HSE People Interview with Duncan Davies, CEO of Notify Technology

HSE People: Duncan, thank you so much for joining us. We are really keen to find out more about Notify Technology, in particular your mission to make a billion workers safer and healthier. That’s a bold target!!

Duncan: It is! But remember that, according the to the UN, every 15 seconds a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease, and 151 workers have a work-related accident. That’s 317 million occupational accidents per year, so that’s the true scale of the issue!

For us at Notify, having a bold target on health, safety and well-being makes complete sense and it aligns with what the UN are pushing through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). People are still dying at work – even in the UK – and there’s a growing awareness around the impact of stress and mental ill-health, so there’s loads to be done.

We already have users in over 100 countries around the world, who’ve logged over ½ million safety events on our platform so far, so we’re making progress.

HSE People: Wow that’s some impressive figures! There’s a lot of information out there about digitalising of health and safety – where do you think it’s making or can make the biggest impact for H&S Professionals?

Duncan: There are three really big wins for Safety professionals.

Firstly, it’s the simple time benefit of handing them back the hours they used to spend in spreadsheets, chasing updates on actions, or tracking down a missing investigation report months later. I’ve met people in safety who’ve told me it took two days out of their month to pull together their board report!

Second, it’s about engagement. This is harder to measure, but still vital to building a safety culture and cutting risk. At Notify we talk about “making safety more Sarah” – she’s our fictional early-20’s employee turning up for her first job. If you hand people like Sarah a safety binder and paper-forms, do you expect them to fully engage in your safety reporting culture? So much of life is now organised and planned through apps and mobile devices; safety shouldn’t be the odd one out!

And third, it’s about using technology in influencing and supporting the board. There’s a real thirst now among CEOs and Investors to gain assurance over EHS and ESG performance and show that they really care about their work force and supply chain. COVID-19 has pushed safety and wellbeing up the agenda and COP26 has put the environment front and centre for so many management teams.

The big win on digitalisation is getting data in real time from sites all over the country or the globe. The digital tools we build help tell clients what’s really happening on the ground with insightful data that organisations can then turn into actions.

HSE People: If digitalisation is such an easy win, why are so many continuing to use pen and paper or spreadsheets to manage their incident reporting, audits and risk assessments?

Duncan: I think it’s fear, lack of money, or experience of poorly designed technology, or a mix of all three.

I talk to safety people who are fearful of technology and the “process” of going digital. They want to know if all that effort is going to pay off and worry about their system getting hacked or losing data. There are sometimes practical concerns like not having internet access on remote sites. Or that not all employees have an email address or a mobile device.

In terms of getting the required investment, showing an ROI on safety can be a challenge, especially for businesses that have been hit hard over the last couple of years. We’ll sometimes support a safety manager with identifying how digital will improve efficiency and cut costs at the same time as delivering better safety outcomes.

I guess the reality is that there are also some companies that don’t want to invest in the safety of their people. Sometimes I hear “why would we want to increase near miss reports 10X?”. Digital tools can’t fix that issue, so I’d recommend a click on the virtual jobs boards!

HSE People: As an organisation you’ve got a wide range of business using your health and safety platform – what are your tips for successful implementation and engagement?

Duncan: Early in my career, I worked in Mergers & Acquisitions, and I had one message I’d always try and drive home to people who were buying businesses: don’t tell the workforce that nothing is going to change!  That’s my top tip, that change should be expected and should be managed.

It’s natural to get concerned about change, and people will often push back against it if it’s not explained carefully. The best implementations I’ve seen have focussed on the change management aspect and engaging the workforce. That’s not just a challenge for safety of course, it’s a reflection that we’re moving away from BAU (Business As Usual) to CAU (Change As Usual)!

Right from the beginning I’d encourage safety professionals to engage their peers in HR, Finance, Operations and IT. They are brilliant people to learn from, as many will already have some experience with rolling out technology. And speak to your network, get recommendations, and listen to the many success stories people will share.

I love the saying: “begin with the end in mind”. For a successful implementation, it’s worth being really clear on what you are looking to achieve as an end goal. A great way of doing that is figuring out what information and data will be useful for those leading the organisation on safety. By understanding that aspect, you’ll get a better system working for you not against you. And remember that a really good system is one that you can easily customise yourself.

Going live is the beginning of the journey, not the end.  The roll out and first three months are so important. We have great examples of great practice, like the safety team who put the Notify logo and a link to the software in their email footer, so every message reinforced the new system. I’ve also seen people doing posters along with QR codes, which work brilliantly.

A great tip from our clients is to use the feature on Notify that allows colleagues to report “Positive observations” or “good spots” or “suggestions”. This turns safety from a mostly negative event, towards something where good practice and behaviours can be celebrated. That really helps reinforce the focus on looking for and sharing best practice. The same can be done with simple safety audits that flag the good stuff, as much as the things that need attention and focus.

And finally, one of the reasons our clients see significant improvements in engagement rates is that the reporter is notified when they log a safety event and informed again when it’s resolved. There’s even the capability for the person doing an investigation to use a specially designed field to send direct feedback to the reporter, either to recognise and thank them, or provide constructive feedback and real-time coaching. This whole aspect helps create that virtuous circle that sits at the heart of a great safety culture, where the workforce believes that what they say and do matters. 

HSE People: With COP26 in our recent rear-view mirror – how are you at Notify Technology supporting businesses in achieving their ESG commitments?

Duncan: We’re seeing a few things along these lines such as a growing desire to capture environmental elements. That’s always been part of EHS or SHEQ of course, but we’re seeing that widen towards tracking fuel, water, carbon usage etc. We’re listening to clients who are wanting to put these aspects onto the Notify platform for ease of data capture and reporting.

In addition, we’re seeing interest from clients on how our risk and audits modules could help them with managing risk and governance across their supply chains. We have a clear vision of the “connected supply chain” where suppliers and customers are more digitally connected, sharing insights on safety, but also ensuring that standards and policies are being maintained.

Medium term, we see Notify as a key part of an ESG ecosystem that means that clients can have a single dashboard view covering the relevant areas they are tracking and reporting against.

HSE People: Everyone is always interested in what’s coming up this year from a technology perspective – what have you got planned that will wow our readers?

Duncan: I think the biggest wow factor next year will be around the work we’re doing on Machine Learning and AI. We’ve been looking at this for a while, but I think it will become reality in 2022.

The technology is now well established in many walks of line and the early results of our work looking at the masses of safety data we have are really exciting.

To give a flavour, this could see Notify automatically escalating suggestions to the safety team. This might happen when an incident is first reported, and the software evaluates whether that incident is potentially looking like something more serious (a RIDDOR reportable event, or an LTI for example). Say this incident happens on a Monday, if we can flag it then, rather than the safety (and potentially HR) team finding out on the Wednesday, we can add real value for stretched safety teams.

The idea here is about giving the safety team another pair of hands to help out.

This is a major investment area for us as we believe it could rapidly advance us on our journey to making a billion workers safer!

HSE People: Thank you so much Duncan for taking the time to talk to us about Notify Technology and all that you are doing. We’re excited to follow you as you continue to make such a difference to so many peoples’ safety.


If you’d like to learn more about Notify and how they’re impacting Health and Safety through their smart and simple to use SafetyTech then please click here.