Improving Field Worker Safety with Geofencing

02-28-2023 04:11 PM
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Improving Field Worker Safety with Geofences


By Tom Coolidge and Tom DeWitte

If we were betting men, we suspect most everyone reading this blog would readily recall the centuries-old saying that begins, “An ounce of prevention…” That saying, of course, was uttered in 1736 by Benjamin Franklin. In full, the saying is “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The meaning is simple. It is usually far easier to stop something bad from happening in the first place than it is to repair the damage afterwards. ArcGIS today provides gas utilities and pipelines a powerful, yet easy to easy to use, capability to put that saying into practice in a way that can significantly benefit field workers.

Sadly, there are too many real cases to emphasize the point. Take dog bites for example. Multiple news reports through the years talk about utility field workers being bitten by dogs as they go about their work. While most do not result in serious injury, some do. We recall one just last year when a utility field worker needed to be airlifted to a nearby hospital after being mauled. Looking at the news articles publicly available and doing some quick back of the envelope estimations, it is possible the number of times utility field workers are attacked by an animal of one kind, or another tops a thousand annually! But it’s just not just animals. There also are occasions when a utility field worker is assaulted by a human. These instances can be incredibly dangerous, too. Instances of verbal threats and physical assaults against utility field workers are not as uncommon as we would wish them to be.

Its Dangerous Out There

The fact is, maintaining our utility infrastructure can be a dangerous job. To reduce these dangers, utilities go to great effort to keep track of locations of previous dog attacks, property owner threats, assaults, and other known dangers. This information is typically stored in a company’s Customer Information System (CIS), or in a simple spreadsheet. Unfortunately, that information is not always relayed to the field workers before they arrive at a location with a history of danger.  

How many of these incidents could be mitigated or even avoided if the utility field worker was consistently notified whenever they came within proximity of a known hazard?

Danger Approaching

Notifying a utility field worker that they are approaching a known danger is a geospatial problem. This makes it a problem that can be solved with a location aware mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet, and a mobile mapping application such as ArcGIS Field Maps.  ArcGIS Field Maps can use the new geofencing capability to notify the utility worker as they approach the known hazard. When the mobile device carried by the utility worker comes within the defined geofence distance a message is sent to the mobile device’s notification system. The mobile device’s notification system can vibrate, make noise, and display a message on the display screen to inform the user that they are approaching a known danger.

Regardless of whether the utility field worker has been dispatched to a location with a known hazard, or the danger is at the neighboring address, the utility field worker will always be notified when they come in close proximity to the known hazard.

Geofencing Known Hazards

Geofencing is a recent enhancement to ArcGIS Field Maps. This new capability can be applied to any point, line, or polygon layer in the web map. The features within that layer are configured with a buffer distance. The buffer distance defines the geographical fence around each feature in the layer. This Field Maps capability is unique in that it is a completely client-side geofencing and notification system. That means it will work when the device is connected to the network, and it will also work when the device is not connected to the network. With the deployment of this capability utility workers can always be made aware of known hazards.

Nearing a Known Hazard

What happens when the utility field worker approaches a known hazard? For most utility field workers, they will feel their mobile device vibrating. Depending on their configuration of notifications, the vibration will be followed by a noise.  When they pull the mobile device out of their pocket or pouch, they will see the notification informing them of the known hazard they are approaching.


These notifications can be tailored to different levels of threat and can be configured to include information from the known hazard record, such as customer name and address.

Communicating Knowledge

Maintaining our infrastructure is a job with many dangers. A lack of communication of known information should never be the root cause of an incident. In this day of everyone having a mobile device, isn’t it time to deploy an ounce of prevention to improve your organization’s safety record?

PLEASE NOTE: The postings on this site are our own

and don’t necessarily represent Esri’s position, strategies, or opinions.

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Technical Lead for Natural Gas Industry at Esri