In the eyes of the people working in an industrial environment, health and safety may appear low tech. Guards bolted over belts, safety glasses, locks on switches, steel toed boots and written incident cards haven't changed much over the last twenty years. If you look a little deeper, however, software solutions, data capture, analytics and more are already embedded in most health and safety systems. In this article, we'll look at how technology is changing the health and safety industry.

1. Technology Speeds Up the Information Flow

Ultimately, technology improves the speed, accuracy and ease with which information is communicated. In a health and safety system, information comes in a range of forms. There are incident reports that identify a hazard after it has resulted in some manner of injury. There are near miss reports that can show a hazard in the making, weak safety training among a group of employees or some other leading indicator of a possible incident in the future. There are safety audits and assessments that provide a snapshot of the working environment and the awareness of the people in it. Combining these diverse data sets with other corporate information, such as changes in production targets, safety professionals are now able to focus in on potential trouble spots proactively rather that waiting for incident or near miss reports to pile up. (For related reading, check out 10 Questions to Ask When Considering a Safety Software Solution.)

3. Technology Can Improve Reporting and Training

The paper incident or near miss report is far from dead, but there are definitely signs that they are on the way out. The traditional method of pen and paper transmission of information leaves itself open to error and inaccuracies, including often a single view or interpretation of the event. There are two levels of reporting burden on top of this that have traditionally slowed the information flow. One, someone has to choose to file a near miss report (incident reports are required in most cases) and this is a deterrent to people who don't like paperwork or may face a language barrier. Two, the written data that is gathered needs to be entered at some point, which essentially requires the information to be captured twice - and opens up the door to transcription errors. (Learn more in Staying Safe on the Construction Site with Mobility-Based Processes.)

Enter the smartphone option. If the data is being entered using digital technology initially, this reduces cost in that there is less time spent doing data entry. Using technology, like mobile devices, to enter information can significantly reduce the reporting burden. A properly designed interface can speed up entry by using drop down menus and icons that also lower some of the language barriers. Taking in the report in a digital first medium also eliminates any copying inaccuracies. Most importantly, encouraging multiple submissions can provide a more thorough and honest view of an incident than would come to light otherwise.

When used properly, smartphones can enhance a wide variety of activities, including:

  • Inspections
  • Audits
  • Safety meeting information and minutes
  • Obtaining evidence with regards to hazards Incidents or other on-site concerns, including video or images of hazards/dangerous practices.
  • Providing training documents or information that is always within arms length to the end user.

The goal of inspections and audits is the output of actionable and accurate information. The reality of a traditional inspection is paperwork that needs to be processed, which limits its ability to achieve this goal. Technology, on the other hand, allows for a more accurate, faster transmission of information. The more accurate the information is and the faster the information is made available, the easier and faster it is to identify and implement risk reduction strategies.

3. Technology Requires HSE Leaders to Adopt Change Management

The fact is that 70% of corporate change management initiatives fail due to a lack of four basic conditions necessary for successful change management. In today’s technology market, changes in process are less about the technology being introduced and more about how companies are going to manage the change. Most often a change in processes will occur in order to adapt to the new technology. Successful change management is comprised of the following four conditions:

  1. The product requires a compelling story. Simply put: people need to buy into the change. If people don’t believe in the product or method that is replacing the old, the change will never be successful. Furthermore, anxiety often results in inaction. If the true reasons behind the change are shared, the change will be met with more openness
  2. Role modeling. In its simplest form, role modeling can be described as leading by example. If you are a person of authority within the workplace and you are not leading by example, you are likely to lose the trust of your employees. The three keys of role modeling include action, attitude and activism on behalf of the individuals of authority
  3. Reinforcement mechanisms. Effective change management will focus on the encouragement or reinforcement of good or positive behavior, and learning from negative behavior rather than punishing it. Positive reinforcement has been shown to be more effective than punishing negative behavior, and understanding unsafe decisions is more valuable than punishing negative behavior
  4. Capability building. When you have a change and you have an area of your business that is going to be changing processes, the skill set of the person that is going to be making the change has to match that change process. The organization must continuously improve to adapt, to scale, to grow as an organization in order to be competitive in the market. Ultimately, you need to upgrade those skills, your training and other mechanisms or hire more or better talent

4. Technology Promotes Focus on Leading Indicators

80% of companies want leading indicators tracked within their organization. The flip-side of this is that only 15% of companies are actually tracking leading indicators within their organization. This begs the question as to why.

Lagging indicators:

  • Don’t help prevent future incidents
  • Show you trends, but not contributing factors
  • Are poor at giving you an indication of the level of risk in your company or organization

Lagging indicators are simply statistics that are born out of situations that occur. You can track them quite easily, you can aggregate them, you can analyze them and you can prevent them very, very easily. So, what you need is a new way of gathering that information and that is why new technologies can be really beneficial for an organization. We can use technology to gather leading indicator information as opposed to relying solely on lagging indicators.

Leading indicators:

  • Require keeping track of activities
  • Require that the results of tracked activities are analyzed
  • Require the results be used to identify and implement new safety initiatives

Leading indicators are activity and behavior based, which makes them hard indicators to measure because they require human intervention beyond making a simple calculation. (Learn more in Leveraging Leading Indicators to Drive Safety.)

5. Technology Drives Transparency to Improve Safety Culture

If we think about transparency within an organization and how technology drives transparency to improve culture, we are in a time where a big shift is occurring. Through the use of technology, we are able to become more transparent with how we are dealing with risk management within a company. It used to be that we kept everything close-to-chest, which happens a lot in the safety world.

Culture is built from the top down, which means that building a safety culture within an organization begins with management. Transparency with regards to safety initiatives will create a certain type of trust between employers and management with the employees. Once they believe that their health and safety actually matters, that buy-in factor increases. Moreover, if the employees realize that they have a voice and can contribute to improving the safety culture of their organization, this also transfers to other areas aside from safety where employees can contribute their ideas.

Embracing Technology Can Improve Safety

New technology allows us to be more aware of what is happening in our work environments, encourages us to be proactive and helps us be more transparent about the types of things we're doing to reduce risk within organizations. If you are more transparent with your employees, you are guaranteed to increase the safety culture within your company. (For more, see Why Creating a Safety Culture Is Better Than Relying on Compliance.)