FortisAlberta wins Canadian Safety Technology Award for Microsoft Power Platform solution
FortisAlberta delivers a safe and reliable electricity service to more than 60% of Alberta’s total electricity distribution network, providing power to more than half a million residential, farm and business customers from across central and southern Alberta. Operating in 240 communities with more than 124,000km of power lines, FortisAlberta’s team comprises more than 1,100 Albertans, including 350 first-line workers, all of whom need to be kept safe from preventable injuries.
In this blog post we will learn how employees have said goodbye to the piles of paper that have been traditionally used to document Injury Prevention Plans (IPPs) and transitioned to an electronic replacement built using Microsoft Power Platform. The solution – utilizing Power Apps, Power BI, Microsoft 365 Graph, and Azure services – recently won the 2021 Canada’s Safest Employers award for Most Innovative Use of Safety Technology.
The following comment from an Occupational Health and Safety Officer who recently performed a site audit highlights the effectiveness of the solution – “I wish all sites were like this. You guys have everything in place.”
With 350 front-line workers working on power lines across the province, injury prevention is an enormous priority. Thus, before any work commences at a site, an Injury Prevention Plan (IPP) must be created to identify the risks and hazards staff need to be aware of and the actions they must take to stay safe on site. This plan must remain dynamic throughout the lifecycle of the site, as any change to the job may inherently carry with it new risks requiring new plans of action.
Before Microsoft Power Platform
Before adopting a digital approach, FortisAlberta used a paper-based system to fill out and handle IPPs. Paper-based forms were filled out within 30 days and emailed to the Safety department. Recordings of meetings were taken on a hand-held audio recorder and cross-referenced with the paper forms during random periodic checks or if an incident were to occur. To share the IPPs, photographs or photocopies were taken of the filled-out forms and sent over for Site Auditing, which made it challenging to pull information together quickly for review during team safety meetings.
The paper-based process caused several challenges:
- Hand-written IPPs were not always legible, which made it difficult to record accurate information.
- The use of check boxes in the paper form did not properly capture the scope of work, roles and their accountabilities, and hazards and barriers present for the job.
- The voice recording hardware used was producing low-quality recordings, which were difficult to understand. Recordings were often captured on individuals’ phones or other personal devices instead of the provided hand-held hardware, which introduced a security risk.
- Additionally, they ran into issues when batteries died, or digital recordings got lost in shipping, which meant the paper forms were the only record available.
- Paper forms required double entry, necessitating additional administrative work.
- Paper forms often took weeks to get to the head office or got lost along the way.
Microsoft Power Platform solution
It was clear that there was an opportunity to transition away from paper forms to a digital replacement and that doing so would ease several pain points. Given that the IT leadership at FortisAlberta was already invested in the Microsoft stack, they saw Microsoft Power Platform as a meaningful extension to their existing investments to bring this paper process into the digital world.
To prove the technology could meet the requirements for this use case, FortisAlberta teamed up with their digital partner Fidelity Factory, who used the rapid development capabilities of Power Apps to create a quick proof-of-concept. Its successful reception led to an end-to-end solution being built in just two months and, in the fall of 2018, was deployed to a pilot user base of 220 daily users.
The solution has withstood the test of time. During the following spring, medium and high-risk employees, as well as their managers and directors, completed training on the electronic IPP, with each area adopting the app immediately. It has now been in production for over three years and is deployed to over 500 field staff, including lineman, project coordinators and field supervisors, with an average of over 120 IPPs being processed every day.
Injury Prevention Plan (IPP) tool
The new process starts before work commences on a site. Site supervisors create an IPP identifying important information, as well as work hazards and mitigations, via a custom-built .NET application. At the work site, a Power Apps canvas app enables the supervisor to view and edit the relevant IPP for their site. The app, which runs on their personal mobile device, allows them to initiate an audio recording, so that their review of the IPP can be stored as an audio record. Additionally, audio recordings of safety meetings can be taken and associated with the relevant IPPs and are easily accessible to listen to directly from within the app when reviewing an existing IPP.
The IPP mobile Power Apps canvas application. From left: (1) IPPs are available to select from a searchable list. (2) Once selected, IPPs can be reviewed in their full detail. The central microphone icon can be used to start a recording. (3) The app will save audio using the device’s in-built microphone. (4) Previous recordings are linked to the IPP and available to listen to directly from within the application.
Some of the key features include:
- The IPP mobile app works in an online or offline capacity, allowing users to work uninterrupted regardless of the connectivity at their site of work.
- Visually appealing and user-friendly interfaces allow for quick and easy reviews of IPPs.
- Linking audio with an IPP is extremely simple and straight forward.
Power BI reports
Data visualizations in Power BI allows FortisAlberta staff to track trends in their IPP processes. Left: Daily tracker; Right: Word cloud picking out key words and phrases commonly mentioned in recordings and safety meetings.
FortisAlberta and Fidelity Factory utilized Power BI to add a layer of insight into the IPP solution. From their Power BI report, FortisAlberta staff can track how many IPPs are created on a day-to-day basis, providing the ability to instantly notice both short-term and long-term trends in usage. Utilizing the ‘Word Cloud’ visualization, staff can also identify what kind of actions are most frequently chosen to address hazards associated with workplace tasks.
A weekly tracker also provides quick figures of how many plans, tasks and recordings have been made over the past 7 days, showcasing adoption and engagement.
The IPP app is a mobile-friendly front end for users to connect to multiple services:
- The SQL Connector is used to handle pushes and pulls to and from the system’s Azure SQL database, which holds all the IPP data.
- The Azure App Services Connector is used to connect to Azure App Services where an Audio File REST API – built to handle audio recordings – is hosted.
- The Azure Blob Storage Connector is then used to retrieve processed audio recordings from blob storage.
High level solution architecture diagram
The data in the Azure SQL Database and audio files stored in Azure Blob Storage are then available for FortisAlberta’s back-end teams to access via a .NET application built by FortisAlberta’s pro developers. This completes the cycle of information: HQ’s initial assessments of the hazards and risks entered via the .NET application are instantly available online in the Azure SQL database; the information is immediately accessible from the front line via the Power Apps mobile canvas application; and audio reviews of the IPP are reported back, in real time, to the back-end staff.
Finally, data is then presented back to staff in easy-to-understand visualizations using Power BI. The additional insights from this data can then be fed back into subsequent IPPs, allowing for continuous improvement.
Summary of impact and benefits
The application has provided huge benefits to FortisAlberta by:
- Formalizing IPP data entry, ensuring all IPPs are filled out to the same high standard
- Reducing the manual effort associated with tracking IPPs, in turn reducing associated administrative costs
- Streamlining the process of creating and executing IPP and Safety Meetings by providing quick and easy access to all the data associated with each site and project
- Removing paper-based risks of form loss or damage and eliminating the need to manually check whether forms have been completed and chase individuals for form completion, as form status is immediately available online
- Adding new insights into how to effectively plan for injury prevention and safety for invested stakeholders
- Providing rich data for reporting and analytics and improved ways of visualising this data
- Making job updates from the field available immediately in real-time to the head office as the day progresses
The deployment of the IPP has increased productivity in FortisAlberta by reducing the time spent on double entry, missing paperwork or audio recordings, and other inefficiencies common to paper-based processes. The fact that IPPs can now be completed with accuracy, correctness, and efficiency – all while being flexible and easy to use while employees are on site – has allowed FortisAlberta to continue to meet and exceed their Safe Work Planning and Occupational Health & Safety legislative requirements.
Feedback from the field
After the electronic IPP was implemented, a Wetaskiwin site crew was visited by an Occupational Health & Safety Officer, who was charged with completing an audit on their job site. The Officer focused on the Injury Prevention Plan, specifically inspecting whether the nearest medical facility had been identified, awareness of this site’s location amongst the workers on site, and awareness of who was the person in charge of the site.
The Field Supervisor explained the IPP process to the Officer, detailing how the electronic plan starts life at the office, is revisited on site and then a recording is completed with all the workers. Impressed, the Officer took pictures of the application after his inspection, and commented, “I wish all sites were like this. You guys have everything in place.”
About the partner
Founded in 2011 by Rem Saparco & Sean Panter, Fidelity Factory is an independent firm and Microsoft Gold Partner focused on providing customers simple solutions that address real business opportunities. By leveraging connectors and low code platforms, its team of dedicated and experienced consultants create innovative solutions using Power BI, Power Apps, Power Automate and Power Virtual Agents. Based in Calgary, Fidelity Factory is now expanding across Alberta and British Columbia, with a portfolio of clients spanning a broad spectrum of industries from Technology to Civic Government to Non-Profits and Utilities. Over the years the company has forged lasting relationships with its clients and prides itself in being a reliable and trusted partner.