Field technicians can be considered as the connecting point between their employer or department and a given client, whether that client is external or internal to the organization. They are therefore an integral and critically important part of the provision of technical services, whether it be for the installation, repair, or maintenance of machinery and equipment.
Their work can be hazardous. These hazards may arise due to the nature of the work, what is being worked on, or the conditions in which they have to work. For example, the installation of high-voltage (HV) cables is inherently hazardous, whilst other technicians may have to work in bad weather conditions or in confined spaces in which the build-up of noxious gases could be an imminent threat.
An employer/line manager must ensure the safety of field technicians during the course of their work. This article will outline four of the most important ways that the safety of technicians in the field can be improved.
1. Risk management is paramount
A risk management system is the solid foundation which ensures the safety of field technicians. The Deming Cycle and the iconic ‘Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)’ management system process should be ingrained in every aspect and every task that field technicians may undertake. The sheer simplicity of a PDCA approach is what makes it so effective and reliable for safety management.
The importance of a risk assessment approach in safety cannot be underestimated. Risk assessments should be comprehensive and take all tasks, potential hazards, and hazardous conditions into due consideration. For field technicians, examples of hazardous work or conditions could encompass the following:
- Long-distance travel
- Work in remote locations
- Working alone
- Working at heights
- Working with live electricity
- Specialized electrical or portable equipment
- Arduous physical tasks, such as lifting, pushing or pulling
- Interactions with the public
2. Training for safety-savvy technicians
The importance of safety training for field technicians cannot be underestimated, given the often hazardous nature of their work. This training should go beyond essential requirements, such as the operation of certain equipment. Not only does a field technician require broad technical skills, such as various aspects relating to maintenance, but also other key skills such as the fundamentals of project management and even communication skills.
It is important to remember that a field technician may be exposed to far more potential hazards and risks compared to workers who are less mobile and who have a steady or single workplace. That means that the average technician field has a higher and more fluctuating risk profile than many other workers. This reality necessitates even greater attention to their training that is based on job-specific, risk-appropriate learning and skills development. Bottom line: a field technician that is not trained and up-skilled on a continuous basis is a safety incident waiting to happen.
3. Provide a safe working environment
Sometimes hazardous work conditions cannot be avoided. Remote, geolocation, or GPS-based surveillance can be used to monitor the whereabouts (and safety) of workers doing work at night or in dangerous locations, for example. Fit-for-purpose personal protective equipment (PPE) should be provided without hesitation and at no cost to workers for tasks in hazardous locations, whether it be breathing apparatus in confined, noxious environments or thermal clothing in very cold environments, for example.
If equipment cannot overcome these conditions, then other safety measures may be needed. One example of mitigating hazardous work conditions is to instill a ‘Safety First’ philosophy for all work undertaken. This will tackle the tendency of workers to hurry to ‘just get the job done’. Another safety measure to impose whenever possible is making working in pairs a mandatory policy. Lone working is inherently more hazardous, especially in hazardous conditions. Working teams of at least two ensure that at least one person can be on hand to call for help or assistance if needed.
4. Use technology for safety
Different types of software can help ensure safer working conditions. The tracking of the unique work history for each employee is one example of workplace safety software usage, whereby each worker’s job profile and given duties can inform everything from job-specific risk assessments to personal occupational health records. This ‘golden thread’ of data can also inform other aspects of safety management such as training needs analysis, incident reporting, and the allocation of resources, such as risk-appropriate machinery or PPE.
Wearable technology for field technicians is an exciting development in recent years, in lock-step with the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI)-based solutions. A fundamental benefit of ‘wearables’ is that they provide highly accurate, real-time data for workers in the field. This can be a smartwatch or wearable monitor that detects health vitals, such as a worker’s heart rate or body temperature, or which provides the worker with critical reminders, such as when to take a break in a hot work environment. The future scope of wearables for the purpose of safe work in the field is immense.
The field technician is at the ‘frontline’ of hands-on, practical work. As such, they can often be exposed to hazards as part of their duties. It is therefore imperative that every effort is made to ensure their safety at all times. It is also a duty of care that any organization is obliged to provide its field technicians.