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Crowdsourcing hazard alerts

By Nick Wright

With mobile app WorkplaceAware, employees can report safety issues from the shop floor instantly

April 2015 - In early 2014, a food manufacturer shut down its “man-lift,” an elevator system for employees to ascend the 12-story building where the company operates. On one particular weekend, the lift was shut down for maintenance. It needed more work on the following Monday morning, so the contractor stopped work on that Saturday. But the contractor neglected to place required barriers around the exposed man-lift hole on the 4th floor where the majority of the work was underway. That left a big hole exposed next to a main walkway.

Come Monday morning, an employee showed up and saw the hole. Using a smartphone app called WorkplaceAware, he reported the hole, complete with time, date, a picture and short description of the issue. In his office, the safety manager instantly saw the report, verified it, then had maintenance come set up proper barriers.

Luckily, no one got hurt. The issue was categorized as a “near miss,” and after the contractor was confronted with the evidence reported with WorkplaceAware, the company fired the contractor.

“We were told this issue could have caused a catastrophic accident,” says Rob Sweeney, CEO of WorkplaceAware. “The projected costs could have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

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WorkplaceAware is a new mobile app with a growing list of clients including construction companies, manufacturers, public works and water utilities. Launched in early 2014 for iPhone and Android users, it lets companies and managers crowdsource safety reporting. When they do, reports are sent directly to a MessageQube cellular printer (above), resembling a retail receipt printer, and accompanying online dashboard.

The longstanding method of safety reporting is writing it on paper. But that usually means employees have to stop what they’re doing and file a report in an office, says Sweeney. Some automated solutions require employees to log into a website after work to file a report. Both methods can get in the way of productivity while not necessarily providing all the details and system necessary for acting quickly.

“They also do not promote prompt, real-time reporting that includes pictures and a location of the incident along with time and date,” he says.

The idea for the app came from a manufacturer that suggested linking the MessageQube printer with a reporting system. Whether employees are supposed to have their phones on them or not—in any workplace—the reality is that smartphones are pervasive. As long as everyone has one (either their own or provided by the employer), why not harness it? At the same time, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was concerned about a lack of safety reporting at the food manufacturer.

After three months of use in 2014, the company using WorkplaceAware logged 36 near-misses and hazard reports, up from nine total in 2013. Aside from quick reporting, the reports gave managers lots of numbers to crunch and trends to analyze to avert problems in the future.

The app costs $1,995 per year for unlimited reporting and includes iPhone and Android apps for all employees, the MessageQube cellular printer and Enterprise Dashboard.

No plant manager wants accidents to happen. But the reality of a workplace involving moving machinery or physical work, on some level, comes with risk. Crowdsourcing to flag that risk sooner than later can mitigate it. FFJ

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