The Gatehouse Blog

How First Group developed an app to support safety issue reporting

A few months ago, First Group decided to move to a 100% digital safety reporting system accessible to all employees from mobile devices. Group Safety Director Naveed Qamar explains what the app will look like.

First Group is a transport operator in the UK and in North America. We employ approximately 120,000 employees and transport more than 2.5 billion passengers every year.

Safety is paramount to us – whether it’s our passengers or staff. There are many potential risks in our industry: collisions, derailment, passengers getting injured while getting on and off the buses…

Our job is to keep everyone safe by improving our working practices and procedures, implementing control systems and monitoring our performance in this area.

Why an app?

We’ve had a reporting system in place since 2006. It’s paper-based. Every agent is equipped with a booklet. Every time they need to report an issue, they simply fill in a form and hand it over to someone in one of our locations, who in turn logs the information onto a database which has been designed in-house.

Every year, we log about 300,000 reports in that database – it’s an awful lot of information, which has proven to be very useful in terms of taking action. The database doesn’t only ‘store’ data; it also supports our injury prevention programme by generating requests for action and sending them to specific areas of the business. Obviously, it’s been a lot of work designing this interface, and it works for us.

We wanted to leverage new technology by replacing booklets with an app that our staff could use anytime on any mobile devices. This would speed up the process and provide real-time information; this would also save our people time, as logging the information onto the database is a tedious process. By equipping our people with a quick, easy to- use and innovative solution, we were also hoping to increase the number and the quality of reports sent every day – which will help us do even better in terms of safety.

Some apps are available off the shelf, but none of them really served our purpose as we wanted the app to adapt to how our database was designed, not the other way round.

We wanted to develop something bespoke. We put together a small project team to think of what it should look like and started to discuss our specifications and requirements with Gatehouse.

What will it look like?

We’re still in the process of testing the app, so it hasn’t been launched yet. However, we’re at the final stage of its development. Our employees will be able to download the app on any Smartphone or tablet. Not everyone has been given a professional Smartphone, so we will support a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ model: employees will be allowed to download the app on their personal mobile devices. The app will be secured by a log-in system using their First Group e-mail address and a password. Users will be asked to create an account when using it for the first time. They will then find relevant information on our safety procedures and follow a simple 4-step process to report issues:

• Answer some simple questions regarding the type of issue they wish to report and attach pictures
• Enter the location using GPS or selecting a depot from a predefined list
• Add notes and observations to their report, set a list of required actions and determine who should be completing them by selecting members of staff from a list.
• After the report has been completed, users will get a summary screen where they can check all the details are correct and jump back to any part of the report to make amendments.

All of this will be done in a few clicks…

What will be your focus in the coming months?

Our main challenge has been to sort out our internal systems. Being quite a large company, we use many diverse systems internally – so trying to implement a consistent system across the business was a challenge. Our database has served its purpose for many years but its architecture is simply not modern enough to deal with an application. As soon as the database replacement has been implemented, the two will work together.

The app has been designed to be extremely user-friendly and straightforward, so we expect people to start using it quite quickly. However, we will provide some guidance on our intranet and within the app to help people get started with it. Our vision is that it should be the only reporting system in place one year from now.

Once the new system is in place, we’d like to use it to send safety alerts to our workforce. 80% of them, including our drivers, work very remotely away from their base. So this will also become a way of keeping in touch with them easily.

Biography – Naveed Qamar

Naveed Qamar is Group Safety Director at First Group. Naveed has over 25 years of experience in safety management at senior
level in complex risk environments. He has a degree in chemical engineering and a MSc in health, safety and environmental law. He has
expertise in developing and enhancing safety management systems. He brings together the wide range of expertise available within
FirstGroup to achieve the relentless pursuit of safety excellence in all areas.