​Blerter aims to disrupt the workplace death toll

Blerter wants to be the social network for health and safety across technology, company and industry silos.
Written by Rob O'Neill, Contributor on

Every year, 4,500 people die in US workplace accidents. In Australia the number is around 200. In New Zealand it's between 50 and 70. Globally around 2.5 million are thought to die due to workplace injury or accident each year.

The cost is enormous, to businesses and families and, when the loss of a breadwinner forces families into welfare dependency, to government and taxpayers as well.

Richard Gill
One company is out to change that -- to disrupt those ugly numbers and make workplaces safer -- through the use of mobile, social and cloud technologies.

Cloud M, based in New Zealand, is the developer of Blerter, an app and social media network that is trying to shift the emphasis in workplace health and safety from compliance and box ticking to outcomes.

Serial technology entrepreneur Richard Gill said there is now an incredible range of technologies, an "arsenal of weapons", that are deployed in Blerter to tackle the seemingly intractable problem.

Gill wants to shift organisations in high risk industries such as engineering, construction, energy, forestry, manufacturing away from paper forms to focus them on real actions that save lives.

"It's not a piece of paper that's going to do it so why are we focused on a piece of paper?" he asks.

Blerter combines social with corporate health and safety processes.
The Blerter app, which is free to individuals and subcontractors, aims to cut across the many boundaries found on building and engineering sites and in heavy industry.
As Gill explained, such sites are workplaces with hundreds of people and potentially dozens of different employers. These people and companies change constantly as different phases of work -- in for example demolition, site clean-up, foundation laying and construction -- pass.

In a typical construction project, for instance, heavy machinery is being moved, ditches are being dug, concrete is being poured, electricity is being wired, glass is being fitted and much more.

How do you keep track of all that and how do health and safety managers know what is going on and where the current hazards are?

Gill said a lead indicators of risk on such sites is "near miss" accidents, but these are often not reported. Reporting requires form filling and takes time which many subcontractors, especially when they are on fixed price contracts, can't afford. Compounding that, many don't believe any action will result.

"The incentives are all wrong," Gill said.

He told the story of one such near miss, where a tool fell from scaffolding and nearly hit one contractor. The incident wasn't reported. Three weeks later another worker suffered serious brain damage from another falling tool.

The cause was a faulty tool rack on scaffolding that could have been fixed with a "ten cent cable tie", Gill said.

Communications is key and Blerter, a social network for safety, delivers just that. Workers on a site, not matter who they are employed by, are informed of current hazards before they are allowed on. Their certifications and training can also be confirmed through the app.

When a near miss incident occurs it can be "blerted" quickly and easily to health and safety managers who must take action to remove the alert from their list.

Gill, who has founded five companies and sold his first at the age of 20, said he started Cloud M four-and-a-half years ago to focus on mobile-first, completely native development. The company's first success was a civil defence application for the city of Auckland.

Like Blerter, that application offered social capabilities to link users with loved ones and to allow them to communicate during disasters. As a result, the app helps offload users from mobile voice networks, which frequently fail in such circumstances due to heavy loads, onto data.

But Blerter is also a corporate tool. Health and safety processes are embedded in it and it can be integrated via APIs with corporate health and safety systems and modules. The result is a real-time graph of people and subcontractors on any given site.

Last month, Blerter became the first New Zealand business app released for the Apple Watch. The Cloud M team are now developing a similar app for the Apple TV to allow big screens to be deployed on sites for uses such as real-time hazard boards.

Cloud M's ambitions for Blerter are definitely global with a private capital raising under way to support expansion and further development. A technology and business partnership with IBM shouldn't hurt either.

Gill said he hasn't found anything else in the market quite like it in featuring an industry-wide social network with corporate processes built on top.

The business model is deceptively simple, but took dozens of iterations to get right: the lead contractor pays.

"All disruption has to come from the outside," Gill said. Coming from a mobile and social background rather than from health and safety was a real bonus.

"Let's face it, if the H&S guys had been able to disrupt these problems they would have done it by now," he said.

"Part of that is because we have rethought every process. Every time we see a paper form we ask 'what is the intention of this form and how does this relate to people?'"

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