OHS app is attractive but may be no better than a paper system

Over the last few months I have been using my iPad to take photographs of good and bad workplace practices.  These photos are usually shown to a site or business manager after a visit so that control measures can be identified.  The advantage of an iPad is that no one has to squint at a small screen to try to see the hazard.  I have kept my eyes open for potentially useful OHS apps for the iPad.  One app recommended to me is iJSA.

iJSA, designed for the iPhone initially, is packed with features that could assist the tech-savvy OHS professional in developing Job Safety Analyses (JSA) (Job Hazard Analysis in the United States).  However any app must prove to be better, more convenient and more effective than existing measures and I am not sure that iJSA does this.

JSAs are most commonly applied in construction and manufacturing activities.  They are usually based on a templates (often provided by OHS regulators) and include a basic risk assessment of a work activity just prior to the work commencing.  Workers usually sign the JSA to signify they have understood the safe operating procedure, if not having been directly involved in the JSA’s preparation. (WorkSafe Victoria’s JSA template states that:

“Each JSA must be site specific. Include all workers in the development of this JSA.”)

iJSA includes a risk calculator of Low-Medium-High-Acute risk ratings.  Many companies already have a risk matrix and many of these are simply three categories of Low-Medium-High.  It would have been useful to be able to reconfigure the iJSA risk matrix to one that is compatible with the existing criteria and, more importantly, familiar to the workers.

OHS regulators in Australia provide some of the most practical JSAs (sometimes referred to as Safe Work Method Statements or SWMS, pronounced swims) often in documents commonly called Subby Packs, designed for subcontractors.  A substantial advantage with Subby Packs is the provision of extensive information to better explain the safety context of the JSA.

A more important practical application is that a paper-based system allows  for direct involvement of the people undertaking the tasks and undertaking the risks.  It is in the workers’ own best interest to participate in this most basic, and most significant, of  OHS consultations.  The use of an electronic JSA tool, such as iJSA, runs counter to the direct involvement of the workers.

iJSA tries to deal with the paper “evidence” of a completed JSA by being able to export the completed JSA to a PDF format.  This is a sensible measure in a technological workplace but many of the high-risk workplaces where JSAs are required are not well resourced on internet or printers or, even, electricity.  Some of the most effective safety management occurs in remote sheds with a pad of JSAs and a piece of carbon paper.

This is the biggest criticism I have of any online OHS tool, such as the iJSA.  Will the use of this tool or app increase safety in a worksite more effectively than the existing risk assessment practices?

I don’t think so, not at the moment.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

11 thoughts on “OHS app is attractive but may be no better than a paper system”

  1. Dear Santa, this is what I want. A program designed to work on a big range of tablets that can hold 30 or so 10 page SWMS, or safe work procedures, and a bunch of typically used forms like incident/injury reports, hazard and risk reports, non-conformance reports, i.e. all the sort of forms a worker might need to fill in on-site. Voice recognition to call up the form or procedure, and search contents. Perfecter, would be the ability to just say what the worker is about to do and be able to demand different types of info. Questions like: “I’m about to do XYZ. What are the main things I have to look out for and have with me?” or “I’m about to do XYZ, what is the exact procedure in our system?” The voice response has to be flawless, or pretty damn close, not like the often dazed and confused Siri.

    While on the wish list I’d also like voice recognition to fill out a form, and for the completed form to be zapped off to the person it needs to go to. Then I want the ability for a tablet to produce a compressed movie while the worker describes what is the issue or problem and that to be able to be zapped off to the person who needs to see and hear it.

    All that in a system that syncronises with the latest stuff by doing no more than plugging the doover-whacky in a cradle.

    Plonk those facilities in a tablet that is built for a work site, not a coffee shop.

    Taps foot, waiting for it to happen.

    PS: Check out the Griffin Survivor series of protective covers for iPhone or iPad. It don’t make those shiny things indestructible, but they are pretty damn good.


    1. So Col….beware of RSI with that tapping foot!!! Some of the things on your wish list are going to be inside the apps I am putting together…….I reckon you would be a perfect guinea pig for it! Are you up for the challenge?

      Luke, I love the way you operate……keep up the good work and may the best App win….:)

  2. Hi Kevin and others,

    I have read your review and comments with much interest. I will take all of your comments back to our development team and incorporate them into our development discussions.

    We are a few days away from submitting the iPad version of iJSA to Apple for release in the next week or so. It has many features that the existing iPhone app doesn’t have. We are discussing the best way to allow users to incorporate a range of risk matrix’s etc.. and adding a frequency weighting to the criteria.

    These features will then be released in the iPhone version in a few weeks.

    There is a field audit app on it’s way for the iPad which we hope will make field auditing more efficient.

    We have a great deal of work ahead and based on the feedback to date, users are saying they want more and want to incorporate technology when it genuinely improves productivity. From here on, we are going to be constantly improving the app range and adding more features.

    Stay tuned.

    Luke Anear

  3. Hi Phil, I am busy testing the app as I have a vested interest in becoming technically “smart” as my business is heading into the world of apps for ipads/iphones. So it does have some limitations (like most things) but for the new “kids on the block” it has a certain appeal. It certainly makes you wonder where we go to next………..

  4. Kevin

    I don’t think we need to be too harsh on the attempts of software authors of programs like iJSA. The short comings you point out are essentially related your personal preferences. You may well prefer a pen & paper but others have different preferences. If it helps them do more JSA better well thats got to be a good thing.

    Also you point out that the inconvenience of the work site, whether computers or even electricity is available, as a barrier. I have worked on remote sites much of my career, both here in oz & in developing countries. I have always had power available even at greenfields sites. There are always vehicles with power sockets in dash or console. So why bother putting up a barrier to using apps when in reality that barrier would apply to an extreme minority of work sites.

    I am not saying iJSA is a good JSA tool or not, I haven’t even checked it out. What I am saying is don’t rule out a new generation of tools based on telling others your personal preferences.

    You are an OHS professional. So encourage OHS practices, to as many as possible, by what ever means it helps them to get it done. The big problem I see with OHS is not practicing it.


    1. Phil, thanks for contributing.

      I am not sure that I prefer using paper and pen but I tried to point out that many of the construction and manufacturing sites I have visited over recent years are not yet ready for high tech options. In fact, many continue to struggle to comply under their existing safety processes.

      High tech options are a little like behavioral based safety processes, they do not fit all companies and they need to be introduced at the the right time. Recently I have seen several instances where corporate-friendly safety processes have actually impeded safe work on site. The centralized intranet of information could not be varied without corporate approval and, on one site, the intranet could not be accessed from the worksite so NO safe work procedures or induction records could be provided on site.

      If any readers are using, or know of someone using, the iJSA in the real world, please contribute to the discussion.

  5. Kevin,

    I kind of agree with you. When I got my first iphone I think I downloaded over 100 apps thinking they would change my life – I dont think Ive ever used any of them except the Tom Tom GPS. I looked at this app a while ago and it is pretty and full of features but….. I think you and I are from the wrong generation will never change. Ive tried all sorts of new checklists and report writing systems for ipad but always go back to the old way. Digital photography will never be surpsassed as the most significant tech development for me.

    Having said all that, I think the latest generation will really like this app, particularly if they havent as much experience with other methods. And if this app causes people to at least try better, more efficient ways of doing things then its got to be a good thing.

    I also agree that it needs to be adaptable/reconfigurable. Whilst most use the same risk assessment philosophy, there are a lot of terminology differences and even the addition of “exposure” as a 3rd criteria.

    These things should be done in consultation but this app would be useful for minor day to day risks encountered by individuals – much as many organisations use the “Take 5” system.

    1. Dave, I know I am more technologically savvy that many people approaching 50 and use an iPod regularly during site inspections.

      This app may be useful IF a safety management or risk assessment system was developed with the app already integrated but I cannot see it applying easily to an established system without considerable reconfiguration of the system and re-education of the relevant OHS personnel. Of course, there is also the assumption that workplaces already have the appropriate hardware to use the app. I realise iPhones are popular but there are limitations to their use in some manufacturing and construction sectors.

      Also, I think it only fair that it be pointed out that your website http://www.safetyrisk.com.au has already published several articles on the iJSA – http://www.safetyrisk.com.au/2011/10/31/free-ijsa-job-safety-analysis-template-mobile-app/ & http://www.safetyrisk.com.au/2011/10/04/awesome-new-app/ . The authorship of these articles is not specified.


      1. I thought I was pretty tech savvy as well but then I look at my teenage kids………

        Yes you are quite right to point out that we did run an article about this app , and several other articles about other safety related apps – the content was supplied by the developers but we recieved no commercial consideration for doing so, as is the case for everything else we publish. But you make a good point – I ought to make that clearer. I am still sitting on the fence about the app. I did download it and use it for a little while but soon lost interest in it (like most of the other apps I have downloaded) as I, personally, had no direct use for it at the time and was just curious. I am still happy to let people know about it and decide for themselves if it is useful to them in their particular situation. You are right, it waont be effective if just tacked on the end of an existing system.

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