Many companies struggle with how to manage safety for their field service technicians

This blog post will briefly explore these challenges and how to manage them.

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Managing service technician safety poses many unique challenges for companies who deploy technicians to field projects.  Often times these employees work and dispatch from home and rarely, if ever, report to the home office.  Once deployed, they often work in remote locations in very hazardous working conditions with little, if any supervision, which only compounds the problem.  This scenario is less than ideal, and creates significant risks, not only for the health and safety of the workers, but for the company as well.

To make matters worse, many employers are unaware of the extensive list of OSHA health and safety compliance requirements that apply to these operations.  These requirements include employee training, use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), record keeping, enforcement and accountability, hazard analysis, health related exposure testing, and the list goes on and on.  But how is a company supposed to manage all of these safety requirements when they rarely, if ever, even see their “road warrior” employees?

Let’s take a closer look at some of these challenges and risks:

  • Employees often work and dispatch from home and rarely report to the home office.  This scenario creates the following challenges:
    • Training:  OSHA has a long list of training requirements for typical field technician operations.  These training requirements include fall protection, PPE, ladders, confined space entry, emergency response, self rescue, hazard communication, and the list goes on.  But if the employee rarely or never report to the home office, how is the employer supposed to train them?
    • Health exposure testing:  Often times field workers are exposed to high levels of noise, or contaminates, such as silica.  If so, the company must implement and manage either respiratory protection and/or hearing conservation programs.  These programs require initial and ongoing medical evaluations and testing, which becomes very difficult when the employee is never around.
    • Management Commitment; Messaging and Safety Culture:  This is a more obscure, but incredibly important component of any safety program.  Management must effectively and consistently deliver a clear message to their employees:  “Safety is #1” in order to build a solid culture of safety within its workforce and prevent injuries and accidents.  But it’s not enough just to say it, the employees must see a consistent commitment to this goal from management.  This “management commitment” must include dedicating time, resources and $ to ensure that their workers are properly trained, given appropriate PPE, etc. & that accountability is fair and evenly distributed among the workforce, etc..  This the only way to build a solid culture of safety, but is very difficult to manage when the employees rarely if ever report to the company’s offices

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  • Field technicians often work in remote locations in very hazardous working conditions.  This scenario creates it’s own set of challenges including:
    • Hazardous working conditions:
      • Fall protection:  Field technicians often work at heights above 4’ and 6’, or much higher, which depending on the work activities, trigger extensive fall protection requirements including training and use of appropriate fall protection.  This can include harnesses, lanyards, tie-off anchors, and sometimes customized engineered solutions.
      • High voltage:  Often times field technicians are often exposed to high voltage hazards while working in control panels, with breakers, or while troubleshooting equipment.  If voltage exceeds 50 volts, then the NFPA 70E standard is triggered.  Again, this requires extensive training and use of approved PPE, as well as adherence to strict approach and working boundaries.
      • Confined spaces:  It’s not uncommon for field service technicians to have to enter permit required confined spaces.  This is a very dangerous hazard and results in many fatalities annually when workers don’t follow the strict protocols designed to protect them.  These protocols include extensive training & drills, use of air monitors that must be routinely calibrated, use of a “hole watch,” etc..
    • Remote Project locations:
      • Lack of supervision and accountability:  It’s an unfortunate but common fact; field technicians often ignore safety requirements when left to their “own devices.”  Rather than “follow the rules,” they’ll often take necessary risks when there’s no authority on the project to tell them “no!”

Why?  For starters, it’s easier to skip these requirements than it is to follow them.  Other common excuses include: Technicians are too focused on “getting the job done,” than worrying about the safety rules, or put another way; safety requirements “get in the way’ of doing their work.”  Regardless  of         the excuses,  skipping these safety precautions put these workers at significant risk for serious injuries or even fatalities.  If no one is there to supervise and enforce safety protocols, the problem will persist and the risks compound.  Supervision and accountability are essential components of any safety program, but field technicians rarely get either.

It’s important to note that depending on the industry, some field technicians end up benefitting from the safety requirements of their customers.  In situations when they work for a large company, such as a GE, Dow Chemical, or Siemens for example, they are subject to all of that particular company’s strict safety policies and procedures including safety orientation training, oversight & monitoring their activities, etc..  But even companies who “enjoy” this benefit, only do so when working for these larger companies, which isn’t always the case.

Lack of rescue resources:  Many employers are unaware that OSHA has a requirement which basically states that medical aid must be made available in as little as 5-10 minutes following an accident.  This requirement triggers an additional “rescue” requirement in situations where workers might need to be rescued prior to being transported for medical attention.   The most common, and serious hazards that trigger this rescue requirement are working at extreme heights and confined spaces (but there are others).  Some employers might think, “just dial 911.”  But what if the project location is 100 miles from the nearest town, or what if the technician is working alone and nobody knows he or she has been injured?  Even in situations where the project is in or near a town, don’t assume that the local fire department is equipped or trained to respond to such rescue requests, especially in situations where technicians are working at extreme heights such as on wind turbines or water towers.  You’d be hard pressed to find a fire department that is prepared to deal with such an emergency, even in big towns and cities.  So what’s an employer supposed to do?  Develop their own self rescue plans.  This plan would include significant training (often from a company that specializes in training self rescue classes), customized personal protective equipment, routine practice drills, etc..

In addition to these challenges and risks, the #1 mistake that affected companies make is allowing their field service technicians to work alone.  This scenario is extremely dangerous and risky and should never be employed.  Why?  It’s vital that service technicians work in teams of 2 or more people, to ensure that help is readily available if an accident or injury occurs and to administer rescue or first aid if necessary.  There are many unfortunate stories of field technicians working alone who suffered or died needlessly because there was no one around to witness and assist them after an accident or injury.  Many employers mistakenly assume that one of their customer employees will notice and assist.  Don’t count on it, because there’s no guarantee that this will happen or happen in time to prevent additional problems.  Some employers complain that it’s too expensive.  Again, this is no excuse.  If you’re deploying your service technicians to work in hazardous work conditions you must take all necessary steps to protect them from harm and danger.

Berg Compliance Solutions, LLC is uniquely qualified to help companies manage these field operations health and safety challenges.  Our staff has significant experience managing field service technician safety in the following industries: wind energy, solar energy, large motor repair, crane services, and electronic installations and repairs.

Our vast experience in this challenging area has allowed us to craft customized strategies and plans that will get your field operations OSHA compliant, and help prevent potentially catastrophic injuries and accidents.  In addition, companies who fail to manage these issues face huge OSHA fines and penalties, civil and sometimes even criminal liabilities, reputational damage for the company, increased insurance premiums and lost business.

We Understand The Challenges Involved In Managing Field Technician Safety Requirements

Call 512-457-0374  Or Click Below To Learn More About Our Outsourced Health & Safety Management Service


Get OSHA Compliant For 80% Less Than Hiring A Full Time Safety Manager

  • Build Your Safety Program From Scratch With Our Proven, Proprietary Process
  • We’ll Guide Your Company Every Step Of The Way With Our Unique Remote Support/Do-It-Yourself Concept
  • Designed For Small Resource-Strapped Manufacturing, Construction & Industrial Service Companies