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How AI is making field workforce companies safer and more productive




Every day thousands of field work orders are carried out across the UK. Tasks vary

from digging up and repairing a leaking pipe to working with high voltage cables.

Even with the preparation that the field crews are briefed with ahead of arriving

at the job, each one has unique characteristics which need to be assessed on site.

 

Striking a utility system such as a high voltage cable or a water pipe while digging

is a common cause of injury. Over six years, 3,972 injuries were reported: that is

almost two per day. In addition to the health impact on workers, safety incidents

result in substantial fines.

 

At the same time, productivity is a significant problem for field crews. They often

have to deal with a job being blocked before it can even commence. This can be

for a simple reason such as not enough barriers having been loaded in their van

for the job site, or having been given incorrect tools for the job, or it could be

more complex such as a relevant permit to work was not issued before they left

the depot. Regardless of cause, these blockers frequently block jobs for several

hours. FYLD analysis shows the average time it takes to get moving once a job is

blocked is 1.5 hours. Job blockers are estimated to impact 30% of jobs. That is a

lot of time for workers to be off the tools.

Safety challenges of field jobs

 

Utility field crews start their work by performing an on-site risk assessment. This

task aims to identify the hazards associated with the job and determine effective

control measures. Even today, these risk assessments are largely paper based.

Sometimes digital versions of paper are used. Field crews carry out these

assessments day in, day out, turning them into a routine task. The kind of routine

task that not a lot of thought goes into. They are rarely treated as an analysis of

the hazards of each job and a planning tool to ensure those hazards are well

controlled.

 

Team leaders do not have access to safety professionals who can give real-time

input to the risk assessment. This kind of specialist support is always available for

incident investigation after an injury. Imagine the impact safety professionals

could have if we flipped this norm on its head and let them contribute to the

safety of a task before work commenced.

 

Job blockers – which in our experience impact 30% of jobs - introduce new risks.

Crews frequently deploy work arounds to get the job done. It means they are


working outside of approved processes and procedures, a well known source of

risk and incidents.

Productivity challenges of field jobs

 

Productivity is also a significant challenge in the utility, construction and

highways sectors. Crews need permits from the relevant authority before

commencing their task. They frequently discover the need for different tools or

team members once on site, delaying jobs while waiting for the issue to be

resolved. Most of the time they are working a long way from base and getting

supplies out to site takes a long time.

 

Team leaders out on site can seek help from supervisors to remove their job

blockers. But with each supervisor overseeing multiple crews, with their phone

running hot with them in reactive mode, it takes time to reach the supervisor and

action a solution. They are rarely at the site where they could have the most

impact. In the end, a job may be delayed for several hours or even be abandoned

and replanned. Each time this happens, there is a negative impact on customer

satisfaction along with operating costs or contract profitability.