Magazine Article | February 25, 2013

4 Steps To Ensure Mobile Worker Safety

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Anne Bonaparte, president and CEO, Xora,

Here are four steps you can take to make sure your mobile workers are safe in the field.

No employer likes to think about one of their workers being hurt or killed on the job. But according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the reality is that every day in America, more than 8,000 people are injured and 13 people die from injuries incurred while working.

All employers are responsible for creating working conditions that help keep their employees safe, but companies with mobile employees such as field service technicians face special challenges. Because their jobs keep them constantly on the move, these workers are vulnerable in ways that employees who work in employer-controlled offices or other facilities are not. To complicate their situations, always-mobile workers can be miles away from cities or towns, with limited access to first aid or law enforcement assistance should something go wrong.

As an employer of field service workers, you can’t always protect them from harm. But you can develop safety programs and contingency plans for the most common hazards and help your employees be prepared if they find themselves at risk. Here are four best practices for helping keep your mobile workers safe.

#1: Identify The Safety Risks Of Your Mobile Workforce
You’re probably a good judge of the safety issues your field service workers face. But your workers might be even better at recognizing potential dangers. So augment your own assessment by asking them what hazards they face on the job. Take advantage of their experience to discover:

  • What are their most likely risks?
  • Which risks are they most concerned about?
  • What suggestions do they have for policies and procedures that might help keep them safe?

Involving your workers in assessing their risks has an additional benefit: It encourages them to think more about their own safety. This is important because some problems cannot be identified in advance, and raising workers’ awareness of potential hazards can make them more alert to new dangers that might arise.

#2: Set Safety Policies And Procedures
Begin this step of the process with an inventory of the policies and procedures already in place. Then identify areas where further work is needed. For example, when working in remote or isolated areas or late at night, your employees should be over-reporting: checking in before starting a job, providing an estimate of how long their job might take, and then checking in again when the job is complete. If the expected time passes with no communication, have a plan for what happens next.

#3: Train, Educate, And Communicate
Training on safety issues should begin before a worker starts a new job. This kind of orientation is especially important for workers new to field work and workers taking on a new function or geography with unfamiliar hazards. Consider training based on “what if” scenarios: Identify many possible situations workers could encounter while working in the field, how they might play out, and what workers could do to protect themselves. Initial training should be followed in the days and months ahead with refreshers at periodic intervals.

#4: Use Technology To Ensure Mobile Worker Safety
Field service worker safety is an area where mobile technology can make a huge difference: Mobile workforce management solutions can both ease the burden of running an effective safety program and also help give everyone peace of mind. For example:

  • GPS capabilities of mobile phones allow you to know where your workers are at all times, with their locations shown on maps.
  • A job start-and-stop time feature can automate the process of workers informing office personnel when they arrive and depart a location.
  • Alerts can be pre-configured to send via email or text information that a worker has not been heard from for a period of time, in case workers are unable to call for assistance themselves.
  • Geo-fencing allows you to set boundaries around areas and have alerts automatically sent if a mobile phone or vehicle crosses over a boundary line.

The list of potential dangers to field service employees is unfortunately long. The good news is that the actions employers can take to protect their employees are straightforward. Adopting these best practices can help alleviate many of the concerns around worker safety, allowing you and your field service workers to focus on what you both do best — your jobs.