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Creating a Culture of Safety in the Age of Remote Workers

Like it or not, the days of big corporate conferences & “Monday Morning Meetings” seem to be behind us. Not long ago, big oil & gas companies would rent out restaurants or hotel conference rooms, put out a breakfast spread and bring in workers from all walks of life. Employees, contractors & subcontractors gathered for one common good: Safety. March 2020 brought something no one anticipated, and large gatherings of this kind came to a halt.

Trying to get employee buy-in on the topic of safety has always been a struggle. In these meetings, we share incidents and close calls to instill a sense of awareness. We discussed the well-known tragedies like Deepwater Horizon, as well as stories closer to home, like a near miss in our own, literal, backyard. We prompt you to look around at your coworkers, to think about their children and families, the tangible reasons that safety matters. We remind you to be safe for each other, to get your coworkers home to their loved ones at night. We strive to make it relatable. Applicable. Memorable. Real.

As we socially distanced over the last year, we limited gatherings that weren’t deemed essential. But safety requirements don’t sleep, so the industry began relying more heavily on virtual alternatives. Unfortunately, this also minimized some of the fellowship. The building of camaraderie happens in the downtime. The meetings you’re required to sit through together, sharing a nod or side comment with your crew. The lunches together out in the field, or at mom & pop restaurants in one-horse towns across the country. When this informal bonding time is taken away, some of the solidarity goes with it. Studies show that just being in the same physical space as your coworkers boosts your performance on a wide range of tasks, even if you’re not actually doing the work together.

Now, instead of a group atmosphere where you can feel the energy & participate with your coworkers, you’re watching a video or reading an email. With that disconnect, it can be difficult to feel the same ownership of the material. Even in a Zoom meeting, sometimes it’s challenging to jump in and participate like we’re used to. I’ve heard many a grown man’s voice shake as he nervously asked a question or shared an experience in a webinar. People who are completely comfortable sharing in person may clam up in front of a webcam, or just don’t feel comfortable using the technology. It’s not always an easy switch.

Fortunately, transitioning these processes to a virtual format wasn’t the challenge for our guys at Advanced NDT. Laptops were already an integral piece of our technician’s daily equipment. They were already accustomed to certain trainings being done online. For example, some things, like OSHA 10 or Defensive Driving didn’t change at all. We’d already transitioned to an online format for those requirements, as has much of the public domain. Our company's Sharefile kept us ahead of the curve, as all of our safety programs and procedures are stored electronically in one common place. This allows our technicians to access these anytime, anywhere.

This flexibility is key in an ever-evolving industry that keeps us hopping all over the country. Our technicians sometimes work in multiple states in one week. Much of the time, these are for multiple clients who each have their own unique safety & training requirements to satisfy. This can be a logistical nightmare. The ability for our technicians to complete trainings 24/7 is vital for our industry. Now when it comes time for annual safety trainings, we aren’t gathered in a conference room with coffee & donuts. We’re in our living rooms, hotels or trucks, miles apart, on our own schedules, often with our kids playing in the next room. With every move to a virtual process, we gain more flexibility in that way, but we also lose an opportunity for face-to-face interaction. Being aware of this natural disconnect is the first step. If we’ve taken away some of the natural times to bond, we’re going to have to intentionally build it into our organizations in other ways.

Let’s not forget, in the grand scheme of things, many of the ways we “stay safe” today are fairly recent additions. Most of the rules and regulations we follow today were only put into place in relatively recent years. The OQ Rule wasn’t even fully in effect until 2002! The move to virtual meetings and trainings is just the next step in a constantly growing industry. And it does seem that more of our trainings are now online to stay. As the number of available virtual options continues to grow, we cannon discount the importance of employee engagement. Without context, employees tend to feel that rules are enforced upon them, rather than in place for them. As this sector grows, we will continue to see virtual opportunities become increasingly multi-dimensional. More interactive opportunities to actively engage with others albeit virtually, less passive viewing of PowerPoint. To be effective, safety meetings & trainings need to be not only informative but engaging & collaborative as well.

Safety will always be an ever-evolving issue. Whether it’s out in the field or behind a computer monitor, your active involvement is the means to our safety & success. As always, we will adapt & grow with the times. The ways we meet and connect may look different these days, but one thing won’t change: Our commitment to getting each and every one of you home safe to your families.

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