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A Connected Workforce Drives Successful ORM

July 6, 2020

By Dan Miklovic, Founder and Principal Analyst at Lean Manufacturing Research, LLC; and a member of The Analyst Syndicate

In my previous articles, Operational Risk Management Taking on Heightened Importance and Mitigating Risk to ALARP Levels Through Operational Risk Management, I built the case as to why businesses need invest in operational risk management (ORM). The question that often arises is, “Where should I focus, given how broad ORM is?” For organizations that have the EHS Compliance underpinnings of ORM already in place or in progress, the alternative question is often, “What can I do to make my ORM program more successful?” The answer to both questions is often, “Empower workers with the right technologies to drive success.” However, simply “connecting workers” in a haphazard way doesn’t guarantee you can manage your risks any better. There is a fundamental difference between connecting workers (technology driven) and a connected workforce (data driven).

A Connected Workforce Requires More Than Tablets and Smartphones

Often, providing workers with connectivity on typical mobile devices is described as a mobility solution. Making a checklist or form available on a handheld device is not enough. Devices like smart phones, wearables, and tablets are necessary to enable a connected workforce, but it’s the relationship that a worker has with the information they need to do their job that is the difference. Devices allow data capture and input at the point of work, in real or near-real time, from the workers themselves. If your assets are supplying data in real time, but your people aren’t, you’re missing a key piece of operational insight. In a Connected Workforce, data flows from the workers, and procedures, information, and insights flow to the workers – exactly when and where they are required.

A connected workforce may also use other devices complementing the basic handheld device such as integrated smartwatches or fitness trackers, body cameras, wearable RFID badges and built-for-purpose smart clothing and protective gear. One constraint that needs to be addressed in the hydrocarbon market is the need for intrinsically safe devices, which may limit which hardware can be used to avoid potential ignition hazards in a chemical plant, refinery or gas plant.

Circle graphic that shows the 4 elements that make up a Connected Workforce: Conduct of Operations, Asset Performance Management, Engineering Content Management, and Total Workforce Management.

Turning Connected Workers into a Connected Workforce

When the workforce can get information at their fingertips, they are more likely to use that information. If they have to plan ahead and try and guess what information they need to safely do a job, they will likely forget or miss something – and if something unforeseen comes up they will generally will not go back to an office or workstation to try and find the proper procedures, permits, or forms. If they can be prompted based on location and activity with the right forms, permits, or instructions most workers will realize it is in their own best interests to do the job right, therefore reducing risk overall in the organization, while improving data acquisition and operational insights. 

Tasks that are essential to consider when building a connected workforce include:

  • Operator rounds
  • Inspections
  • Permitting
  • Audits
  • Maintenance management
  • Procedural automation
  • Condition assessment rounds
  • Pre task safety meetings
  • Post task reviews
  • EHS reporting and incident management
  • Field service work management

A Mobility Platform is the First Step Towards a Connected Workforce

The Connected Workforce is still an evolving discipline. In short, a Connected Workforce is one that, through the power of mobile and/or wearable devices, is able to send and receive critical information at the point of work. Implementing new ways of using existing commercial tech like smart watches and fitness trackers as well as newly introduced purpose-built technology such as proximity alerts to enforce COVID social distancing rules require a platform. Trying to tie disparate technologies together without an underlying anchor will overwhelm most IT support teams and won’t lead to a single pane of glass. Choosing a supplier or small set of suppliers that can provide that base for building out your connected workforce strategy will accelerate your ORM program adoption.

To create your own connected workforce, take a multiphase approach:

Graphic that shows the 4 phases of Connected Workforce Maturity. Phase 1: Basic connected workforce. Phase 2: Intermediate connected workforce. Phase 3: Advanced connected workforce. Phase 4: Intelligent connected workforce.

Don’t try to do this all at once; start in one area of the plant with Phase 1. Once you achieve success, move that part of the plant through succeeding steps while starting in another area of the plant with initial steps. ORM is a journey, and one that never is finished. A Connected Workforce, done well, ultimately yields safe Conduct of Operations and enhanced compliance outcomes. By continually focusing on creating a Connected Workforce you can begin to build a risk profile for your organization to manage your operational risks.

You may contact the author at dan.miklovic@thansyn.com

To learn how Operational Sustainability LLC’s Mobility Platform can enable you to create your own Connected Workforce, download our Connected Workforce white paper.