Every year, over 2.9 million US workers are injured in workplace incidents. The National Safety Council estimates that for each injury, employees miss an average of nine days of work and incur $42,300 in costs from lost productivity, workers’ compensation, and medical bills.

The grim reality is that accidents, injuries, and fatalities will happen for a multitude of reasons in any high-risk industry. Unfortunately, trying to reduce accidents and fatalities using an archaic approach like the Safety Pyramid isn’t likely to yield substantive results. You need to gather reliable, actionable data to inform your decision-making – not just posit theories that bank on an imaginary domino effect.

As a safety leader, if you want to make a difference, the first step is to move away from paper- and spreadsheet-based systems. Serious safety improvements can only come with the speed, reliability, and analysis that digital solutions provide.

Here are four ways mobile technology can keep your workers safer.

1. Increased Reliability and Ease of Use Compared to Paper

Communicating and recording important safety information on reams of paper can quickly become chaotic and confusing. Paper is notorious for getting lost, damaged, and illegibly filled. While spreadsheet programs can offer a handy alternative to clipboards and copy paper, they become exponentially overwhelming as more users and variables enter the mix.

Mobile devices, on the other hand, can be the eyes and ears of safety leaders. In the hands of a capable safety auditor, they can be used to cite, document, and correct a multitude of issues in the field. Mobile devices boast built-in features that optimize safety audits, such as high resolution cameras, GPS location tracking, and inherent portability.

Mobile apps can partially fill or autofill data fields by referencing contextual information, such as the user’s credentials, previous input, or offline data models. With custom in-form logic, you can define conditions which intuitively guide users through their tasks, skipping irrelevant questions and prompting specific user actions based on red-flag responses. The typical stack of paper for a company-wide safety audit can be reduced to a seamless digital flow of properly contextualized questions and on-the-spot corrections.

Plus, your employees are probably familiar with using mobile devices and likely use their own smartphone or tablet multiple times a day. This opens the door for BYOD (bring your own device) initiatives and soothes the pain points associated with deploying new hardware. Instead of paying the high premium of brand new tech and training, you can put intelligent reporting at your employees’ fingertips using their own familiar devices.

2. Improved Oversight of Tasks, Audits, and Worker Behavior

The days of double-entry and “crossed wires” are long since past. Digital data collection has already proven to be at least as reliable as double entry – albeit with half the effort. However, not every app will help you ensure users collect data “by the book” every time. Most provide little more than a simple system of record.

With the right software, you can completely centralize, manage, and automate your audits and inspections on one platform. Instead of breaking up all the components of your safety operations into fragmented processes, mobile software controls the flow of data in your organization and makes it easy to access, analyze, and review what’s happening right now, everywhere.

Cloud-powered mobile apps with offline-first functionality can simultaneously maintain “one version of the truth” and allow remote workers to go about their duties without an internet connection. An inspector is able to synchronize their user hub or “portal” with the company server, take their device offline, record data, and automatically re-sync when connected again.

The right mobile technology standardizes and enforces proper execution with smart “prompts” that offer feedback based on specific responses, such as reference data about regulatory standards, pop-out sections for issue-specific notes, and suggested next steps. When paired with custom workflows, these prompts cut the latency between first report and final follow-up

For example, if an audit reveals a boiler with a corroded safety valve that poses an immediate health and safety risk, the app will immediately prompt the user to take an image, describe the issue, and send an alert, and assign follow-up actions automatically.

3. Faster CAPAs and Approval Processes

Many safety professionals still manage their Corrective and Preventive Action (CAPA) processes with paper, spreadsheets, and homegrown solutions. But the keys to effective CAPAs are speed, accuracy, and clarity. If you’re still managing follow-up actions with archaic systems, issues can escalate or snowball while approvals slowly churn through the pipeline.

Mobile technology cuts right to the chase by intuitively managing the flow of information and next steps. With the right mobile software, the remediation process should look like this:

  • An auditor initially documents and identifies an issue as critical
  • The system immediately flags the issue and prompts the auditor for additional info (i.e., photos, notes, and attempted corrections)
  • Alerts are sent to supervisors, managers, and other responsible individuals
  • An action plan with a criticality level and deadline is automatically assigned to the right people
  • Reminders regularly notify all parties when the deadline is approaching, when the task is completed, and if any further actions are required

The “step-by-step” approach gives auditors an opportunity to turn the remediation process into a coaching session. When they identify problem behaviors, such as an employee not storing materials properly, on-screen prompts can provide reference info like illustrations, manuals, photos, and more. These prompts not only provide a basis for correction, but also ensure that employees have a clear understanding of regulatory and safety standards so that the problem doesn’t happen again.

4. Deeper Analysis and Trend Tracking

While mobile technology increases the speed at which you address safety deficits, it also provides long-term insights to drive improvements over time. Aggregating all your safety data in one system allows you to analyze trends, such as specific types of incident reports, chronic violations, and behaviors that need retraining.

Analysis tools also help you cultivate a data-driven safety culture in your organization. A simple list or spreadsheet with the number of slip-and-fall incidents or materials handling accidents per year doesn’t effectively illustrate the issues. Analytical visualizations, like charts, graphs, and points plotted on a map, are elements you can add to boardroom presentations and breakroom posters alike.

Longitudinal and latitudinal data can pay dividends. According to a 2016 Dodge Data & Analytics report, 76% of construction companies that actively promoted safety culture saw a positive impact on contracting new work. Likewise, OSHA reports that companies with effective safety and health management systems reduce the costs associated with accidents up to 40 percent.

Instead of simply collecting data to publish in quarterly reports, put that information to good use by highlighting problem areas. With the right data and a willingness to learn from it, information can help you start generating the kinds of thoughts and conversations where real learning can happen. Over time, this real learning can spark better ideas, smarter decisions, and ultimately lead you down a path towards continuous EHS improvement.