Digitizing safety

By Joanne Paulson. 

Safety is our number one priority.

It’s a statement echoed by virtually every manufacturing leader on the Prairies.

And rightfully so. Apart from being the ‘right thing to do,’ there is a proven business case for investing in safety performance.

An Aberdeen Group study co-sponsored by Rockwell Automation in 2011 found manufacturers in the top 20 per cent of safety performers enjoyed an injury frequency rate 60 times lower than companies in the bottom 30 per cent, as well as 12 per cent less unscheduled downtime, and 14 per cent better overall equipment efficiency — a measure used to compare how well a manufacturing plant performs relative to its designed production capacity.

Like manufacturing, however, the business of safety has endured immense change over the past decade, and is on pace for yet another revolution. The days of scattered forms, four-inch-thick policy manuals, and stuffy classroom training courses are near an end. Technology is now beginning to usher safety into the digital age.

App-lying safety systems

No one understands the marriage between IT and safety better than Ryan Quiring.

Quiring and his Calgary-based business partner, Craig Fraser, founded SafetyTek in 2015 — a software company dedicated to removing paper from safety management and compliance processes.

Using a cloud-connected, mobile-friendly interface, the SafetyTek system enables clients to access safety records, track training progress, submit forms, and coordinate corrective action from anywhere, all with the click of a button on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop device.

“In many ways, it’s a risk management tool,” explains Quiring. “It’s not just about digitizing a process — it’s about increasing visibility and real-time access to data. You need that information to make preventative decisions instead of reacting to incidents that have already occurred.”

Wayne Brylikowski concurs.

The safety and health manager for Monarch Industries in Winnipeg, Brylikowski credits ‘app’ technology with changing how the 500-employee operation actively mitigates its exposure to risk.

“Whether your company has only a few machines or several hundred, having a structured means to identify the level of risk to your workers is significant,” he says. “The premise is to assess and score risk, but also to measure and manage improvement. What gets measured will get managed.”

Online training changing minds

Good training programs are seldom cheap. That has been especially true for Prairie manufacturers — many of which have historically been forced to absorb significant time and travel costs to send employees from rural areas to classrooms in major centres.

For the Safety Association of Saskatchewan Manufacturers (SASM), it is a familiar problem. Only a third of SASM’s 11,000 member employees are located in either Regina or Saskatoon. The rest are found in communities like Frontier — situated in the province’s southwest corner, three hours and 40 minutes from the nearest international airport (in Great Falls, Montana, out of all places).

So, it would be only natural to consider online learning as an alternate delivery mechanism. But, initially, SASM Executive Director Ken Ricketts wasn’t convinced.

“When we looked at the online training that was available, they had a seven-hour class reduced to 40 minutes and still called it training. That’s not training. It’s an awareness blurb — it’s an infomercial,” exclaims Ricketts. “We said, ‘No, if you’re going to take online training from us, you’re going to get every bit of theory you would get in a classroom.’”

He meant it.

SASM’s new online training offerings are inarguably longer and more intensive than the industry norm. Each course requires the completion of an exam, and a mark of at least 80 per cent to pass.

The rigorous standards are even compelling urban-based manufacturers to take a second look.

Degelman Industries in Regina has gone so far as to set up a dedicated training room to help facilitate SASM’s online training platform. The company trains primarily for the use of forklifts and overhead cranes — Degelman has 60 on-site — in addition to ‘train the trainer’ courses for supervisors. Roughly 90 per cent of its organization-wide training is now delivered online.

Outside the city, 280 kilometres north in the town of St Brieux, Bourgault Industries has been leaning heavily on web-based learning to keep its 650 employees up-to-date on the latest safety practices.

“Being in a remote location, online training gives us the flexibility to coordinate training around what works best for our organization and production deadlines,” says Frank Blandin, the plant’s corporate health and safety training team leader. “Say we have a material shortage or a piece of equipment that breaks down. We can easily move people around and have them take a course right then and there.

“We can train one, or we can train 20, and it doesn’t affect our line as severely.”

According to Blandin, the uniformity of online training is another benefit.

“You have consistent, predictable delivery each and every time,” he says. “You don’t have to worry about information being left out. Our team members have the ability to go back and review content if they don’t understand it. They can learn at their own pace and their own comfort level.

“We see SASM as assisting us in our safety program — not as standing in front of a classroom, training.”

Ricketts, meanwhile, is happy his initial hesitations helped to shape the eventual outcome instead of preventing it altogether.

“Our members receive their quality training, they receive their evaluations, and it’s much less expensive. They love it!”