At one time, the workplace data was simply collected for the purpose of filing historical records of business transactions, finances, and human resources. Today, data is also being used to provide business intelligence about customers, the marketplace, and workplace safety.

Collecting, tracking, and managing workplace safety data through digital cloud- or site-based safety management systems (SMS) has evolved to the distributed tracking of safety incidents, monitoring of training and regulatory compliance, as well as the provision of both prescriptive and predictive information to improve safety.

To demonstrate how important good data collection and management are, here are nine ways that managing and tracking data can improve workplace safety.

1. Determine the Root Cause of Incidents

Effectively tracking and managing data will inform employers of ways they can prevent injury and illness in the workplace.

Whether it be managerial, procedural, lack of training, or human error, analyzing data provided by real-time and historical incident reports can help you pinpoint the cause of the incident. Once the cause is determined, it is much easier to implement changes and get buy-in from your team that the new policy is essential to their safety.

2. Analyze Working Conditions

New technology makes it possible to remotely monitor worker location and fatigue, facility or site traffic flows, and weather conditions. Being able to collect and analyze real-time workplace conditions and incident reporting provides an opportunity to quickly change operational procedures, length of shifts, and the combinations of factors that could lead to a hazard.

(See Help Me Help You: 10 Ways to Get Employees to File Incident and Near Miss Reports for related reading.)

3. Monitor Equipment Operations

Data provided by sensors used to monitor equipment can alert you about the equipment's current operational status and any required maintenance. Seeing Machines, an Australian company, has developed a technology that tracks the eyelid movement of truck drivers to detect driver fatigue. When a safety threshold is reached, an alert is sent to the supervisor to make contact with the driver. IBM has been working with industry to develop sensors for wrist bands and helmets to detect worker movement, temperature, and heart rate that could lead to stress.

Although most safety incidents are the result of human error, the second leading cause is faulty equipment. Data obtained through digital sensors can stop operations before a safety event occurs. Sensors can also alert administration when routine or unexpected maintenance is required.

(Learn more in Effectively Eliminating Equipment Breakdowns with Total Productive Maintenance.)

4. Predict Safety Incidents

OSHA requires workplaces to upload worker injury and illness information. This publicly available data – along with workplace inspection reports, investigations (including near misses), and incident reports – can be integrated into company systems to develop predictive analytics, allowing you to identify safety risks before they become a problem.

Download a free workplace inspection template here!

5. Facilitate Better Incident Reporting

Data tracking technology helps regularize the process of reporting and informs management and the safety data management system instantaneously, allowing immediate operational and policy change. There is also a transactional record of the incident to prevent it from being lost or forgotten.

Mobile reporting systems enabled through smartphones and tablets allow workers to provide just-in-time incident and compliance reports without the delay of having to get back to the office to deal with cumbersome paper forms. Mobile reporting also minimizes the need for supervisors to spend their time asking workers to complete paperwork, allowing them to spend more time monitoring the workplace.

(For related reading, see Mobile Phones and Tablets: The Next Generation of PPE.)

6. Change and Develop Policy

Data can be used to identify issues by examining the sequence of events, frequency of incident, type and severity of the injury, as well as circumstances or any contributing factors. This historical information can be used to change company policies and procedures or develop best practices. Linking HR information like worker experience, length of shift, and training is often a critical part of informing this process.

7. Help Maintain Workplace Compliance

Data can be used to remind workers and alert companies regarding compliance with OHS regulations by linking workplace activities to the most commonly cited workplace deficiencies or breaches of safety standards.

The Carolinas Health System (CHS) is a large organization, including 29 hospitals and 1,400 physicians in 500 locations. The healthcare system experienced many process challenges related to volume, accuracy, and delay related to manual tracking, recordkeeping, and reporting. By implementing Occupational Health & Safety Management (OHM) software, CHS was able to simplify processes, eliminate paper, and do away with months of manual entry and the human errors associated with it. By managing document compliance, OHM has helped CHS to avoid fines from regulatory agencies.

8. Inform Safety Awareness Campaigns and Training Programs

Connecting corporate safety data with your HR systems can justify the training and certification of employees. Knowing the root cause of accidents will allow your company to engage your team in meaningful awareness campaigns that makes sense to them based on their experiences.

9. Increase Employee Morale

Knowing that your company is taking a proactive approach to safety and using data to inform operational procedure, training, and HR policy lets your employees know that you are making use of the reports they provide, making informed decisions, and have their best interests in mind.

Data can also be used to establish and measure safety benchmarks, and used for employee recognition when safety goals have been reached or exceeded.

Moving Forward

As the financial and reputational cost of workplace safety incidents continues to escalate, companies big and small are looking to optimize their use of safety data. Through commercially available safety management systems, companies can quickly understand the implications of safety incidents from a big-picture perspective.

More importantly, by tracking and managing this data, they can make better decisions that affect employee safety, operational efficiency, and their bottom line.