5 Ways Technology Is Changing the Health and Safety Industry
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.
For many industrial workers, health and safety seems like a low-tech discipline. Safety solutions often seem more mechanical than digital - guards bolted over belts, safety glasses and steel toed boots, locks on switches, and hand-written incident cards. At a quick glance, it might seem like not much has changed over the last twenty years or so.
Take a closer look, however, and you'll see digital innovation at work. Workplace safety still involves machine guards and painted lines on the warehouse floor, but it's also driven by software solutions, data capture, and advanced analytics.
In this article, we'll take a look under the hood and discuss the technology that's changing occupational health and safety and keeping workers safer than ever.
1. Technology Speeds Up the Information Flow
Technology has done the impossible. It has made everything faster while also making it more accurate.
It allows us to communicate information with incredible ease. And a health and safety system involves many types of information, such as:
- Hazard identification - an inventory of the known risks and dangers on the jobsite
- Incident reports - detailed accounts of an accident, including the factors that contributed to it
- Near miss reports - narrowly avoided incidents that can shed a light on overlooked hazards, flaws in the work process, or training needs
- Safety audits - comprehensive snapshots of working conditions
Combine this wealth of information with all the other corporate information that is being collected (production targets, personnel changes, contractor details) and you can get clear insights about safety trouble spots. That way, safety professionals can act proactively and rectify hazards, instead of waiting for enough incident reports to point them in the right direction.
(Learn about the 10 Questions to Ask When Considering a Safety Software Solution)
2. Technology Can Improve Reporting and Training
Paper forms are on their way out. Using pen and paper to capture the details of a incident or to fill out a near miss report was an effective method when there were no better alternatives. It leaves a lot to be desired, however. It's a slow process, open to inaccuracies, and often reflects only a single view or interpretation of the event.
That's bad enough, but there are two more levels of reporting burden that come with paper forms:
- While incident reports are mandatory, near miss reports are not. That means someone has to choose to fill them out. Even if that happens most of the time, a production rush, a language barrier, or simply a distate for paperwork might make someone decide not to bother.
- The written data can't just sit on the form. It has to be entered into the system. This not only doubles the work involved in filling out the forms, but doubles the chance of a transcription error.
(Learn more about Staying Safe on the Construction Site with Mobility-Based Processes)
Enter the smartphone. Capturing data through a digital platform reduces the time spent on data entry. A properly designed interface can also use drop-down menus and icons to eliminate some of the language barriers. Eliminating the need for manual transcription means there will be no errors when the information needs to be copied.
Most importantly, the ease of submission and the versatility of the forms encourages multiple people to provide a report. This results in a more thorough and objective view of the incident.
When used properly, smartphones can enhance a wide variety of activities, including:
- Inspections and audits (with more focus on actionable information, rather than processing paperwork)
- Safety meeting information and minutes (more details can be captured, rather than relying on shorthand)
- Documenting hazardous conditions (including taking videos and photos rather than relying solely on descriptions)
- Storing training documents and other important information (making them easily accessible from any location)
(Learn more about Using Rich Media to Enhance EHS Reporting)
3. Technology Encourages HSE Leaders to Adopt Change Management
Change management initiatives are essential to improving workplace safety. However, about 70% of these initiatives fail because one or more of these four basic conditions are missing:
- A compelling story. You can't impose change - people need to buy into it. If your workers don't believe in the safety solution or the method that will be replacing the old one, the change will never succeed. If you can make a strong case for the change that resonates with your workforce, they'll be far more open to adopting it.
- Role modeling. Or, to put it simply, leading by example. When those in positions of authority don't follow the changes they impose on others, they lose the trust of their employees. Always model the actions and attitudes you want to see in your workers.
- Reinforcement mechanisms. Positive reinforcement is far more effective than punishing negative behavior. Focusing on encouragement will make the change smoother, and learning from negative behavior will help you move forward.
- Capability building. Changing the way things are done sometimes means workers will be relying on new skill sets. You can't expect people to embrace change if they struggle to put that change into action. Ultimately, you need to provide the training and resources workers will need to upgrade their skills and keep up with the evolving expectations.
Adopting new technology is sometimes one of the most visible types of change. It can feel disruptive, especially when workers are used to interfacing with safety in analog.
When technology is adopted, leaders see the need to manage the change properly instead of assuming it will simply happen on its own. And that is a great opportunity for them to adopt better change management practices.
(Learn about the Top 4 Areas Safety Professionals Need to Focus on in 2022)
4. Technology Promotes a Focus on Leading Indicators
This puts them at a strategic disadvantage. Lagging indicators may be critical, but they are significantly limited. On their own, they:
- Can't prevent future incidents
- Reveal incident trends but not their contributing factors
- Don't accurately reflect the level of risk in your organization
Lagging indicators are easy to track, aggregate, and analyze. They're convenient, which is why a lot of organizations will fill spreadsheet after spreadsheet with them.
Leading indicators, however, are the ones that really help you create a safer workplace. They used to be far more difficult to track than lagging indicators, but technology is making it much easier.
That's because lagging indicators require you to tally up events after they happen - incidents, near misses, and so on. Capturing leading indicators, on the other hand, requires you to track activities and behaviors.
With the right digital solution, that's not only possible but convenient. Implementing it allows you to shift your focus to leading indicators and use them to make better informed safety decisions.
(Find out why Your Incentives Are Compromising Safety Culture)
5. Technology Drives Transparency to Improve Safety Culture
There's a big shift happening. Technology is enabling us to become more transparent with how we are dealing with risk management within organizations. Like a lot of things in the safety world, this used to be kept close to the chest.
A safety culture is built from the ground up, but it begins with examples from management. Transparency is a critical step. It's what creates trust between company leadership and the employees. It's how workers know they're valued and that their safety matters.
Moreover, when employees realize they have a voice and can genuinely contribute to the safety of the workplace, they feel empowered to contribute in other areas as well.
In other words, technology brings more transparency. With that transparency comes buy-in, more engagement with safety, and a more robust safety culture.
(Learn about the 5 Reasons You Struggle with Safety Buy-In - And What to Do About It)
Embracing Technology Can Improve Safety
You can't make your workplace safer without first understanding it. The right technological solution can give you the insights you need.
When you know exactly what's happening in your work environment, you can take a proactive approach to keeping workers safe. That's why investing in safety tech is no longer optional - it's the only way to truly move safety forward.