Over the past few months, utility companies have had to navigate how to deliver an essential service during a time of peak demand, while also protecting their frontline workforce. The industry has had to address workers’ concerns about safety and continue to operate short-staffed, as field technicians got sick or had to attend to family obligations.
All this has happened during the summer months when the need for skilled field technicians is higher than ever due to severe weather events. Meanwhile, non-essential projects were deferred, creating a backlog of work.
Now, as more states are reopening for business, companies have to continue business as usual while improving workplace conditions for their frontline employees.
With the safety of frontline field technicians top of mind for utility companies, now is the perfect time to re-evaluate their operations and explore new ways of managing their workforce. By looking at internal communications systems, companies can start to build a stronger safety culture through digital transformation.
Keep reading to find out what utility companies can do to protect their employees and ensure a safer work environment in the future.
1. Evaluate Existing Safety Protocols
The CDC recommends that utility companies evaluate their workplace to identify potential situations where workers cannot maintain safe social distancing. From there, they should use the hierarchy of controls to determine how to address the situation and mitigate risk for employees.
Part of a COVID-19 safety plan involves making physical changes to the utility workplace:
- Re-designing workstations and putting barriers between workers and customers
- Closing common areas (such as break rooms) where employees are likely to break social distancing
- Establishing visual cues like signs and tape as reminders of safety protocol
- Keeping work areas well-ventilated and stocked with sanitizers/handwashing stations
But utility companies also have to evaluate how workers are receiving health and safety information.
Managers should look at:
- How quickly an essential worker receives and responds to critical information
- Whether or not workers feel comfortable and equipped to report safety concerns
- Any gaps in awareness about safety procedures in different scenarios (ex. how to determine risk of exposure when working in a new building)
All of these questions should help companies create a thorough COVID-19 response plan that takes into account the physical and operational changes that need to be made.
2. Implement Communication Tools Designed for Frontline Field Technicians
Implementing visual cues in the workplace is a good start, but it’s important to also have more reliable communication channels to ensure that every worker has access to important safety information. Many utility companies are now turning to mobile-first communication tools to connect workers to their managers and colleagues.
Some traditional communication channels simply aren’t effective for reaching frontline field workers. While email may be a good solution for desk-bound workers, email for frontline employees is not an effective way to convey important information.
Beekeeper is a mobile-first communication platform that doesn’t require email or a password to sign up. With Beekeeper, frontline employees receive real-time updates and managers can make sure their teams have seen their messages with confirmation campaigns.
Utility companies can use a platform like Beekeeper to:
- Encourage sick workers to stay home and know that there won’t be any negative repercussions for doing so
- Give information about managing risk when using face coverings or masks interferes with job-specific equipment
- Remind workers that they can exercise Stop Work Authority (SWA) if they think their job is unsafe and reach out to management
With a mobile-first platform like Beekeeper, utility workers can access the information they need to do their jobs anytime, anywhere. Managers can create dedicated streams specific to COVID-19 so that workers are always up-to-date on the latest safety protocols and procedures.
3. Empower Employees with In-Depth Safety Training
Utility companies can relay basic safety information to frontline workers like staying six feet apart and wearing face coverings appropriately. But workers often come across more nuanced situations where they’re forced to use their best judgment on how to handle these ad hoc situations.
That’s why many utility workers are now being given the tools and information they need to make the best decisions about their own safety. By creating guidelines for specific situations, workers can feel confident that they are making the safest decision possible.
Companies can create guidelines for:
- Cleaning and disinfecting materials while on-site and how to prioritize which surfaces and need to be cleaned first
- How to conduct a COVID-19 specific hazard assessment before entering a work site
- Conducting a phone assessment with customers to identify any risks before entering a building
General guidelines may not be enough to truly make utility workers feel safe. The more specific protocols utility companies can provide for their employees, the more empowered and confident workers will be in making informed decisions about their safety.
4. Find Smart Ways to Schedule
While utility workers do need proper safety training, companies can also help minimize unnecessary risk. Physical distancing and minimal contact are an important part of maintaining a safe work environment, which is why shift scheduling can significantly reduce risk.
To create smart, safer work schedules utility workers, managers can:
- Organize workers into rotating teams to make isolating a potential outbreak easier
- Reduce the number of frontline workers that come into central locations
- Rotate crews to make sure that only the essential number of workers are on-site at any given time
Creating a smart schedule is only the first step. Managers can also communicate those schedules so that workers clearly understand where they need to be and when.
Posting on a physical bulletin board might pose additional safety risks because people have to crowd around the board to read the announcements. There’s also no guarantee that all workers will see it. Having a mobile platform like Beekeeper for posting shift schedules ensures that workers can check that information wherever they are.