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Communication Breakdown: Mobile Technology and the Four-Generation Workforce Thinkstock

Communication Breakdown: Mobile Technology and the Four-Generation Workforce

With four generations in the workplace, the workforce is now the most age-diverse it’s ever been and in this time, we’ve also experienced a technology boom spanning all industries.

As more Millennials join the workforce and mobile and social technologies define how we communicate, safety practices – and the way they utilize technology – also must evolve. By implementing a mobile-first approach to workplace safety, organizations can identify, reduce and prevent workplace hazards faster and at a greater scale, according to Jason Dea, director of product marketing at Intelex.

He points out that although health and safety software has helped track trends, thereby reducing workplace incidents and injuries, recent safety gains have been incremental. Nearly 3 million workers suffer occupational injuries and illnesses each year in the United States alone. While many employers talk about zero injury goals, most are not there yet.

In their new whitepaper, “Transforming Health & Safety Digital Disruption with Mobile Technology,” Intelex outlines how mobile applications that combine social technology, gamification and data-driven insights can improve users’ understanding and engagement with workplace safety, creating a more universally safe environment for all workers. 

As the abstract of the white paper states, “Decades of awareness building, training and record keeping on occupational health and safety – spearheaded by private and public enterprises and prodded along by governments – have got us to where we are today. These efforts have moved us incrementally along a path over the past four decades from dozens of deaths per day to a quarter of this number today.”

However, zero fatalities and zero serious injuries “requires a breakthrough,” according to the white paper. Even if the number of safety meetings, checklists and safety-related signs in our workplaces were doubled, workplace fatalities and serious injuries would not be cut in half. “At some point, these investments have diminishing returns,” the white paper points out.

Improvement efforts cannot rely on placing the burden of reducing injuries and illnesses on safety professionals alone.

“New social and mobile technology offer hope to us in getting there. The opportunities created by these new technologies are exceptionally well suited for the challenge as they expose our thinking to new mental frameworks. For safety programs, we can re-evaluate who they are built for and what they focus on delivering. For safety professionals, we can re-think their roles entirely. New technology allows them to shift from being the focal point of initiatives towards being social enablers of safety oriented cultures.”

Dea points out that traditional pen-and-paper methods of training and recordkeeping have been perceived by some employees “as a distraction from their core functions at work. [Writing out reports] takes them out of their day-to-day world,” he says.

Baby Boomers had paper forms that needed to be filled out, reports that needed to be written. Gen X employees were a little more technologically savvy, says Dea, who adds their experience was “all about shrinking a desktop or laptop screen and putting it on a tablet or smartphone.”

Technology now available in the workplace is built from a “mobile-first mindset.” That means it’s not simply taking software from a big screen to a small screen. End users now watch short video clips for entertainment, so why take a 30-minute training class and stream it on a mobile device? That’s not an effective use of available technology, says Dea.   

He points out that Millennials have a very different relationship with technology than previous generations in the workplace. Given a choice, they’d perform their administrative tasks – an incident report or workplace safety observation – using their smartphone’s GPS, camera, voice recording and texting capabilities, etc. to capture real-time data. They’d capture short “training” opportunities – a quick video of employees doing things correctly – to share with other workers.

“If a picture is worth 1,000 words, how much more is a video worth?” Dea asks.

Data collected during these observations or investigations can be used to feed modeling programs, provide almost instantaneous feedback to employees, fill out reports with a minimum of effort, track leading indicators, etc., says Dea, who adds, “It streamlines data collection and makes it so seamless.”

He further adds that “gamification,” using mobile devices and software to encourage employees to pay attention to safety by encouraging competition and offering badges and new levels to achieve, can turn safety into a top-of-mind activity. Using software to accomplish things like tracking leading indicators and events or trends that occur “even earlier than leading indicators,” tracking completion of safety tasks, etc., allows various teams or shifts of employees to determine who is most engaged in safety. Recognition is a powerful motivator.

According to the Intelex white paper: “For safety professionals, [mobile applications] will allow them to shift from being the focal point of initiatives towards being social enablers of safety-oriented cultures. Technological innovation combined with new organizational thinking can drive the paradigm shift needed to bring us closer to a ‘zero incidences’ safety goal.”

“These new mobile applications can make safety and health more fun and engaging and it shifts the focus from a stick to a carrot,” says Dea. More traditional data collection methods tended to focus on incidents and what was going wrong. Mobile, in-the-moment collection methods and identification and completion of safety-related tasks turn safe behavior into a positive experience.

As Dea explains it, before proceeding onto a shop room floor or climbing behind the controls of heavy machinery, the Internet of Things (IoT) holds an immediate promise that a mobile device can know where you are and what you are about to do and provide real-time guidance to avoid specific hazards. New mobile devices can withstand shock and vibration, making them ideal for environments that previously were thought to be too harsh.

Being able to confirm through a mobile device that a piece of machinery is locked out or having a way for remote or solitary workers to check in periodically with a simple touch or swipe could make for large safety gains. As with social media, mobile technologies feature customization and innovation based on the needs and demands of real users. will come from the field based on real user demands.

"Putting accountability and ownership right in the hands of workers who are at greatest risk of injury - those out in the field and on the factory floor - and giving them real-time access to what they need to support their safety will result in breakthrough gains in EHS," Dea says.

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