Workplace health and safety has come a long way in recent years. Companies are now more aware of the affect that workplace incidents can have on their employees as well as the financial implications it brings. It’s a shift prompted by stringent...
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Workplace health and safety has come a long way in recent years. Companies are now more aware of the affect that workplace incidents can have on their employees as well as the financial implications it brings. It’s a shift prompted by stringent regulation and legislation – particularly in the UK and Europe - and a desire to build health and safety into the business structure. As part of our coverage of the latest FSN Think Tank Mark Glover reflects on how the group discussed workplace safety and why culture is crucial…
When it comes to a implementing a workplace safety culture, companies must lead from the top with a board and management buy-in that filters down through the organization to the shop floor.
Its integration however is a huge business challenge, a process that firms should viewed as a strategic change management process. Of course, any large shift in thinking and mentality is difficult, especially if an attitude has become embedded.
Two things that can alter attitudes to safety is understanding the brand and financial cost to a company if an incident occurs. In the UK stringent legislation and heavy fines serve to encourage firms to take their safety processes seriously, it means some companies now build the potential consequences of an incident into a business case that forms their health and safety strategy.
One example of this is the utility firm EDF who operate a number of power stations in the UK. These assets are high-risk and high-profile, and the firm in an effort to embed safety into the culture of the organization now associate health and safety with its bottom line; if you have a nuclear power station that is not inherently safe then it will affect its share price quite significantly.
A financial influence is one strand of safety adoption, yet to become embedded in a company’s outlook, health and safety should be approached psychologically. Today, when health and safety consultants come into a company tasked with improving its culture, they do so with the mind of a psychologist rather than a tick-box instigator.
Firms with a large employee count, which is often the case in manufacturing, can find it difficult to home in on individuals who have always done safety a certain way which can often be outdated and potentially dangerous.
"More generally, health and safety suffers from bad PR, perceived as something that enforces red tape and stifles creativity and productivity..."
Psychologically then, humans will eventually apply an unconscious bias to tasks they carry out on a day-to-day basis. Once something becomes routine then it becomes an unconscious process. Carrying out risk assessments is a common yet important task in the workplace however Its repetitive nature makes it vulnerable to such a bias, and it remains one of the key challenges in the sector to ensure employees are engaged when carrying out such activities.
Jan Van Veen, founder, More Momentum commented, “What you need to do to change that is make sure that everybody understands the pitfalls and then establish key habits and put a system in place where you can communicate effectively with your workforce to say ‘I think we are falling in this pitfall’.”
Building on this point Mark Wilding, Director of Global Aftermarket Operations, Hexagon Marketing Intelligence added: “One of the thing that we looked at that I think we overlook quite a lot is the human factors associated with this, because there are, and you talked about stress, there are human factors in people’s day that cause them to overlook or make mistakes, which ultimately could end up in a hazard or a risk.
And if you don’t get underneath the human factors aspect then we can put all the safety bulletins out but we’ve not addressed the underlying distractions, things that go on.”
More generally, health and safety suffers from bad PR, perceived as something that enforces red tape and stifles creativity and productivity. Although this attitude has improved in recent years it is still seen as something of a burden to employees; something to catch them out. Having a pragmatic approach to health and safety that is backed up with strong statistical evidence, can be a sensible approach rather than introducing a critical author with a clipboard.
Looping back to the beginning of this section, it’s paramount to embed health and safety in a company’s overall strategy and a firm’s performance culture more generally. Most service firms strive to achieve general quality and integrity in everything they do and would never dream of cutting corners in a service task. The same thinking must be applied to safety.
It is an unavoidable fact of field service delivery that our engineers and technicians invariably spend as much time behind the wheel of their vehicle as they do with our customers. Whilst we are all of course trying to reduce ‘screen-time’ as...
It is an unavoidable fact of field service delivery that our engineers and technicians invariably spend as much time behind the wheel of their vehicle as they do with our customers. Whilst we are all of course trying to reduce ‘screen-time’ as much for productivity reasons as anything else, we mustn’t overlook the fact that vehicle maintenance and driver safety play a massive role in ensuring our field workforce are safe. In the second feature of a four-part series reflecting on a deep dive discussion into health and safety at the most recent FSN Think Tank Mark Glover looks back on the discussions that the group held on driver safety…
It’s generally agreed that workplace driving – irrelevant of vertical sector – is one of the biggest risks for service engineers. Again, the very nature of a lone worker means travelling to a job is a fundamental part of the process. With the number of cars on the road combined with driving hazards more generally there exists an increasing risk of driving accidents.
Add workplace pressure to the mix and the risks increase further. Sensible driving policies are one way of dealing with this, however a middle ground must exist that where policies must encourage productivity and efficiency while being practical, realistic and enforceable.
Service engineers come across a number of hazards in their day-to-day including working at height and confined spaces although those in attendance agreed that driving – irrelevant of vertical sector – was one of the biggest risks. Again, the very nature of a field service engineer, or the very nature of a lone worker means travelling to a job is a fundamental part of the service process.
Indeed, it was a common theme across all members of the group that driving safety was of paramount concern. “We’ve targeted driving as probably the biggest risk area,” commented Brent Holmes, Field Service Portfolio Director, Ericsson explained:
It is also a high-risk part of that process, perhaps more so than working at height or slips, trips and falls - which the group agreed certainly shouldn’t be overlooked - however, a key distinguisher here is that driving links directly into a service engineer’s productivity, something which can affect safety.
"The customer is unhappy as the asset needs to get back-up online as soon as possible. So, there is customer pressure, management pressure and also business pressure..."
Mark Wilding, Director of Global Aftermarket Operations, Hexagon Marketing Intelligence explains: “As management we need to get the tasks done and the schedule completed. With driving between jobs and driving home at the end of the day and with driving hazards generally and the number of cars on the road there is obviously an increasing risk.”
He pondered the use of company driving policies and practicalities, where engineers would have to stay in a hotel after working twelve hours on the road, for example. “So, if you’re 20 miles from home and you’ve done your twelve hours, you’re supposed to check in. They [engineers] will leave at a silly time just so they can be in their own beds at night. And this is a risk that is always there. “Equally there is pressure if they’ve only got three days to complete a task. The customer is unhappy as the asset needs to get back-up online as soon as possible. So, there is customer pressure, management pressure and also business pressure, therefore the productivity that you’re trying to improve means the driving time in the car is almost trivialised.
“That for me is a concern because you can put in some hard-hitting policies which will have a massive impact on productivity and efficiency and expense and it’s about finding the happy balance, which is practical, realistic and enforceable.” Jan van Veen said these pressures and targets can be detrimental to workforce, “It then leads to stress and pressure which is not in favour of safety and probably not in favour of customer quality also,” he explains.
“This is often the issue when you start incentivising or putting in targets. It then leads to stress and pressure which is not in favour of safety and probably not in favour of customer quality. “So, if you are really are serious as top management around safety, you should start working on relieving pressure on people by putting in place better tools, mechanisms, processes and structures so they can be performed without sacrificing safety,” he said.
One of the unfortunate aspects of modern times is the increasing rise in mental health challenges as our society becomes more and more pressurised. Field service engineers and technicians, who are often lone workers are particularly vulnerable to...
One of the unfortunate aspects of modern times is the increasing rise in mental health challenges as our society becomes more and more pressurised. Field service engineers and technicians, who are often lone workers are particularly vulnerable to such pressures and we need to be doing more to monitor and assist in this area. This was the consensus at the latest FSN ThinkTank held in London, UK at the end of 2019. Mark Glover, who attended the session reflects on the day’s conversations…
Recently, a societal shift towards mental health has identified the workplace as a potential trigger point. Employers now recognise the importance of their workers’ wellbeing. In the UK alone, staff absence from mental health issues accounts for 70 million workdays lost, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year.
In the service sector, workers who operate alone are more susceptible to having their mental health affected, given the remote nature of their environment. As a manager, it can be difficult to keep tabs on an engineer therefore creating the right touch points to ensure a dialogue is taking place can be vital when it comes to monitoring the mental health of your technicians. Too often, field engineers are just sent out and forgotten about.
The technicalities of health and safety for lone workers are slightly different to the traditional version of what we see as safety. Incidents, such as slips and trips and cuts in the office, are approached with a traditional risk-assessment, however lone workers should approach their tasks, which are generally more fluid, with a dynamic risk-assessment; the process of mentally observing, assessing and analysing an environment to identify and remove risk. This allows individuals to identify a hazard on the spot and make quick decisions regarding their own safety.
It’s an approach that requires a certain amount of trust on the part of employers who must be certain that these checks are taking place in their absence. However, this must be balanced by allowing the engineers a level of autonomy, something they value enormously. Looking over their shoulder from afar and monitoring their performance will only push a worker away. Everything comes back to time for an engineer; it is probably the most precious commodity and the challenge is to blend safety into their routines while not affecting their productivity. Mark Wilding, Director of Global Aftermarket Operations, Hexagon Marketing Intelligence spoke to this point very eloquently saying: “If you don’t know your workforce you don’t know their mental health, you don’t know their mental capacity. If you’re not close enough to them, you’re not looking after those elements. Ultimately their mind isn’t on the game and they make mistakes. And I think we overlook this area quite a lot.”
"How do you understand the state of mind of a guy that you haven’t seen for months because he’s been out in the field..."
It is indeed an often overlooked, yet absolutely crucial part of understanding the wellbeing of our field workers, especially if they are often isolated in a lone working role. Everyone within the ThinkTank session was in agreement that this should be an area of greater focus and also that there were still some societal taboos that needed to be overcome.
“I know that there’s this still much of stigma associated with mental health, but I think it’s more prevalent than any time now we’re in a litigious environment where you make a mistake and there’s quite significant corporate penalties now as opposed to before. But the fact is if we still don’t pay it enough attention and remote workers is hard.
How do you understand the state of mind of a guy that you haven’t seen for months because he’s been out in the field for that long? All too often in field service, companies don’t have the right team, team leader and management ratio structures. If they don’t have the right touch points the how can they be close enough to be keeping tabs with their individual team members? How can they be close enough to understand what they’re going through?
It’s really tough and those are the things, I think, we tend to forget about. Sadly, it often feels that it is the case that they’re just the job, a field engineer. We sort of just send them out and forget about them and we shouldn’t be doing that.”
From a management perspective, creating a more sensible management framework that develops capabilities and structures can contribute to a more productive and efficient working environment.
If you are really are serious as top management around safety, you should start working on relieving pressure on people by putting in place better tools, mechanisms, processes and structures so they can be performed without sacrificing safety.
In September this year Field Service News and ClickSoftware teamed up to launch the FSN Think Tank Sessions. The idea was simple to bring together a selection of senior field service professionals from different industries and and different...
In September this year Field Service News and ClickSoftware teamed up to launch the FSN Think Tank Sessions. The idea was simple to bring together a selection of senior field service professionals from different industries and and different company sizes and give them the opportunity to discuss the pain points, the challenges and their vision of the future of service and see where the similarities lay.
Across the following few months there will be a series of articles that will help share the insights discussed at this inaugural Think Tank Session beginning with this opening series in which we discuss whether the importance of the Field Service Engineer's role is growing or diminishing in importance in a world of automation and digitisation...
There is also an exclusive Briefing Report from this session entitled Disruption, Development and Diversity in Field Service which is available for Field Service News subscribers.
If you are a field service professional you can apply for a complimentary industry practitioner subscription and we will send you a copy of this white paper along instantly. Click here to apply for your subscription now! (by applying for your subscription via this link you accept the terms and conditions here and a plain english version is available from our main subscriptions page here)
One of the most interesting things about the field service sector is that whilst as a discipline it sits across a huge variety of wide and highly disparate industries there remains overwhelmingly the same fundamental challenges, pain points and goals for every organisation operating a field service division.
Whether you operate in the print/copy market or heavy manufacturing, whether your engineers and technicians fix vending machines or jumbo jet engines, you will invariably find more common ground with other service leaders from different industries to your own than you will find differences.
In many ways the same is true whether you have 10 engineers in your territory or 10,000.
Yes, some of the challenges of running a larger field service operation are more complicated, as are some of the tools you may use to do so - but the fundamental elements of what is great service and its growing role within industry remains in organisations of all sizes.
Given the focus of companies across all industries on Digital Transformation has the importance of field service calls become even more important in terms of Customer Satisfaction and Customer Experience - as increasingly, the field service visit is now the sole (or at least most frequent) face-to-face interaction between an organisation and their customer base?
Has the role of the field service engineer become more important in this age of automation where digital customer interaction touch points are now heavily outweighing personal face to face human interactions?
Opening the conversation on this topic Steve Smith, CTO with Astro Communications, explained that for him and the team at Astro, the importance of great service and the field engineers role in delivering a good customer experience is something that has always just been part and parcel of the job.
“I’m not sure it’s more important, I think it is has always been important, especially if you’re in a customer service business,” he began.
“The only thing we have to compete against anybody else is our standard of customer service.”
“For us I think on that front it’s all about the diversity of people we employ which has been an important factor. We even taken people from a hospitality background and then teach them the technical side of the business, putting them through training or apprenticeship. We have also taken on ex-military people as they have the right mind-set, although again not necessarily a technical background per se, but we find that they have the personal organisational skills, the self-management skills that are important for a technician.”
It is an interesting opening point and one that is increasingly being echoed in a number of different service organisations. There are far more skills to being a good field service engineer than just the technical - and often it is easier to train the technical skills than it is to train softer skills such as communications and organisational skills.
“Ultimately, it really does stand out when you have good customer service,” Smith continues.
“For example, the MD of one of our own clients, TGI Fridays, always says that when you get great customer service, you feel it’ and that sums up our ethos as well. I think that for us, that approach has always been important, but perhaps with increasing competition more of a spotlight is being placed on service as a differentiator today.”
For Darren Thomas, Head of Service in Northern Europe for Waters Corporation, the growing levels of automation and remote maintenance driven by the fundamental economics of field service means that the importance of the field service engineer has indeed increased dramatically.
“It’s costs a lot to send an engineer to repair a broken system so we are investing a lot in what we are calling an ‘Expert Centre,” he explains.
The idea is one that many organisations have also adopted, a central destination where customers can discuss the issue at hand and go through some diagnostic tests with an expert which in an ideal world could help the customer get back up and running faster, whilst avoiding the need for an expensive truck roll for Waters. One nice element of the Waters’ approach is that many of their experts split their time between the expert centre and out in the field - so the field and repair skills of the expert centre staff are kept as high as possible.
If one of our engineers comes across an issue that they haven’t faced before they are then tasked with writing up the resolution to that problem - which is then made available to all of our engineers and the Expert Centre, further helping us identify issues quickly - Darren Thomas, Waters
“The negative feedback that we get from our customers when they contact the knowledge centre is that we ask them to carry out a lot of tests before we can dispatch an engineer and that can be frustrating when we are asking an experienced person have you done x,y and z?” Thomas explains.
“However, the point is that for our organisation it is the primary interaction that is important. So if a customer calls the Expert Centre then we can affect a good diagnostic or even a remote fix - so we are investing in tools to do that where possible. We are currently implementing a global initiative which we are calling ‘Knowledge Centre Support’, where we are pooling all of the first-time- fix reports - whether it be via an engineer in China , Europe or the USA.”
“Essentially, if one of our engineers comes across an issue that they haven’t faced before they are then tasked with writing up the resolution to that problem - which is then made available to all of our engineers and the Expert Centre, further helping us identify issues quickly.”
“We really are dedicating ourselves to that first-time-fix via remote support.” He adds.
At first glance, this may appear to be driving less importance to the field service engineer role, yet whilst it may potentially reduce the number of service calls Waters needs to make, the flip side of the same coin is that when an engineer is actually dispatched it means that all other routes have been exhausted. In which case by the time the engineer arrives on site the issue has become even more important in the eyes of the customer.
It is therefore vital the Field Service Engineer is able to deliver in this scenario.
This is something that Thomas firmly agrees with.
“At the end of the day once the engineer is sent out to our clients he or she then becomes the ambassador for our company. They become really important in terms of ensuring the customer is fully satisfied,” he comments.
“I think their role is absolutely evolving in that sense.” He adds.
It is an interesting point for discussion and Keith Wilkinson, VP of Sales for ClickSoftware picks it up and carries the point further.
“We are all consumers of services whether it be from your bank, utilities providers , telco or media provider – we are all seeing this rise in automation and self-service, so you could look at it and ask – ultimately is that human touch point still important?”
“But what inevitably happens is that automation, that self-service aspect will ultimately go wrong at some point and when it does go wrong we then we have that one brief moment of truth where the engineer is sent out into the home or work place to not only just solve a problem, but also to make an impression on the customer.”
“The customer will likely have tried some levels of self-service or even to self-fix the device because they just want to get it back operational again so they can get on with their own job – so now the engineer has all their trust and faith in your company riding on their shoulders.”
“So that engineer, from a digitisation perspective, needs to have all the tools, all the knowledge and information possible at his disposal so he can be empowered - so he can become that brand ambassador. I think those scenarios it can make a huge impact on whether or not, when the time comes to renew that specific contract you actually do so or whether you think ‘I had an important issue that wasn’t really resolved effectively’ in which case your advocacy of renewing that service may be less assured.”
Want to know more? There is also an exclusive Briefing Report from this session entitled Disruption, Development and Diversity in Field Service available for Field Service News subscribers. If you are a field service professional you can apply for a complimentary industry practitioner subscription and we will send you a copy of this white paper along instantly. Click here to apply for your subscription now!
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