How does evolving technology impact the future of safety in utilities? Like other industries, utilities continually adopt new technologies to better meet customer demands and conduct business more efficiently in the modern age. However, the electric utility industry is faced with a unique challenge: manage training so that field workers learn to safely operate technologically advanced equipment quickly enough to not disrupt the power grid. As equipment and technology evolve in the utility space, it is crucial that organizations integrate new technologies now and frequently provide on-the-job training to operate safely in the future.
An Acceleration of New Technologies in the Field
Increased reliance on new technologies in the utilities space is caused by a variety of reasons, including increasing demand and growing pressure to modernize. A recent BizTech article states, “the industry [has] faced concerns over grid reliability while adapting to an increased demand for renewable sources of energy.” T&D World published an article on the industry’s recent shift toward implementing advanced technology for upcoming grid modernization plans, noting that the growth of the distribution automation market demonstrates how companies are investing in equipment to address these concerns. A Globe News Wire article states that factors such as continually rising demand for automated grid distribution processes and reliability improvement programs by the government have driven distribution automation market growth, which is projected to reach a valuation of 22.8 billion by 2027. This indicates that workers have been forced to quickly gain new skills to operate complicated technologies, and they must also be trained in the intricacies of constructing and troubleshooting these new technologies.
Examples of new technologies in the field include:
- Mobile applications for increasing information accessibility
- Computer based GPS locating software
- Automated switches
- Innovative switchgear
If the workforce does not quickly learn how to use these new technologies, safety will ultimately be compromised.
Barriers to Embracing the Future of Safety in the Field
For the field workers installing and maintaining equipment on the grid, there are many barriers to utilizing technology in the field.
- Rural or remote locations often mean limited access to an internet or cellular service.
- Workers often have a long list of jobs to complete during the day across multiple sites. This leaves little time to focus on becoming familiar with new technology or, if necessary, troubleshooting that technology.
- Employees have a wide range of technological comfort levels, and it may take multiple training approaches to bring everyone up to speed quickly.
- Any meaningful update to standard safety practices and technologies may lead to many questions and a general resistance to change.
With the expectations mounting to use new systems, devices, and software; workers may find themselves in a tough position.
Organizations must ensure that enough time and resources are dedicated to verifying worker comprehension of new safety protocols and the technology supporting them.