‘I can influence worker safety at a scale I could not previously have achieved’, tech safety firm appoints Karl Simons OBE
Karl Simons, OBE, sits down exclusively with SHP to speak about his new role at tech start-up, FYLD.
FYLD, a digital platform that transforms the ability of field workers and businesses to make real-time, data-driven decisions to enhance safety, productivity and quality, has appointed Karl Simons OBE as Executive Director – Health, Safety & Wellbeing.
Karl, who joins this month from Thames Water where he held the role of Chief Health, Safety and Security Officer since 2013, will draw on his extensive industry experience and will work with the FYLD team and its customers to implement new features into the company’s, AI-driven platform to bring safety to life throughout delivery of jobs.
Throughout his career, Karl has been awarded a number of prestigious accolades and non-executive positions including an OBE in the 2020 New Years Honours List for services to mental health policy, SHP’s Most Influential Individual in Health and Safety in 2019, as well as five years on the board of Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP).
His decades of industry experience and mental health advocacy will see the platform, which is already used by the UK’s leading utilities and construction firms, benefit from his insights. In particular, Karl will focus on how the digital transformation of risk assessments and mitigation can help to keep a workforce physically safe in the most complex and hazardous working environments – while releasing large volumes of data about operational outcomes to drive efficiency gains.
SHP exclusively sat down with Karl a few days into his new role…
Hi Karl, congratulations on the new job. Tell us a little about FYLD.
Karl Simons (KS): “The FYLD technology addresses some key concerns that health and safety leaders face;
“Firstly, the ‘normalisation of risk’ and ‘situational awareness’ – as both factors can result in disastrous consequences if not approached correctly. Although many companies undertake repetitive training and implement forms that prompt knowledge reminders, generally employees are heavily reliant on human intellect. My deep concern is the human ability to fail and smart systems eliminate or substantially mitigate the effects of this.
“Undertaking a robust risk assessment prior to starting work is arguably the most important point for a safety critical worker during their day. It is the key moment field workers should stop and think about how best to approach the task in hand.
“We call this a Point of Work Risk Assessment (PoWRA) and getting it wrong can lead to injury, illness, incidents and even criminal liability for both employees, managers and companies. My concern is I’ve seen so many companies that are still just ticking boxes at this point, either on paper or even electronically, and therefore relying on previously communicated general risk assessments and employee retained knowledge.That’s simply not good enough, as it allows too much room for the human ability to fail.
“The FYLD solution enables field workers to undertake a visual risk assessment at the point of work, where they are able to simply communicate what they see in front of them. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) then analyses what they report and, perhaps most importantly, what they don’t say! This is made possible through cutting edge verbal and imagery analysis, which sees a formal risk assessments produced in under 15 seconds. By using these assessments, the operative or team leader can identify key hazards and controls, and then effectively communicate them to their team.
“The company was established in 2019, and the FYLD solution has already proven to reduce injuries and incidents by 20% after a 12-month testing and validation process with SGN, the UK based natural and green gas company which manages a network that distributes gas to almost 6 million homes and businesses across Scotland and the south of England. It’s also shown the productivity benefits with 75% less time invested in undertaking health and safety assessments for an average 1,000 jobs per week – which equates to over 10,000 hours saved.”
What will your role at FYLD entail and what is it that attracted you to the role?
(KS): “As an Executive Director I will be part of the senior leadership team responsible for driving the strategic growth of the company and its state-of-the-art technology solutions.
“I’ve been looking at predictive analytics and artificial intelligence for a number of years now, and I have followed many companies offering products and services related to this, but I’ve never been able to find a solution that is good enough to both effectively prevent harm and improve productivity. When I was approached by the team at FYLD I was blown away by the capabilities of the product. This is a unique offering as it’s very user friendly at the front end and has some major heavyweight artificial intelligence power behind it.
“Following discussions with the Chairman, Investors and other Executive Directors in the team, the impressive capabilities of the FYLD platform, and the massive scale of the opportunity to transform the way that harm prevention is approached was very exciting.”
What benefits do you see from working for a start-up business, as opposed to large corporate organisations?
(KS): “During my 30 year career, I have steered and led major corporate organisations across many sectors including utilities, energy, rail, construction and facilities management industries. Joining a start-up business at this point in my career is an exciting opportunity.
“FYLD is a tech business that has an extraordinary beneficial offering that can make a major impact not only for the employees using the software, but for the businesses who employ them.
“The major benefit of joining FYLD is that I can influence worker safety at a scale I could not previously have achieved working for a single corporate organisation, and at a much faster pace. It is a once in a career opportunity.”
With increasing pressure on time and efficiency in businesses, how important is it that organisations are able to access real time data?
(KS): “Incredibly important. Without real time data, organisations are making decisions without knowledge. For health and safety professionals, this means making choices regarding which job they should focus on at any given moment. They are often managing multiple teams at once – without a frame of reference to help them prioritise properly and reduce incidents. For example, if a health and safety manager is overseeing 50 teams in the field, real time data can help them understand risk as it emerges, focusing their attention on where it can have most impact.
What would you say to the leaders of major utilities and contracting organisations?
(KS): “Don’t get left behind! It’s not simply just utilities this applies to, it’s all companies.
“Technology is evolving at a very rapid rate and the benefits of harm prevention through embracing new solutions that can better support your business are available. I’m not surprised by the outcomes already being generated for clients that are using the FYLD solution, it’s so impressive.”
What does the future look like?
(KS): “It’s extremely exciting. I’m now heavily involved in supporting the software designers at FYLD adapt the product even further, which includes implementing new features to bring safety to life throughout the delivery of jobs.
“The psychological impact of rolling out the FYLD software is already evident, with many companies reaping the benefits. FYLD is creating a working environment where people mentally feel safe and supported enabling them to better concentrate and thrive at work.
“We will be bringing safety to life throughout a job, beyond the PoWRA. This will be enabled through features like job evidencing, where we can use cutting edge computer vision technology to assess ongoing safety. The trend analysis we can do in respect of incidents and injuries and the ability to ensure workforces are trained – in a timely manner – on the real safety issues is something I’ve never seen before, but I know it will be very powerful for our customers.
“Fatigue, a problem common to major utilities and many other field workforce industries is another area we are presently tackling. We see the ability to dramatically reduce the level of fatigued workers in the field, whilst also driving down overtime rates by helping our customers understand their workforce capability at a more granular detail and make better decisions on who should get the call when something goes wrong off shift.
“FYLD focuses on both safety and productivity – that’s really important too. We know that the best companies deliver safe, productive field force operations and at FYLD we focus on enabling these outcomes together, not as trade-offs of one another.”
How can technology and data help organisations improve how they manage the mental health of their workforce, particularly post-pandemic as people return to the workplace?
“When working in dangerous environments, workers can feel different levels of stress. I’ve seen first-hand how the demands and pressures of modern-day life can impact the behaviour of those working on the frontline and the devastating consequences that can arise.
“Despite the level of technological advancement that has taken place in recent years, before FYLD it has not been brought to bear as a ‘safety buddy’ for field workers. FYLD really is that; it is a digital buddy that helps workers stay safe, deployed in an app that acts like their buddy. I don’t think we can underestimate the positive psychological impact of that tool.
“The post-pandemic environment will be interesting. We’ve seen a lot of changes to human behaviours and workplace norms over the past year. While we hope to be post-pandemic in the next six-12 months, there is also the very real possibility of more pandemics to come down the line when we look at the trends in emerging diseases over the past 20 years. The workforce connectivity, and communication lines that FYLD has opened up between remote team managers and those on site is another area where we will see a positive impact on mental health.”
What are you looking to accomplish in you first few months in the role?
(KS): “ Learn! Learn! Learn! It’s something I never get tired of doing or talking about. The more I listen to the digital analysts, software designers and coders that have developed FYLD, the more I understand in detail how the complex algorithms are working to serve our customers. I’m looking forward to bringing the promise of safer, more efficient, field force operations to life for our customers, and enabling safety at scale for field force workers in the dangerous environments where they do their jobs.”
Shelley Copsey, Chief Executive Officer of FYLD said: “We are very pleased to welcome Karl to the FYLD team. He is a well-respected pioneer in his field, and brings significant industry experience to the role, as well as an understanding of mental health and employee wellbeing that is second to none. This, in addition to his proven leadership skills, passion for innovation and transformative technology solutions, and awareness of the market opportunities, means he is perfectly positioned for this senior role and to support the business embark on its next phase of growth.”
Tickets to the conference are £120 + VAT, with 20% of the ticket price donated to conference charity partner, Mind.
Speakers include former No. 10 director of communications and strategy Alastair Campbell; astronaut Major Tim Peake; Mind CEO Paul Farmer; Olympic gold medallist Amy Williams; award-winning campaigner Tom Dunning; HSE Principal Human Factors Specialist Phoebe Smith; and many more.
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