Strategies to Improve Safety & Compliance in Field Service Operations
For field service providers, safety regulations and compliance obligations are a double-edged sword. On one side, these rules protect workers and ensure jobs meet the highest standards. On the other side, regulations increase costs, slow down operations, create non-compliance risks, and can complicate workflows. Many providers feel equal amounts of respect and resentment when it comes to jumping through hoops for safety and compliance.
But what if jumping through those hoops was easy, even effortless? Safety and compliance only become a burden when they waste time, spread confusion, or, worst of all, fail to mitigate risks. Absent those obstacles, keeping people safe and conducting work exactly as required fits naturally into field service operations. Compliance stops feeling like an obligation or risk when it happens automatically.
This might sound impossible given the expansive rules already in place and the likelihood of more coming down the pipeline. But the reality for field service providers is this: safety and compliance have never been easier to ensure – and the benefits are far greater than expected.
Where Safety & Compliance Go Haywire
Most companies that send technicians into the field go to great lengths to ensure they work safely and follow all applicable compliance mandates. Technicians may undergo extensive training, receive specialized equipment, and have careful instructions to follow. Where things go wrong is when technicians are away from the watchful eye of the company office and working independently out in the field.
At that point, it is up to the technician to follow safety protocols and comply with regulations. They also must record specific information on the right forms to create a thorough record of compliance activities that can be audited later. Some technicians are too lazy to take these steps, some feel pressure to get the work done fast, and some are confused about what to do. Regardless of the reason, safety and compliance typically goes haywire where it matters most: in the field.
Technicians are the weak point, but they do not deserve the blame. Whenever the rules make it more confusing or time-consuming to complete a work request, it is no surprise that technicians skip steps and cut corners. If doing things the right way is more difficult, people will pick the wrong way instead – the path of least resistance Unfortunately, the wrong way can only lead to workplace accidents and compliance penalties, both of which can have devastating consequences we will explore in the next section.
Safety, Compliance, and the Bottom Line
Safety and compliance create administrative challenges all the time. The real stakes only become clear when something does not go as planned. Safety and compliance matter so much for field service providers because lapses can have devastating consequences for the bottom line, such as:
- Penalties – OSHA recently raised the maximum penalty for willful safety violations to nearly $135,000. Various compliance penalties can far exceed that amount. Small mistakes in the field may result in massive penalties for which field service providers have not planned or budgeted. Even one violation can cause serious financial distress, especially at a small or midsize company. Repeat violations lead to larger fines, so with each incident, the stress over safety and compliance increases as well.
- Lawsuits – Accidents resulting from safety and compliance violations expose a field service provider to numerous legal liabilities. Paying for legal counsel negatively impacts the bottom line. Legal issues related to safety and compliance have caused more than a few providers to close permanently.
- Disruptions – When a technician gets hurt on the job, it leaves a hole in the workforce. Missing a specialized technician whose skills and experience are difficult (or impossible) to replace can put other jobs on hold indefinitely. Another possibility is that a less-skilled technician does the job, and something goes wrong as a result. Worker injuries disrupt normal operations in ways that hurt the bottom line AND your team members.
Tools to Improve Safety & Compliance
If safety and compliance break down because technicians do not follow the necessary procedures, the solution is obvious: make those procedures mandatory. But most providers already do this (safety is never optional). The problem is they make it mandatory but do not make it easy. Following the safety and compliance requirements in the field, precisely and consistently, takes the following tools:
- Detailed Checklists – There should be no confusion about what to do. Technicians need detailed checklists that systematically walk through each step in the safety and compliance procedures. Instead of having to figure out the right way, they simply follow along.
- Digital Forms – Paperwork can get lost or destroyed. Digital forms are easier to access, faster to fill out, and the data goes automatically into a comprehensive database that can be audited later to prove compliance.
- Mobile Accessibility – Important instructions should be front and center. Making compliance checklists and digital forms accessible through mobile devices gives technicians access to this vital information anywhere on a job site.
- Full Automation – Safety and compliance leaves nothing to chance. Instead of counting on technicians to follow the proper procedures, automate those procedures wherever possible so that the correct steps happen automatically.
Driving a Compliance Program with Field Service Software
Today’s field service runs on technology, but not always seamlessly. Many providers rely on a patchwork of tools for scheduling, technician communication, client management, inventory control, invoicing etc. Or else they utilize a field service platform with underwhelming or incomplete features. Most providers have software installed, yet still feel stress and anxiety about following all the rules for safety and compliance.
Forced workflows are the missing feature. As previously stated, compliance needs to be effortless and unavoidable for technicians. Forced workflows accomplish that by making the right way the only way to proceed through a job.
An example helps to illustrate how this works. A hospital needs to install a massive generator in the basement to keep life-saving systems up and running during a power outage. Installing a massive generator puts the technicians involved at considerable risk and requires them to follow lengthy compliance requirements related to dangerous and critical equipment. Anything less than perfect compliance could end in disaster.
Forced workflows make perfect compliance the only option. Each technician receives a detailed breakdown of the job on their phone or tablet, including technician-specific checklists for safety and compliance. The checklists describe exactly what to do (turn off power, check system settings, get administrator approval, etc.) so every mandatory step gets completed and recorded. The forced part comes into play because technicians cannot skip or ignore these steps – they must check each box before they can do anything else.
Software makes safety and compliance mandatory by integrating these issues into the field service work itself. Equally important, it makes compliance easy by eliminating the guesswork for technicians. Instead of asking them to scour databases to find the right procedures, they come preloaded into the work order to eliminate any errors. And rather than asking technicians to interpret those procedures themselves, checklists break them down into a simple, digestible format.
Providers have a reliable way to ensure compliance, without fail, using the right field service software. They also have a smarter way to manage a compliance program long term. Forced workflows mean that every compliance-related activity gets documented (with pictures if necessary) and backed up with signatures from the technician and client. Should a provider ever be accused of non-compliance, they can simply call up the relevant work order, prove who did what, and eliminate their liability without question.
Safety and compliance have, historically, been cause for concern. The right software reverses the equation, making them not just easy but advantageous as well.
Leveraging a Reputation for Safety & Compliance
Compliance standards are getting tougher all the time. Increasingly, companies must demonstrate they cannot just comply with regulations but prove their compliance before they win contracts. In the hospital example above, the company hired to install the generator may be required to have a system in place that can track all compliance activities and fulfill any audit requests. Companies without these capabilities are not even considered for the job.
Safety and compliance can be a competitive differentiator for providers that can meet the highest standards. Clients have an obvious incentive to hire field service providers who go above and beyond to eliminate worker accidents and guarantee compliant work. In some cases, this may be the primary reason for picking one provider over another, especially in government contracts. On top of substantial cost savings, reliable safety and compliance benefits the bottom line by creating business opportunities that did not exist before.
NextService – Raising the Bar for Safety and Compliance
Imagine if your field service technicians could digitally complete all their safety and compliance paperwork on an app, and that app was smart enough to require this for workflow completion and warn field service technicians of dangers or high-risk environments. Imagine if this very same app could record every safety and compliance check for every job in real-time for instant accessibility. The NextService FSM SuiteApp enables users to realize – not imagine– all these capabilities.
NextService is a comprehensive field service platform that operates inside the NetSuite ecosystem. Among the many innovations it brings to the table is a revolutionary approach to safety and compliance that guides technicians through the best practices and procedures, ensuring they do every job safely, compliantly, and correctly. To see a demonstration of these capabilities in action, contact us.