by Rosalind Benjamin
We’ve come a long way in a short space of time. The largely desk-bound role of the traditional health and safety officer has transformed thanks to a technology-driven revolution over the past few years. It’s changing the way health and safety is managed in organisation: improving accountability and transparency, and most importantly, helping to reduce risk and serious issues.
A changing workplace
Some of the most eye-catching digital innovations include wearable technology designed for employees to “check in” to sites automatically, so that organisations can keep track of who’s in the office at all times. This is becoming increasingly challenging given the large number of mobile and remote workers in the UK. Wearables could also be programmed to monitor vital signs, or even posture — helping to alert teams if workers have taken a fall. That’s not all: highway engineers at Amey have been trialling biometric collars from Fujitsu which can alert teams if the user appears to be getting drowsy or fatigued.
Technology innovation has even extended to mechanical diggers specially designed so as not to disturb underground cables, helping to mitigate associated cost and safety risks.
Cisco’s AI-SAFE platform announced earlier this year is designed to combine real-time video analysis with advanced algorithms and machine learning to check that workers in sectors like construction enter the site wearing the right equipment. Drones are also being put to use surveying potentially dangerous sites so staff don’t have to. The data they collect can be sent back in real-time and even used to generate 3D models of the area.
Certain sectors are also investing in different types of monitoring equipment to ensure noise, UV rays and harmful particles don’t exceed safe limits. Meanwhile, smart buildings are transforming the workplace in more office-bound environments, monitoring and improving things like indoor air quality.
Many of these new technology tools collect large amounts of data in real-time that can then be analysed and fed into specialised cloud-based software for more effective reporting, management and predictive analysis. This is revolutionising the way health and safety professionals do their jobs, making them more productive, more collaborative and faster to respond to and learn from incidents. Data holds the key to more effectively predicting and preventing faults, which could impact health and safety, for example.
More visibility means organisations can begin to work towards the holy grail of 360-degree situational and contextual awareness. In turn, that will help them to minimise hidden errors, create more effective risk profiles and even become more accountable. The improved audit trails that come from this new digital- and data-driven approach can also help organisations if they ever have to collect evidence for court cases.
Digital transformation is helping to change the way health and safety is carried out within organisations. People are more aware of it in now at work in part because of efforts like the European Commission’s health and safety “six pack” — but also because, thanks to technology wearables and similar, they’re exposed to it more. In fact, this move to mobile, real-time tracking and self-service has meant fewer health and safety professionals are needed on the ground. Increasingly, part of their traditional role is being done by office and facilities managers, HR professionals, first aiders, floor representatives, and suppliers.
Health and safety today is more intrinsic to businesses and how they operate and that’s thanks in a large part to digital innovation. The good news is that the tech revolution is only just getting started.