Protecting Workers with a Digital Safety Net

BrandPost By John Ward, SAP Contributor
Jun 01, 20224 mins
Artificial IntelligenceMachine Learning

Digital technology is inspiring a new era of innovation in occupational safety, especially for those working in hazardous conditions and alone.

Credit: Neze

You could say that, in the past, occupational safety lacked imagination.

When construction began on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in 1933, it was still considered a novel idea to rig up a simple safety net under the structure. That net caught 19 falling workers.

But these days, digital technology is inspiring a new era of innovation.

One great example is a mobile app recently developed by the German utility, Netze BW. Their app uses the Apple Watch and artificial intelligence to protect utility service technicians on the job.

Keeping the lights on

Netze BW provides electricity, gas, and water services for about 2.4 million customers in the state of Baden-Württemberg in southwestern Germany.

Not surprisingly, the utility operates a large distribution network. The electrical grid alone is more than 100,000 kilometers long. And Netze BW needs hundreds of highly skilled people to perform regular maintenance and respond quickly to emergency situations.

It’s a 24/7 job, and it’s not without risk. The work is commonly done at remote locations, in hazardous conditions, and often, alone.

“The wellbeing of our employees is very close to our hearts,” says Claus Jürgen Bader, Product Manager at Netze BW. “We want all our people to return home safely at the end of their shifts.”

Ensuring a fast response

The mobile app offers these utility workers a digital safety net.

At its simplest, the app provides service technicians with an alarm button right on their watch they can use to request help in an emergency. The app connects directly with the regional emergency dispatch center. There, center personnel can take immediate action such as dispatching police, fire, or ambulance services.

The technician can also take additional precautions by setting a timer on their watch when arriving at the job site. If the timer is allowed to run out, the app will automatically contact the emergency dispatch center on its own.

“Our goal is to respond to a technician in need within two seconds,” Bader says.

Taking occupational safety to the next level

But the real magic happens when the app combines the unique functionality of the smartwatch with the power of artificial intelligence.

“The Apple Watch includes features like global positioning, an accelerometer, and a heart rate monitor,” explains Mark Zimmermann, Team Lead Center of Excellence “Mobile Development” at EnBW. “Our app can use these technologies to automatically assess real-time conditions in the field.”

The built-in fall detection, for example, lets the app determine if the technician has taken a sudden fall. Biometric readings can identify a possible health emergency.

“And the app can even use the watch’s microphone to recognize noises like human crying, dogs barking, or the sounds made by a fire,” adds Zimmermann.

Netze BW is taking the sensor data gathered by the watch and applying machine learning technologies from Apple to create situation-specific workflows that can guide the emergency dispatch center response.

The app is making both emergency and routine service calls safer.

Because it interfaces with the utility’s SAP S/4HANA systems, the app also provides hands-free access to service information like work orders, safety instructions, and integrated checklists. These help ensure that technicians adhere to established procedures, which in turn, leads to fewer mishaps.

Making every shift safer

Today, more than 700 service technicians use the new app. And Bader expects even more to be onboard by next year. In addition to internal users, Netze BW plans to offer the app for external use – initially in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland followed by other countries in the international market.

The technology is already proving its value.

Netze BW estimates that accidents in the field will be reduced by 50%, while the utility is also gaining greater efficiency in everyday job performance.

For the utility’s service technicians, the added peace of mind is priceless.

“Our people are very happy with this new technology,” Zimmermann says. “They like having a guardian angel on their wrist.”

You can learn more about why Netze BW was recognized as a 2022 SAP Innovation Award honorable mention here.