Brain health app is helping workers stay focused
John Ciferno constantly worries about the safety of his employees.
The majority of the 60 or so workers at Ciferno Well Services in Rostraver are truck drivers, some of whom work over-long shifts.
“It’s easy for drivers to get fatigued,” said Ciferno, who has owned the company for almost two decades and provides water hauling services to oil and gas producers, among other customers. “Mental sharpness is an important part of driving. I don’t want my guys coming in when they’re fatigued.”
A few months ago, Ciferno discovered a digital tool that’s helping his employees gain practical information on how their brains are working. The Roberto app, named after Pirates great Roberto Clemente, measures brain performance by asking users to complete a series of exercises.
The app’s creators — a tech company called RC21X based in Coraopolis — say paying attention to brain performance can be crucial for employers looking to prevent accidents and injuries among their work forces. They say companies with mentally sharp workers can ultimately lower the frequency and severity of accidents.
“Every company wants to perform at a high level and have its employees performing at a high level,” said Gus Frerotte of Oakmont, the former NFL quarterback who is senior vice president of business development for RC21X. “When companies have healthy employees, they’re going to save money in the long run.”
How it works
The app walks employees through several game-like exercises intended to measure key aspects of brain performance such as memory, decision-making, balance and coordination. It takes less than 10 minutes to complete a round of exercises.
One exercise tests visual memory by showing the user a series of pictures. The same pictures are later shown again, but mixed in with additional pictures. The user is asked to tap on the smartphone screen when they recognize pictures displayed on the first round.
Another exercise tests the ability of people to remember what they hear. The user listens to a series of short words and later is asked to recall them when they are repeated as part of a longer list of words.
Yet one more exercise checks a person’s decision-making skills and reaction time when they’re asked to move their finger across the phone screen, based on when they see the image of a baseball home plate appear.
“Whenever you see the images of the baseball or the home plate, depending on color of the home plate, you have to decide ‘should I stay or should I go,’ and if you have to go, how quickly can you come back,” said Mark Cavicchia, chief operating officer for RC21X. “That’s really checking to make sure you don’t jump the gun, you’re not making that decision before you should.”
The app has been particularly valuable for Del Wilkins, CEO of Illinois Marine Towing, a company that moves barges across the greater Chicago area. Wilkins said his employees are exposed to many hazards on the job because they use heavy equipment over long shifts in unpredictable weather.
“We want to make sure our team members are not just ready for their work physically, we want to make sure they’re ready for their work mentally as well,” Wilkins said. “We find it to be a good tool for all of our team members.”
Since employees began using the app in 2017, Wilkins said the company has experienced reductions in reportable incidents and loss time due to injuries. He estimated the company saved $700,000 in operating costs in the first year the app was added to its comprehensive safety program.
The app’s creators say the test results can help people assess brain performance over time and determine if any problems require further attention from a medical professional. Users can see results in real-time.
Clarence Carlos, CEO of RC21X, said the app can be used at any time of day but it can be beneficial as workers begin a shift, so they can get their brains ready for the day. Carlos, a former West Virginia University football player, likened it to lifting weights to get the body stronger.
“When you create exercise for your mind, 35% of the blood from your heart goes to your brain,” he said. “When you start to exercise, that blood starts pumping to your brain, which is getting you ready and getting you prepared to make better decisions throughout your work day.”
Luis Fábregas is editor of the Tribune-Review's Valley News Dispatch edition. Follow him on Twitter @LuisTrib.