. I think we’ve built a reputation that can be trusted,” he adds. “We stand behind all the info contained in the application.”
Like many other aspects of 21st Century life, workplace safety has gone digital. Safety apps are quickly becoming an essential part of oh&s standards.
Jeff Cottrill is the editor of Canadian Occupational Health & Safety News.