The changing definitions of a safe workplace

by Ben Ice
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Facility Management speaks with Alistair Venn about how his company’s audit app is helping businesses, FMs and individual workers take control of their workplace safety protocols in uncertain times.

SafetyCulture, a developer of workplace health and safety solutions, kicked into high gear this year. Its iAuditor app, which provides a quick and simple way to prepare, disseminate and compile data from workplace safety checklists, has proven useful for so many businesses and facilities as workers around the country return to work in a more irregular fashion than before COVID-19.

Most recently, SafetyCulture launched two new tools, ‘sensors’ and ‘incidents’, as part of its Safely Back to Business program. Sensors removes the need for workers to complete physical monitoring and manual checks, and incidents allows them to capture and notify anything raising their concerns such as property damage, personal injuries or near misses.

COO Alistair Venn explains how the company’s products are providing solutions for those managing facilities for which safety and ongoing COVID-19 response management are paramount.

FM: What are the current concerns for you and your users?

Alistair Venn: We feel very privileged that our company makes technology tools to help businesses manage risks. We feel, in many ways, that all the hard work over the last 10 years or so was for situations like this. So it has been a very busy time, but very fulfilling. We’re most excited about the phase of returning to work because it’s really where we can specialise best – all of our experience is in helping companies to manage their risk as best as possible. 

[Early in the pandemic lockdowns] there were very difficult conversations, where almost all of our customers felt they were trapped in this zero sum game of: ‘Either I need to prioritise growth in the economy and financials or I need to prioritise health and one needs to come at the expense of the other’.

What has been exciting, and what is driving a lot of growth at the moment, is that you can use tools like iAuditor to be able to find that happy medium and to get back to work safely. That’s really what we have been focusing on in particular. In the FM space, it is a huge growth area for us at the moment. We do see some of our partners in the space – we work with some of the big organisations like Sodexo and others on a global level as well as a number of great smaller businesses – and in many ways they are on the front lines of going back into facilities and reopening facilities. A major link in the control systems is to make sure requirements are in place around hygiene and social distancing. It has certainly been a major area of focus for us. 

Please talk us through your products.

The core app is called iAuditor. At its simplest, it’s a very easy to use customer facing app. Anyone in your organisation, with around two minutes of training, can start to complete predefined checklists. It’s something as simple as a checklist, it’s incredibly powerful and it’s used by pilots and surgeons all around the world to perform highly complex tasks. When we try to manage risks, we work with our customers to define the ideal checklists to complete. Then it’s easy to distribute those checklists within an app to anyone in your teams. It’s particularly helpful for FM companies, and others, that have large workforces distributed across multiple sites where it’s difficult to communicate and difficult to pull all of that information back in a seamless way.

The person plugging in the data finds it incredibly easy in the front end. In the back end, the advantage is you have real-time telemetry, across your business, of all this information just pouring back into a centralised back end where you can start to see ‘Oh, this site hasn’t completed its inspection for today’ or ‘Across all of my sites this is the most common failed item – they’re running out of tape to mark the floor for social distancing spacing. This is now an issue across seven different sites, we need to do something about it’. 

It’s that simplicity of capturing the information and the real value is the speed at which you can capture it and update your processes or put remediations in place.

What changes have you seen in the ways users have interacted with the technology in recent months?

Probably the thing that warms my heart the most [relates to] one of the mission statements of SafetyCulture as a company: to try and genuinely build a safety culture within an organisation. 

A lot of traditional compliance is top-down. You have an inspector or an auditor who goes and wanders around each site, but may only visit a site once a month, and conducts this very long and comprehensive check. Then they force it down through the organisation, telling everyone what they’ve done wrong and what they need to do differently. The beautiful thing about iAuditor is you actually just get everyone – the people doing the task who know the job best – to do lots of small, frequent checks. That is really relevant. The traditional model of somebody going and visiting a site once a month? We just know how quickly this virus can spread and how rapidly everything evolves. The fact that you can now get almost everyone in your company to be the eyes and the ears, to get all of this real-time information coming back, allows you to actually respond much more quickly than the traditional model. 

That’s the thing that we are most heartened by, with some of our existing customers that were doing a lot of inspections, but usually had the same team of auditors doing all the inspections. Now it’s across their whole business. That’s the thing that gets us really excited, because we think that’s one of the key ways that we can really all get safely back to business.

That must make things easier in situations where not every member is going back to work and not necessarily on a full-time basis – so you may not know who’s on-site on any given day.

Exactly, you get the flexibility and then you get the cultural bit – the accountability where everyone’s saying, ‘I’m showing up, I’m taking responsibility for the role that I play, I’ll do my own checks and I’ll manage that’.

Because there are environments where people are fearful. The definition of a dangerous workplace has changed a lot. A lot of people used to think, ‘Oh well, if I don’t work on a mine or a construction site in a hardhat, then that’s not really my problem.’ Whereas now, something as simple as going for a coffee can be a dangerous activity. Helping people to take charge of their own safety and empowering them is a powerful thing.

How do you expect things to change and what will be your focus moving forward?

We feel really excited about how we can help and it’s hugely heartwarming to see how we are helping many of our existing customers. We know that there are so many businesses out there across Australia and around the world that are all trying to do the right thing and come up with their own processes and their own checks and are wondering how on Earth to implement this. So the more that we can spread the word with new customers and help and support them to feel confident to get back to work? That’ll be a great thing.

One thing, in particular for facility managers, we’re seeing the first bits of over the last few years, probably the last few decades, is that so much of FM has become price-led. You’re constantly competing on price. Now this is really quite a big game-changer, where quality and safety can be a differentiator. Many of our FM customers are already on-charging the licensing costs of iAuditor or actually creating a new revenue stream to say to their end customer that they are able to provide extra services and go from being on the back foot to actually really being a proactive thought leader to their end customers, the building owners, and the tenants. I’m excited to do more of that. 

Photo by Chirag Saini on Unsplash

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