03 Feb Interview with Cameron Barrett CEO of Field Safe Solutions
This is a transcript from a podcast I recorded with Cameron Barrett, CEO of Field Safe Solutions, on the power of digital innovations in helping with the safety of remote workers.
Geoffrey: I’m delighted to welcome Cameron Barrett, CEO of Field Safe Solutions, to Digital Oil and Gas!
Cam: Thanks, Geoffrey. It’s my pleasure to be here.
Geoffrey: You and I have known each other for many years now, possibly a decade. When did we first meet?
Cam: Yes, that’s exactly right. It has been a decade. Both of us are a little older, a little more mature. Wisdom is the word comes to mind! But in all seriousness I have had a technology career in Western Canada that has involved SAP, SAS (the analytics company), and Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC). I had the pleasure of leading the country for CSC for a few years. It’s been a really interesting decade since you and I met.
Geoffrey: If I remember correctly, you’re a lawyer too, is that right?
Cam: Well, I have a law degree, but I’m not a practicing lawyer.
Geoffrey: What’s the backstory to Field Safe?
Cam: It’s one of those great Alberta-founder stories. We have two founders, Al Bradley and Paul Aberly. And those gentlemen had some some challenges with their own personal safety in the field and thought there has to be a better way.
Geoffrey: What is the issue that that they saw that was so compelling that they decided to drop what they were doing and go fix it?
Cam: Alan was working as a land agent, and dealing with a farmer about a road to be built in the area.
Geoffrey: An eminent domain thing. For access purposes, I gather.
Cam: And the farmer became violent with them. Al didn’t have a way to reach out in a timely fashion to alert the authorities. He got away that day, but said he’d never go back without something to protect himself.
Geoffrey: I’ve seen this phenomenon. When I was in Australia, a story broke about a nurse who was part of the mobile nursing force that would visit communities remote from hospital and doctor services. She was kidnapped and murdered. The Health Authority knew that the vehicle was stolen and was able to monitor the vehicle driving around rural Australia through its GPS device, but they had no idea where the nurse was. It created a social crisis—how is it that we can know where the equipment is, but we can’t safeguard the humans driving the equipment? It sounds like a very similar kind of phenomenon that the founders wrestled with.
Cam: That’s a really sad story that you shared. And yes, it’s exactly the type of type of challenge that we see all the time.
Geoffrey: What’s the obligation of an employer who has a workforce who are out in the field? Do they have a duty of care under either moral or legal grounds? In Australia the employer has a legal responsibility. What are the rules here in Alberta?
Cam: Bill C 30, which was passed in the summer of 2018, is clear about the reasonable care that an employer must take for their employees. And, the province has advanced that to a standard that is best in class.
Geoffrey: What does that mean? Let’s say I’m a service company, I’m under contract to an oil and gas concern. And the requirement is for an individual or team of individuals to head out to an asset for inspection services. When does the obligation for the the operator or the the field service company start? Is it from the time that the employee leaves home, or is it from the time they leave the shed? What is the duty of care?
Cam: It’s still unclear. The workers that are entering hazardous or high risk areas, and workers that are working alone, are the main concern of legislation. They’re less concerned about workers that are working in groups and in teams, because they’re looking after each other if something goes wrong.
Geoffrey: The Australia story I’ve related was a kidnapping and violent incident. In Alberta, we don’t have that sort of thing going on, thankfully. What are the kinds of incidents that employees face out that operators and field companies should be concerned about?
Cam: First, folks that are going on long journeys, down roads that may be less well-traveled than others. Logging roads and the like. We have lots of those. Folks that are doing hazardous or dangerous tasks, such as climbing a pole. Those types of activities. And just general care of your people.
Geoffrey: It’s not just about driving around, it’s actually work on-site and so forth.
Cam: Yes, that’s correct.
Geoffrey: And so I’m imagining the employee who injures himself but he’s working alone, and now injured, he’s tripped, fallen, and suddenly prone and distant from the truck, and can’t raise the alarm. So that’s one kind of problem. There’s the kidnapping kind of problem. What other kinds of problems do people encounter in the field?
Cam: We see instances of heart attack.
Geoffrey: Of course, you’d have health issues. Even detecting that sort of thing, is that the employers responsibility? Or do they have a responsibility to help respond?
Cam: It’s more about reasonable care. What would a reasonable employer do for their people?
Geoffrey: There’s not a strict obligation that says “if a then b”, it is more along the lines of “what is the moral responsibility”. So well-run well-meaning companies are going to subscribe to a high duty of care for their people. They’ll demonstrate real care.
Cam: They absolutely will and their customers are demanding that. The service organizations working for the largest organizations in in North America are being asked to provide that high level of care because they’re on a client site.
Geoffrey: There’s usually two or three fatalities a year on many of these big industrial sites all around the world, unfortunately, which is unacceptable. The big companies are insisting that their supply-chain take responsibility and care for their employees. Anywhere in the world. What makes this a hard problem to solve?
Cam: The status quo is really the best answer that I can give you. Today, if you’re leaving Edmonton and heading up to Lloydminster, and you text your buddy that you’re leaving, and when you get to Lloydminster, you text your wife that you’ve arrived, everybody says “Well, we’ve got that covered, you’re checked in”. And the reality is that during that drive of several hours, we would have no idea where you were or what happened to you during those time frames. Similarly, during an eight to ten hour work day, folks can cover several miles in a vehicle.
How are we using technology that’s available to us today to do everything we can to keep our people safe?
Geoffrey: And what kind of technologies are out there that are under-exploited, as you would see it? I’m carrying a smartphone and I’ve got an Apple watch on today. It actually can measure my heartbeat and can detect noise levels, those sorts of fun things.
Cam: You’re touching on the next wave of our platform. Today, just simple GPS tracking. Everybody carries a device that can be monitored by other folks at either home office locations or centralized locations in the province, to understand the safety and whereabouts of their greatest asset, which is their people.
Geoffrey: In Australia, one of the services that was available was the call center model. The employee would be required to check in by calling this call center. And the problem was that employees would forget to check in or their phone was not able to connect to that call center, which was potentially in another state and quite distant. And it certainly didn’t take advantage of any sort of mobility apps that were available on the phone. It was expensive, because every time somebody has to pick up a phone and take a note, it cost $7 or $8 per call. So it was never used. It was just unappealing.
Cam: You’re making it difficult for the field worker who has all sorts of competing priorities, to pick up the phone and call into a contact center, which is costly, instead of enabling the technology that they have right in their hand at that time. And organizations have determined that there’s a better way to do that. And then you have the ability to drive audit and compliance and risk data into the enterprise, as opposed to being reliant on technology from 1982, the telephone and call center.
Geoffrey: The benefit, beyond the moral responsibility for duty of care, to the employee is their personal safety and well-being. If they fall ill, or they’re in an accident, help can be on the way because you know exactly where they are. That’s the story for the employees. The employer is able to fulfill that responsibility, which is better for attracting talent. If you knew that Company A was far safer and took a higher duty of care, would you be viewed as a more attractive employer?
Cam: You’d absolutely would be, not only to the employee, but to your customer, the organizations that you wish to serve, all of that supply chain that you spoke to.
Geoffrey: What about insurance costs? Is there an insurance element lurking in all of this?
Cam: Yes, there certainly is. As we collect more and more data, the value of that data to worker compensation insurance schemes becomes incredibly valuable, in terms of trending and insights into what’s really taking place with a given organization.
Geoffrey: Using a service that allows the visibility to where people physically are makes the case for a lower insurance premium because you can prove with data that your people aren’t in harm’s way and you have a fast response time, and so forth.
Cam: That’s correct. And then by using trend analysis, we can show year over year improvements or comparisons with best In class, and start to start to drive those conversations.
Geoffrey: Who’s most interested in this problem? Is it the owners who are commissioning the work? Is it service companies that are doing the services to the field? Is it the employees who are saying “You need to care about me?” What’s driving it? Perhaps it’s just younger employees who are more switched on with these technologies will be asking.
Cam: Age demographics play a factor when younger employees have access to technology. They’d like to use it for good. In this case, their good and their well being. It’s really the Boards, the HSC committees at the organizations who have a direct duty to ensure that their organizations are doing everything they can for the safety of their employees. And they’re challenging management to find better ways. And to do so in a more effective way. An improved cost structure becomes very appealing to many large companies.
Geoffrey: Especially now with the headwinds here in Alberta—depressed commodity markets, takeaway capacity constraints, increased regulation. Anything that the industry can do to improve its cost profile while at the same time improving its safety profile can’t be a bad thing.
Geoffrey: Talk a little bit about the kinds of challenges that you see in roll out. I can imagine organizational inertia is one problem. Surely there would be other kinds of deployment issues or challenges. What have you seen that blocks uptake?
Cam: This is a good time to mention that our platform not only keeps the worker safe, but also allows the worker to complete all the paperwork that they previously did on a clipboard with a pen, in a digital format.
Geoffrey: It delivers a forms data capture capacity, right to the phone or the tablet or whatever they’re working with?
Cam: That’s correct. So when you combine those two areas, now you can really start to see what the challenges might be. You might have a worker who’s always done something a certain way, they’ve always filled out something on a clipboard. And it’s great that they’re doing that, but they’re not doing enough of it. And that data doesn’t get back to home office in real time, in a structured, accurate and timely fashion.
Geoffrey: It’s also hand written? There’s no drop down boxes on paper forms! The data quality is not going to be there. Imagine if you could actually improve the data quality and get it consistent. That’d be a great prize.
Cam: The challenges that we run into are really around the change management process that an organization needs to undertake to effectively drive and improve safety culture. And that starts at the top. So when leadership says, here’s what we’re doing, and here’s why we’re doing it, and here’s what’s in it for you, and they really mean it, that then we see it a tremendous uptake. If it’s a middle management project, the results are quite predictable.
Geoffrey: More mixed and not as embraced?
Geoffrey: The potential for this solution can’t be just in oil and gas, because there’s lots of distributed assets out there. Who else have you seen that’s taken an interest in this?
Cam: All of the organizations that service the energy sector are obvious, but then you get into the telecommunication sector. Lots of men and women climbing poles, such as cellular towers. We’ve had great interest from the healthcare community, with all of the remote in-home nursing services. We certainly don’t feel limited by the energy sector. That said, we’re proud to be a Calgary based company and believe we have tremendous opportunity right here in Alberta.
Geoffrey: I can definitely see the upside with a bigger and broader, more global interest in this, with more and more industries and companies taking greater interest in the possibilities that this presents. For someone who wants to learn more about Field Safe, where would they go?
Cam: It’s www.fieldsafesolutions.com.
Geoffrey: Based in Calgary, and working around the world.
Cam: Working around the world, my friend. Appreciate everything you do and, and your involvement with us. It’s been tremendous and it’s great.
Geoffrey: Thanks so much. This has been a another episode of Digital Oil and Gas. I’ve been joined today by Cam Barrett, who’s the CEO of Field Safe Solutions. Please check in next week for another episode. Thanks again, Cam.
Cam: My pleasure.
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