Gas sector can benefit from tech-powered safety culture

The benefits of creating a culture of safety in any business are extensive – especially so for those operating in high-risk, safety critical environments. Numerous research studies have found that staff who feel safe are happier, more productive, and more efficient. Conversely, when employees don’t feel a sense of safety, performance, innovation, and revenues can all decline. Unsurprisingly, it also leads to higher employee turnover.  In addition to the impact on people, these factors have a financial impact on companies.

Research from professional services giant, Accenture, found that companies which achieve high levels of “psychological safety” experience several benefits, including a 27% reduction in turnover, 50% more productivity, and 74% less stress reported by employees. 

It also found that workers are 57% more likely to collaborate and 67% more likely to apply a newly learned skill on the job. Of course, the primary reason for driving safety standards will always be to ensure employees go home at the end of the day in the same physical health and mental mindset as when they left. But there is also a genuine business imperative to focus on safety culture. It is a classic case of what is good for the company being great for the employee.

Driving safety in the gas sector

There are very few industry sectors where safety is more important than gas distribution. FYLD, an artificial intelligence (AI) powered field worker platform, was initially created for work in the gas distribution industry. The aim was to create a greatly improved level of collaboration, real-time information exchange, productivity uplift and, ultimately, build an improved safety culture. 

Technology is the perfect enabler to achieve these goals; once thought of as something of a digital laggard, the gas and broader utilities sectors have a golden opportunity to digitalise inefficient and frequently ineffectual processes.

This isn’t digitalisation for the sake of digitalisation; FYLD goes far beyond that. Take risk assessments – a vital component of any gas job in the field – as a prime example. For the most part (although not entirely), the industry has moved on from paper-based assessments, but they’ve generally been replaced by PDFs on tablets. Digital paper, if you will.  

Digital paper assessments are little more than check box exercises, typically performed away from where risks are present (the site of the job) and completed in vans and huts. Often carried out after the job is finished – with no real-time site visibility for remote managers – digital paper leaves managers in the dark about the environments their teams are working in.

This switch from paper to digital paper is not the step change the industry needs. It is not a meaningful improvement on the paper-based system, and it certainly isn’t going to result in an improved culture of safety.  At FYLD, we believe digital paper has reinforced bad and outdated work practices. In a world where we all have smartphones, we question why managing risk on digital paper still persists. Time after time we see investigations taking place after an incident has occurred,  comparing it to how the incident would have been avoided with real time site visibility through FYLD. 

The FYLD risk assessment, also known in-app as a Visual Risk Assessment (VRA), is a game-changer. Fieldworkers use simple in-app tools to conduct a VRA, including a quick video of the site they are working on and voiceover talking about site risks, hazards and planned work.  FYLD is an effective example of how modern technology should be used – with simplicity at its core.  But what’s so sophisticated about a video and voiceover, and how is it game changing field operations? That’s where FYLD’s artificial intelligence (AI) comes in. It allows real time analysis of VRAs to suggest risks and hazards that otherwise may not have been realised by fieldworkers. 

Working hand-in-hand with the technology, fieldworkers can conduct safety-critical risk assessments in real-time to enable instant visibility for team managers. This is critical for a couple of reasons: firstly, the AI can alert them to hazards they might have missed, and it also means managers can have confidence that specific risk assessments have been performed. Guided by FYLD, remote managers can pinpoint which sites need their attention, prioritising these over sites that are safe. 

We know that the use of AI can cause a certain degree of apprehension, but our work with major UK gas distributor, SGN, has shown FYLD’s VRAs are helping the workforce better understand their environments and capture risks within them. SGN’s workforce has embraced FYLD’s AI with open arms, labelling it as a ‘digital safety buddy’.

FYLD also empowers fieldworkers to take on a whole new level of responsibility. If the AI suggests something that isn’t applicable, the fieldworkers can interact with the risk assessment and remove that hazard. These interactions show us that workforces understand their environments and are confident within them, which is central to developing a broader safety culture.  

FYLD lets customers understand their team’s safety competence based on how they interact with the risk assessments, quickly identifying who might benefit from refresher training. Multiple customers are deploying this training method, as they no longer need to stand all operatives down for generic training. Individual training can instead be highly targeted and highly effective.

VRAs offer remote visibility for team managers and other groups coming on to site, so a high level of scrutiny is driving extremely high standards in the field. Shift handovers have always been a potential friction point in the gas sector, with poor processes and incomplete information causing costly delays. But, with FYLD, teams are coming to jobs armed with all this real time and detailed handover information. As people come and go from sites, they can sign onto FYLD and view the latest VRA, making themselves aware of the hazards on a site and the control measures applied – avoiding risk and boosting safety in the field.   

Leadership, communication, visibility 

With FYLD, we’re getting buy-in across all levels, from field teams to senior management. That management piece is critically important; for any culture to truly take shape, you need your leaders to drive it forward. Culture isn’t something that can be led by HR or marketing, it has to come from the top. 

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) promotes guidelines on elements required to develop an enhanced safety culture: leadership, communication, and visibility. FYLD offers all three of those elements in the solution. Leadership comes from the buy-in that comes with the investment in FYLD. Take SGN as an example; investing in the FYLD solution and rolling it out for use across the workforce has resulted in a safer, more productive workforce.

Communication is built into FYLD using in-app communication tools between teams and managers. Issues can be resolved as they occur, and management can prioritise the sites that need their input, sharing advice and direction with minimal time lost. For too long as an industry, utilities have acted after an incident; FYLD allows management to work much more proactively by avoiding those risks before they pose a threat. 

At FYLD, we’re proud of positive coaching moments in customer operations. We see teams congratulate each other for conducting a great VRA or for producing a fresh VRA if site conditions change measurably. This promotion of a productive safety culture would simply not be possible with paper or digital paper-based risk assessments.

Visibility is invaluable, but real-time visibility is game changing. FYLD is built around real time visibility, not just through the AI-powered VRAs, but also across in-app tools such as site evidencing and job wrap-ups and blockers. Those pillars of HSE culture and leadership are mirrored by FYLD’s core offering.

FYLD – win, win, win

We know it’s an approach that works. It works to reduce incidents; SGN saw a 20% decrease in incidents in just 12 months and a significant increase in proactive reporting from its field workers. 

We know that the FYLD platform improves productivity: in its first year of use, SGN identified over 16,000 hours of non-productive time that it was able to understand and act upon. 

And we know it’s worth the initial investment. Our customers are seeing a return on investment of 10x and beyond through enhanced productivity while preventing incidents from occurring. The first signs of that return on investment are often seen in as little as two weeks.

The word culture can feel a little woolly, especially in sectors like gas utilities where workers are out in the field in hazardous environments. But perceptions are changing, and FYLD is proof that building a positive culture where employees feel safe makes people more productive and happier, directly impacting the balance sheet and leading to better business outcomes. 

Get in touch today to find out more about how FYLD is levelling up gas sector operations.