How technology is helping improve safety culture in the workplace

Technology has had a profound impact in the way we work. Over the past couple of decades, as the rate of technological evolution has picked up, the workplace has changed completely....

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December 7, 2022
6 mins

Sections

Section 1: The Role of Technology in the Workplace

Technology has had a profound impact in the way we work. Over the past couple of decades, as the rate of technological evolution has picked up, the workplace has changed completely. 

Technology in the workplace isn’t just limited to generating efficiency gains and maximizing profitability, but it’s also helping make workplaces safer. 

With rapid advancements in different fields, including data analytics, telecommunications, and safety monitoring, organizations are able to create a safe and secure work environment for their employees. 

And the numbers back this up. In a report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2020, the incident rate of 2.7 indicates a decrease of 75% from the first time the report was published back in 1972. 

Employees working in high-risk industries, such as construction, manufacturing, or pharmaceuticals need to take proper precautions to mitigate the risks posed by hazards in the workplace. 

Developing a safety culture in the workplace has been a challenge for organizations historically. Improving employee perceptions and beliefs about safety hazards is often difficult, especially among workers who have settled into their jobs. 

Numerous studies have shown that disasters or serious injuries in the workplace are often caused due to a critical failure to follow established safety protocols or procedures. 

Instead of blindly enforcing these policies, companies need to start by explaining the risks in the organization, and then working closely with employees to understand their perceptions about workplace safety and work on improving them.

Technology can play an important role in improving the safety culture, as it helps in mitigating risks that exist in the workplace, and in monitoring the effectiveness of safety protocols.

Previously, companies had to employ safety officers and work with EHS teams to regularly monitor risks in the workplace. Now, this job is done with the help of CCTV networks and AI technologies. 

Instead of physical inspections using standard ethnographic approaches to simply gather the data, they can use AI systems to access critical insights and use that to institute new policies or gauge the performance of existing ones. 

The global pandemic led to a profound change in the way people work, with organizations having to manage employees remotely and establishing contact tracing policies, especially in industries where physical presence was necessary. 

More importantly, technology isn’t just changing the way companies establish and monitor safety policies. It’s impact in other areas, such as improvements in PPE, have also helped reduce injuries or accidents in modern work environments. 

Section 2: Key Technological Trends That Are Reshaping Workplace Safety Standards

An increasing number of workplaces are now leveraging some form of technology to mitigate risks posed by various workplace hazards. 

As the rate of innovation has picked up, many companies are leveraging different technologies to reshape workplace safety standards. From wearables to artificial intelligence, these trends are reshaping safety standards in a number of industries.

Artificial Intelligence 

It's no secret that artificial intelligence is rapidly changing a number of different industries. And while its impact on workplace safety is still relatively new, it's quite significant. 

Many companies are now using AI safety monitoring tools that rely on advanced technologies like computer vision to analyze behaviors around different hazards

Computer vision and deep learning algorithms can be “trained” to identify and detect different objects in the environment, such as essential protective gear like hard hats, gloves, or high-visibility vests. 

In case an employee walks out on the facility floor without wearing protective gear, the system can immediately send an alert to employees (using facial recognition) or alert EHS teams. 

AI can be used to capture unsafe events in the workplace, making it easier for organizations to review such incidents and establish a chain of causality. This can prove to be vital in identifying common behavioral safety issues or mistakes and take corrective action.

There are other instances where artificial intelligence is helping improve safety standards too. AI-powered drones are now being used by some companies to inspect hard-to-reach areas for hazards. 

This helps to ensure that workers are not put unnecessarily in harm's way. Additionally, AI is being used to develop predictive models that can help identify potential risks before they occur. 

By doing so, businesses can take steps to mitigate these risks and prevent accidents from happening altogether.

Big Data

Big data is a term used to describe a large volume of data that can be both structured and unstructured. This data can come from a variety of sources, including video cameras, safety devices, and sensors.

Because there is so much data available, traditional tools and techniques are not sufficient for extracting valuable insights from it. That's where big data analytics comes in.

Big data analytics is a process for turning big data into actionable insights. When it comes to workplace safety, analytics can be used to identify patterns and trends that may be indicative of potential safety hazards. 

For example, let's say that you work in a factory that produces widgets. If you collect data on the number of injuries that have occurred at the factory over time, as well as information on the type of injury, when it occurred, and other details, you can use this data to identify patterns and problem areas. 

You might notice that a certain type of injury occurs more frequently on certain days of the week or during particular shifts. Armed with this information, you can take steps to mitigate the risks and make your workplace safer.

Big data is also being used to create predictive models that can help employers anticipate potential risks before they happen. 

For example, if an employer knows that a certain combination of factors has led to accidents in the past, they can take steps to prevent those accidents from happening in the future.

Automation

The rise of automation has helped improve workplace safety by a considerable margin. Companies are now able to automate large parts of the assembly line, which has led to a remarkable decrease in workplace injuries.

The effect is profound in industries where workers had to perform repetitive tasks, such as the automotive industry.

The risk of injuries on the assembly line has been considerably higher, especially considering the nature of the job. For instance, workers were previously required to move heavy parts, which led to injuries or illnesses. 

With advanced automation, companies are able to avoid such accidents. Now, machines do all of the repetitive work, especially low-impact, repetitive tasks like assembly. This can prevent various types of accidents: 

  • Exposure to harmful chemicals
  • Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs)
  • Welding accidents or exposure to extreme heat
  • Falls 
  • Injuries caused due to machinery malfunction
  • Sprains, strains, or musculoskeletal injuries

Automation isn’t leveraged only in the vehicle manufacturing industry. Instead, many supply lines are now adopting machinery and equipment that can be controlled from a safe environment. 

More importantly, these machines can generate heaps of data, giving organizations granular insights into overall performance. 

Internet of Things (IoT)

Monitoring the work environment and making sure that employees follow established protocols is now considerably easier due to the advent of Internet of Things. 

More specifically, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies allow companies to monitor machine performance, the way employees interact with machines, and the general work environment. 

From hazardous material sensors that actively track gasses or hazardous spills to machine sensors that track output and detect anomalies, IIoT devices are playing an integral role in improving workplace safety.  

The biggest benefit of using IIoT devices is that they provide real-time data to companies, making it easier for them to establish safety protocols and plan for contingencies in case something goes awry and develop a safe system of work (SSoW). 

Robots and Drones

In certain industries, where exposure to different elements carries an elevated risk, the use of remote-controlled machines like drones is becoming more and more popular. 

Similarly, robots can also be used for conducting operations that are inherently risk for humans, such as conducting a safety tank inspection or operations near power lines or in oil plants. 

When people work in high-pressure environments, there’s always an increased risk of human error as they always have to keep one eye on the inherent risks they’re exposed to. 

With machines like robots and drones, the probability of human error is eliminated. More importantly, many such devices are considerably more maneuverable. 

Smaller robots, fitted with cameras, can be used to inspect narrow areas where humans might have difficulty fitting in. Remote inspections mean that people can easily analyze closed environments without exposing themselves to any hazards. 

Wearable Technology 

Advancements in wearable technology have made them safer, more reliable, and ultimately, more popular for different industries. Wearable sensors can be used for lone worker monitoring, triggering an alarm in case the worker becomes unresponsive. 

Wearable technology can also be used for location tracking or for monitoring an individual’s vital signs. In case of an anomaly, the device can be configured to alert the EHS teams or to send a SOS signal. 

For instance, certain devices can be used to capture respiratory and cardiac data, especially for workers operating in hazardous environments. 

Wearable devices can also be used to monitor changes in the environment, alerting workers of potential dangers, such as the release of a hazardous gas or dangerous radiation levels. 

Virtual Reality for Training Employees

Virtual reality (VR) is now being commonly used by companies to train employees for role-specific jobs. 

For instance, before employees start working with high-risk machinery, such as in a nuclear plant or in an electrical station, they can be given hands-on experience using VR technology. 

This is critical, as employees can familiarize themselves with the risks in the environment and better understand what they have to do without being exposed first. 

Virtual reality is quite different from simply showing videos, as employees get a more immersive experience. More importantly, the supervisors can get a better understanding of job performance and identify issues early on. 

Section 3: The Many Benefits of Leveraging Technology to Improve Safety in the Workplace

Workplace safety is all about identifying hazards in the environment and taking steps to mitigate the risks that they pose. 

This requires companies to take a more holistic view of the safety culture in the workplace, and then start by conducting a risk assessment.

Ideally, the risk assessment should be a collaborative process, involving both the employees and the management. The frontline employees — those who are actually exposed to the hazards — have an acute understanding of the risks that they pose. 

This helps organizations develop a better understanding of all the hazards in the environment and then work to mitigate them. 

Here are just some of the many other benefits of using technology to improve workplace safety.

Efficiency Gains

When employees don’t have to worry about constantly monitoring environmental hazards, they are able to perform better. Productivity and performance both increase, giving companies serious efficiency gains. 

This results in better ROI and can also give organizations a competitive edge, especially if other players in the industry are also leveraging technology to improve processes. 

Reduced Risk of Accidents or Unsafe Events 

Unsafe events, such as near-misses, often indicate a hazard in the environment. By using technology to improve workplace safety, companies don’t just reduce the risk of accidents in the workplace, but it also brings down the number of unsafe events that occur in the workplace.

This ultimately reduces disruptions in the workplace, which directly impacts productivity and morale. Employees feel more confident that the company is taking steps to make the workplace as safe as possible. 

Providing Actionable Data to Improve Safety Standards

An increasing number of companies are now adopting a data-driven approach to solving workplace safety challenges. By leveraging IIoT innovations and AI technologies, companies can gather actionable insights into safety performance. 

This can help them identify critical areas that need attention and point out different hazards that need to be addressed. The data gathered from devices such as AI cameras or IIoT sensors can be analyzed by EHS teams, and some software also offer automated insights into overall safety. 

Section 4: Use Protex AI to Improve Workplace Safety Standards

Protex AI is a workplace safety solution that can be integrated into all modern CCTV networks. By tapping into the live video feed, it can be used to detect certain objects in real-time, such as whether employees are wearing PPE or not. 

Protex AI can also be used to monitor exclusion zones to ensure that employees don’t trespass. Companies can define specific safety rules as well based on their analysis of risk in the workplace. 

And it can also generate a wide range of safety reports, making it easier for EHS teams to focus on taking steps using the data, instead of wasting time and energy in just gathering data through inefficient monitoring practices. 

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