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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July 27, 2023
6 mins

How Technology is Helping Improve Safety Culture in the Workplace

In an era where technology permeates every aspect of our lives, its influence on workplace safety is transformational and lifesaving. This article delves into the myriad ways in which cutting-edge innovations are not just streamlining operations but are actively fostering a culture of safety.

From AI-enhanced monitoring to predictive analytics, we explore how these technological advancements are reshaping the landscape of workplace safety, reducing risks, and setting new standards for protecting the well-being of employees across various industries.

Section 1: The Role of Technology in the Workplace

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

  • Enhancing Workplace Safety

Technology in the workplace isn't just limited to generating efficiency gains and maximizing profitability. However, it's also pivotal in building a strong workplace safety culture. By integrating AI-powered workplace safety technology into daily operations, organizations are witnessing a shift towards more positive safety behaviors.

  • Advancements in Safety Technology

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

  • Statistical Evidence of Safety Improvements

The numbers back this up. In a report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2021, the incident rate of 2.7 indicates a decrease of 75% from the first time the information was published in 1972.

  • Addressing Safety in High-Risk Industries

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

  • Challenges in Developing a Safety Culture

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. This is why a commitment to improving safety culture in the workplace must be embedded in the business processes, ensuring that safety goals are aligned with business outcomes.

  • Learning from Past Disasters

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

  • The Need for Understanding and Engagement

Instead of unquestioningly 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.

  • Mitigating Risks with Technology

Safety technology plays a crucial role in fostering a proactive safety culture, as it aids in mitigating safety concerns that exist in the workplace and monitors the effectiveness of safety processes.

  • Transition to AI and CCTV in Risk Monitoring

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

  • AI Over Traditional Ethnographic Methods

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

  • Workplace Changes Due to the Pandemic

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.

  • Technological Advancements in PPE

More importantly, technology isn't just changing how companies establish and monitor safety policies. Its impact in other areas, such as improvements in PPE, has 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 many industries.

Artificial Intelligence

It's no secret that machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence, rapidly changes several industries with preventive measures against potential incidents. While its impact on workplace safety is still relatively new, it's already helping promote a culture where employee safety is paramount, as shown in this PDF paper by EU-OSHA.

Enhancing Hazard Detection with AI

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

Computer vision and deep learning algorithms can be "trained" to identify and detect different environmental objects, 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 capture unsafe events in the workplace, making it easier for organizations to review such incidents and establish a chain of causality. This can be vital in identifying common behavioral safety issues or mistakes and taking corrective action.

AI-Driven Safety Innovations

There are other instances where artificial intelligence is helping improve safety standards, too. Some companies are now using AI-powered drones 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 various sources, including video cameras, safety devices, and sensors.

Safety software powered by big data analytics is becoming an essential tool for organizations aiming to achieve their safety goals while promoting a culture where every team member is attuned to safety concerns.

Because there is so much data available, traditional tools and techniques are insufficient to extract valuable insights from it. That's where big data analytics comes in, offering a way to promote a positive health and safety culture through informed decision-making.

Analyzing Big Data

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.

A particular type of injury occurs more frequently on certain days of the week or during specific shifts. With this information, you can mitigate the risks and make your workplace safer.

Predictive Models

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 particular 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 can now 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 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 can avoid such accidents. Now, machines do all the repetitive work, incredibly 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 is leveraged in more than just 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 ensuring that employees follow established protocols is now considerably more accessible due to the advent of the Internet of Things.

More specifically, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies allow companies to monitor machine performance, how 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, IoT devices play an integral role in improving workplace safety.

The most significant benefit of using IoT 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 specific industries, where exposure to different elements carries an elevated risk, the use of remote-controlled machines like drones is becoming increasingly popular.

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

When people work in high-pressure environments, there's always an increased risk of human error as they must watch the inherent dangers 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.

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

Wearable Technology

Advancements in wearable technology have made robots safer, more reliable, and ultimately, more famous for different industries. As demonstrated in this sector-based assessment by ScienceDirect, 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 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, specific devices can capture respiratory and cardiac data, especially for workers operating in hazardous environments.

Wearable devices can also monitor environmental changes, alerting workers of potential dangers, such as releasing hazardous gas or radiation. 

Virtual Reality for Training Employees

Virtual reality (VR) is now 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 an electrical station, they can be given hands-on VR technology experience.

This is critical, as employees can familiarize themselves with the environmental risks and better understand what they must do without being exposed first.

Virtual reality differs 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.

The risk assessment should be a collaborative process involving employees and management. The frontline employees — those who are 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. 

Let’s explore other benefits of using technology to improve workplace safety.

Efficiency Gains

A positive safety culture is not just about reducing risks but also about improving business processes and outcomes, as a safe environment boosts employee safety and productivity.

This results in better ROI and can also give organizations a competitive edge, significantly 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 an environmental hazard. When learning to prevent these workplace hazards by using technology to improve safety, companies don't just reduce the risk of accidents in the workplace but also bring down the number of unsafe events that may occur.

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

Providing Actionable Data to Improve Safety Standards

Safety software and technologies like AI and IoT are providing actionable data that is crucial for continuous improvement in safety processes and the establishment of a strong safety culture. This framework can be beneficial for organizations looking to review AI applications in occupational safety and health.

This can help them identify critical areas that need attention and point out different hazards 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 offers automated insights into overall safety.

For a deeper understanding, Protex AI's complete guide to AI safety in the workplace can be handy for organizations looking to review AI applications in occupational safety and health.

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. It features:

  • Real-time detection of safety gear compliance.
  • Monitoring of exclusion zones to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Generation of comprehensive safety reports for EHS teams.
  • Definition of specific safety rules based on risk analysis.

By tapping into the live video feed, it can detect specific 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.

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 just gathering data through inefficient monitoring practices. 

For more on how technology is being adopted in the industry, check out our webinar on EHS technology adoption.

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