Streamlining Safety: Leveraging Technology to Connect Lone Workers with Supervisors
By Julia Beckel
Due to the dispersed nature of their work, lone workers are largely responsible for their own health and safety, and often are needed to assess and identify a variety of occupational hazards such as heat exhaustion, fatigue, and environmental distractions. While modern research has shown a number of mechanisms for supporting the health and safety of traditional workforces, organizations are increasingly tasked with understanding how to translate these support systems for their dispersed workforce.
A particularly relevant challenge is how to extend and promote a strong safety culture among workers who are not co-located – keeping mobile workers engaged. This issue speaks to the importance of relationships between front-line supervisors and their employees, as supervisors are a primary source for spreading beliefs and expectations around safety, as well as generating motivation for safety performance among workers. For example, supervisory communication practices regarding key safety information have been shown to uniquely contribute to worker safety behaviors among lone workers (Huang et al., 2017), and when compared to the organization or peers, supervisor support is the strongest influence in ensuring employee’s safety compliance behavior (Puah et al., 2016). In summary, supervisors are a key driver for instilling value for safety into the hearts and minds of workers so that employees feel a personal ownership for safety, no matter where they are located.
Leveraging Technological Advances for Lone Worker Safety and Support
Fortunately, advances in technology supply a unique opportunity for connecting and supporting lone workers in the field through their supervisors. Organizations may look to incorporate technology-based systems to improve both how they manage and identify safety risks, as well as upkeep important social connections and support systems for lone workers.
Here are two ideas for using technology to keep your dispersed workforce connected:
- Invest in wearable solutions. Wearables can allow workers to inform supervisors about their location, fatigue levels, health status, and surrounding environmental hazards. For example, supervisors can have access to virtual hazard identification and monitoring tools (i.e., noise, temperature, pressure, moving equipment) to aid lone workers with pre-job planning, sometimes referred to as “tailboarding.” Other devices can be worn to detect falls from height and indicate supervisors and emergency services, while using GPS systems to identify workers’ locations. Some wearables also provide workers with an ability to video connect with peers or supervisors to jointly troubleshoot problems in the field, lending to an easy access window of support for workers who may be hesitant to call for help.
- Drive app-based connection with existing technology. App-based systems are another option which allows supervisors a direct line to lone workers while using existing technology, such as smart phones. There are a variety of existing app-based solutions which allow safety touch points between supervisors and lone workers. Across these applications, supervisors can schedule check-ins, using GPS to monitor worker location in case of emergency, and view start and end job alerts. Lone workers can also use applications to alert supervisors in case of emergency for more expedient response, and provide a structured mechanism for supporting workers in the field.
As technology continues to revolutionize the way we work, it is crucial for organizations to use these advances for the safety of their workforce. From wearable solutions to app-based connections, organizations now have access to innovative solutions for ensuring the safety and promoting the engagement of all employees, no matter where they are.
Huang, Y. H., Lee, J., McFadden, A. C., Rineer, J., & Robertson, M. M. (2017). Individual employee’s perceptions of “Group-level Safety Climate”(supervisor referenced) versus “Organization-level Safety Climate”(top management referenced): Associations with safety outcomes for lone workers. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 98, 37-45.
Patel, V., Chesmore, A., Legner, C. M., & Pandey, S. Trends in workplace wearable technologies and connected-worker solutions for next-generation occupational safety, health, and productivity. Advanced Intelligent Systems, 4, 1.
Puah, L. N., Ong, L. D., & Chong, W. Y. (2016). The effects of perceived organizational support, perceived supervisor support, and perceived co-worker support on safety and health compliance. International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, 22(3), 333-339.