Fluor “designs and builds the world’s toughest projects,” according to its website, which means things like remote petrochemical plants and complex infrastructure systems that require tasks with risks commensurate with their importance.
“Lots of safety planning goes into our critical field activities,” said Ashly Coggins, project engineer, noting that there can be thousands of people working on a larger project at any given time. Each work day begins with crews planning their work and identifying ways to avoid potential hazards. It’s called a “safe task assignment,” or STA.
Coggins was working on such site in late 2015 when her site manager challenged the team to find the “hidden gorilla” – critical hazards that could be hiding in plain sight. She thought about her fire protection crew. Most crews work focused within specific work areas. They performed their STAs in those work areas and included hazards created by other crews working within the same area.
“I wondered how well my crew, whose work moved them throughout numerous work areas in a given day, were able to anticipate and avoid hazards created by other crews, especially new ones that emerged during the day [and weren’t able to be captured on the STAs],” she said.
“What if they could get an alert, something to notify them of new hazards based on the location they are working?”
Thus began a personal crusade of sorts, as Coggins shared her idea with a mechanical superintendent, and then with other lead players on the site. Her previous experience qualified her thinking, but it was still important to get the upper management team involved if there was any hope the idea would take flight. It turned out many of them saw value in the concept and contributed ideas of their own. Her network and original idea grew.
Next came a pitch for the idea — in its simplest form, using available wide band radio frequency technology to alert crews to hazards based on their location — to an innovation team feverishly preparing for a Shark-Tank-like competition to Fluor’s executive management.
The idea tanked.
Coggins wasn’t deterred. “I failed to communicate the idea clearly to the team in enough time to put in front of the Shark Tank, but I knew I had the support in the field to make the idea work, so I lobbied for an alternative means of approval.” She repeated the pitch to Vice President of Fluor’s Business Transformation & Innovation group and, separately, to a business line president in January 2016 – both resulting in favorable reviews.
Funding approval hinged on Coggins’ preparing a white paper and a presentation in February to company leadership.
“I think it was really important that we had so many stakeholders in the room for the presentation,” Coggins remembered.
“The support from the business line management, safety, superintendents and project managers – they definitely catapulted the idea through the approval process.”
In truth, Coggins was only about 30% sure her idea was achievable when she presented to the committee, especially the ability to find hardware that would provide the accuracy indoors, but the value it would add made it seem like a solution “should exist,” as she admits.
Her project got the green light in March, which meant budget, the capacity to talk to potential vendors, and workshops to identify the MVP.
The application launching soon is called Safety Pin, and will not only allow site superintendents and safety professionals to map critical activities and manage craft density, but notify individuals if they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But that’s just for starters. There are plans to use machine learning to come up with predictive models on where and when hazards are the most dangerous, improved people movement, even the placement and use of personal protective equipment. The pin will start as a navigation piece, but will eventually get more sophisticated, with enhanced sensor and accelerometer integration. It could have implications for overall project risk assessment and task planning.
Imagine those STAs transformed into fluid, real-time choreography.
“Safety is really compelling,” Coggins said. “Every accident is preventable, and I really didn’t need any more incentive than that.”
“I wanted to make it better.”