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Saving workers' lives: There's an app for that

By Mari-Len De Guzman

ORLANDO — A simple search of safety-related smart phone applications could return a result of between 11,000 and 13,000 apps, and tech savvy safety professionals urge managers to embrace some of these new technologies to improve safety performance.

At the 2012 National Safety Council Congress and Expo, three young safety professionals gave a presentation on some of the latest technologies that safety managers can use to benefit their organizations.

“Technology changes at a very accelerated pace,” said Francisco Hernandes, safety supervisor at General Motors Company. “Think about how these tools can benefit you and your organization, and find the ones that will be useful for you.”

Most of these apps for smart phone devices — ranging from checklists to standards and regulations — are free or at very low cost, Hernandez pointed out, and safety managers should weigh the challenges and the benefits of each app. (Here's a list of some useful apps compiled by COS)

“There are challenges, but it’s our job to take that technology and make it work for us,” he said.

Apps for smart phones are not the only new technologies safety managers can take advantage of. Low-cost collaboration tools are also proving to be effective for managing safety, especially for workplaces with multiple locations.

Justin Carwile, manager for the European Safety Operations with the U.S. Air Force, have been using video conferencing and podcasting as a way to meet with his team across multiple sites.

“Most of them were not designed for safety applications but we saw the benefit of these technologies for safety,” Carwile said.

For his team ad the U.S. Air Force, Carwile uses video conferencing, which he says can be implemented and used at little to no cost. Using video conferencing for fulfilling pre-audit documentation requirements, where he meets with various sites through a video conference call and tries to manage all necessary paperwork directly preceding a site inspection.

“This makes my time on the ground much more productive,” Carwile said.

The air force safety manager also uses podcasting as a way to communicate regular safety messages across the organization. Carwile uses podcasting to communicate changes to policies and procedures, or when he wants to talk about a particular safety topic.

Carwile said one of the benefits of podcasting is workers can go back and listen to the information over and over, and the software generates stats that tell him how many people downloaded the podcasts and which topics generated huge interest — by the number of downloads — giving him an indication of the safety topics people are interested in.

One of the challenges with implementing new technologies is getting people to buy into it, according to Carwile. While this may be an ideal tool for the younger generations, safety managers may not get the same uptake from their older workers.

The key is to spend a reasonable amount of time on training all workers on how to use these technologies, he said.

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