The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Justin Stharsky, Managing Director at Synaptor, a digital records management and reporting platform based in Australia. Synaptor’s primary application, called Synaptor Observations, aims to improve workplace safety by modernizing the issue reporting process.
This interview is lightly edited.
Travis Korte: What do you see as the main problems with the way safety is currently managed in industrial settings, and how does Synaptor help fix these problems?
Justin Stharsky: In order to effectively manage occupational health and safety (OHS) risk, companies in hazardous industries require tools to identify, record, and analyze unsafe acts and conditions.Traditional approaches often rely on paper-based information gathering processes, such as safety observation cards. Though simple and easy to use, paper-based systems have several significant limitations:
- Delay between observation and action: A recorded observation of an unsafe act or condition is of little benefit without action to mitigate the danger it may cause. In a typical paper-based observation system, there is a substantial delay between the time an observation is made in the field and the time the appropriate individual can act on that information. This lack of immediacy creates a window during which the unsafe act or condition, despite being identified, could result in an incident with consequences to the organisation.
- Duplication of effort: Data from cards must be transferred manually to a database or spreadsheet, requiring extra time and resources. This is an unnecessary effort, as individuals in the field have already recorded the details of observations.
- Compliance for compliance’s sake: Workers rarely receive feedback regarding their observations and the associated actions taken. As a result, many organizations suffer from a “culture of compliance”, in which employees submit observations because they are required to do so, not because they are personally invested in the outcomes. Such observations frequently reflect a focus on meeting a quota, rather than on identifying true unsafe acts and conditions and on having quality safety conversations.
- One-way communication: In a typical paper-based observations program, information flows from isolated individuals in the field to a central location. This concentrates critical safety information in the hands of a few who are often unable to act in a timely and effective manner to control a myriad of hazards identified in geographically separated sites. An uncontrolled hazard identified in one location by one individual may expose others at that site to risk. It is inefficient to send information about that hazard to a single individual in another location and to wait for resolution. A better solution would inform others exposed to the risk about the hazard as well.
As a result of these limitations, a traditional card-based observation program is rarely able to achieve its full potential.
Web, cloud, and mobile technologies have matured to the point where they can be used to deliver robust tools for managing OHS risk. Synaptor Observations uses these technologies to eliminate double entry of data, provide real-time access to information from the field, and close the communications loop with field workers.
Korte: Can you walk me through an application of how a company might use Synaptor Observations on-site?
Stharsky: First, individuals in the field use the mobile application to make observations using a simple step-wise process. Observations are then synced to a secure database in the cloud. Team members are notified that a new observation has been made at their site. Next, supervisors can manage and report on live observations data using the Synaptor web application. For example, after taking action to control a hazard, they can mark the corresponding observation as closed-out. Finally, status updates to observations are communicated to devices in the field. Team members can use the mobile app to see live, interactive maps of the observations made on their sites. Observations are color-coded according to status, providing powerful insight about a site at a glance.
Korte: How can companies can use your technology to demonstrate compliance with occupational health and safety laws?
Stharsky: Companies are required to have a system in place for identifying and reporting workplace hazards. They are also required to consult about hazards with their employees. The live reports and statistics in the Synaptor application are evidence of a robust system for identifying workplace hazards and consultation with the workforce.
Korte: Is the compliance aspect of your business confined to Australia? Do you have plans to expand that in the future?
Stharsky: No, our tools are designed to deliver on widely adopted international industry best practices. These best practices are often informed by international standards such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and OHSAS 18001.
Korte: What do you see as the hardest part of getting companies to adopt better safety management technologies and practices? Where have they been most successful and where is there still a lot of work to be done?
Stharsky: Many companies have resisted the adoption of new technology tools for managing safety because of legitimate concerns about the use of mobile devices in operational workplaces. For example, our research shows that companies are concerned primarily about loss of proprietary data and the risk of distraction. Many companies are simply unaware that there are already products which can address these issues at very low cost. Additionally, we are particularly excited about the potential for big data and predictive analytics to change the way that companies manage safety. However, while industry has been collecting various sets of data for many years, these are often siloed in different parts of an organisation, in multiple proprietary formats. In order to unlock the value of these datasets to predictive safety, there is a large amount of work to do to access, format, and process this data.