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A Synthesis of Technology and Culture

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In this Readers Platform, an Otis executive describes how the company is integrating proprietary apps to promote mechanic safety.

At Otis, safety has always been at the heart of who we are. Although the elevator has been around for centuries, it only became a safe, reliable means of transportation in 1852 — the year Elisha Graves Otis invented the elevator safety brake. His invention paved the way for the modern city and transformed how we live and work today. Otis currently moves approximately two billion people a day, and we’re committed to the comfort, safety and peace of mind of each. We’re equally committed to the safety of our 33,000 service mechanics.

Supporting Our People to Do What They Do Best

These men and women work around the clock to keep the two million elevators and escalators in our service portfolio in safe operating condition. They work under all kinds of conditions and often feel pressure to quickly return a unit to service to minimize inconvenience.

We’ve long had a set of rigorous processes, called our Cardinal Rules, to help ensure that our mechanics avoid missteps that can lead to injuries or even fatalities if followed to the letter.

Experience has taught us, however, that we must go beyond processes and training to advance the cause of safety.

Today, we’re harnessing the power of digital technologies while promoting a culture in which our mechanics are their own best advocates for safety to achieve our goal: that each and every mechanic goes home safe after their shift each day.

Digital Transformation Drives Safety

As part of the digital transformation of our service business, we’re connecting our network of two million elevators and escalators and collecting real-time data on the equipment that will help our global service teams predict and prevent shutdowns. This initiative includes equipping our mechanics around the world with iPhones loaded with a host of Otis-built, proprietary apps, including sophisticated tools to make their jobs easier and, more importantly, safer.

For example, our mechanics formerly had to get on the car top or pit to identify the source of a noise or vibration. With our new Otis Tune app, mechanics can take the same measurements from inside the cab with the tap of a button. They simply launch the app and set their iPhone on the floor of the elevator cab, or the step or rail of the escalator. Tune collects noise and vibration data and diagnoses potential issues.

The Otis Shield app, another service-focused app, detects if a mechanic has fallen and automatically summons help if the mechanic is unable to do so. Shield is more than a vigilant monitor. It promotes safety awareness. When a mechanic opens the app, Shield displays a reminder that says, “I commit to work safely.” Our mechanics can add a personal photo — of a family member, loved one or friend — as a reminder that the people who matter most in their lives are awaiting their safe return home.

To enhance use of the Shield app, we’ve coupled it with other standard field tools, like a door wedge. Most elevator mechanics are familiar with a door wedge — a simple mechanical tool used to secure the cab door in the open position while maintenance is performed. Our engineers added sensors and Bluetooth technology to this basic tool. Now, once engaged, the smart wedge signals the mechanic’s smartphone and launches the Shield app in case the mechanic has forgotten to launch it themselves when starting work.

What’s noteworthy about these apps is they are built for Otis teams, by Otis teams. Ezhil Nanjappan, our director of Internet of Things and Mobility Solutions, largely led the design of the smart wedge and its integration with the Shield app. Innovative thinking like Nanjappan’s is helping us transform our commitment to safety into a safer working environment for our mechanics in the field.

Creating a Safety Culture

We’re excited about how technologies like these are helping keep our mechanics safe. A culture of safety must also be part of the dynamic. We’ve found that building a culture of safety requires an open conversation. A campaign of one-way, company-to-employee communications will not do. We encourage our people to speak up if they believe they:

  • Lack the training to complete a job safely
  • Feel pressure to take shortcuts
  • Are working on a site that isn’t safe or where others are disregarding safety.

We ask them to share their personal stories about how they stood up for safe practices or how they suffered the consequences when they didn’t. Jim, a mechanic who was severely injured on the job 15 years ago, shared his story in two powerful safety videos. He shared the first about 10 years ago. In a new video, I talked with Jim, who is now retired, and shared with him what Otis is doing to use technology to increase safety on the job. Stories like these and from our teams in South Korea, Japan and other regions of the world help every Otis employee look out for their colleagues and make colleagues’ safety as important as their own.

Ensuring Our People Return Home Safe, Every Day

Since our earliest days, we’ve continued to push the limits of technology to dramatically improve the performance of our elevators and escalators and how we service them. In my mind, our approach to safety — a dynamic synthesis of technology and culture — constitutes one of our greatest innovations.

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