How is Technology Changing Health and Safety?

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Danny Reeves, Director of Alcumus Info Exchange, offers his opinion as to where the industry is heading and how it’s imperative that it keeps up with the changing times.

Drones for site inspections, virtual reality for safety training, software and mobile applications for safety data collection, wearable technologies for both safety and health surveillance along with machine learning to predict future events, are all evidence that safety is becoming digitalised.

Whether an organisation is an innovator, early adopter or the late majority, it’s inevitable that safety professionals will be looking to adopt one or more of the above technologies in the near future.

In its 2017 Global Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Leaders Survey of EHS decision-makers, independent research firm, Verdantix found that 87% consider information technology as either ‘essential’ or ‘valuable’ for EHS management. So why is technology playing an ever increasing role in safety?

Danny Reeves, Alcumus Info Exchange Director, who has over 30 years’ experience in information and communication technology, believes that technology has the ability to make a revolutionary impact on the health and safety industry, however, there is still a long way to go.

Commenting on the evolution on technology, Danny says:

“It’s a really exciting time for health and safety professionals as we can all recognised the shift that’s taking place in terms of attitudes towards technology. We have started noticing more questions being asked about what advanced solutions are available beyond current audit and compliance forms and reports; the benefits are certainly starting to become more apparent to decision makers and EHS leaders.”

The health and safety industry has often fallen short in terms of its reputation, commonly seen as a ‘red tape exercise’, and slow at embracing emerging trends. This slow uptake has meant the industry has lagged behind in certain areas including reporting and prevention. Technology is leading this perception to change and with many professionals starting to take the digital leap, Danny is optimistic this change is on the horizon. In fact, according to the Verdantix report, mobile technology is becoming increasing popular among clients; with it now commonly expected, especially for auditing and incident management.

With mobile EHS technology being a relatively new addition to the industry since the launch of smartphones around 10 years ago, one of the key areas most influenced by technology is data analytics. The data collected from accidents and incidents is often wasted; collected and stored in order to meet compliance rather than used for proactive, real-time risk management. With the help of technology, including mobile apps, businesses now have the ability to utilise their data, to spot trends, report near misses and proactively reduce risk by warning workers of an issue before it happens.

Danny says:

“Currently, much of the data collected isn’t being used to its optimum ability. Technology, however, can and is changing that by offering analytical tools that can help predict future incidents. This will help move the industry forward by allowing it to become proactive rather than reactive. Those using this type of technology, both desktop based and mobile based, have noticed a dramatic reduction in accidents rates and envisage it becoming part of everyday health and safety life in the next few years.

21st Century shift

According to the Verdantix report, although 42% of EHS consultants perceive digital as a must have in order to deliver a successful EHS management programme, investment in these types of technology is still quite slow. Danny believes that as the next generation of safety professionals enter the industry, this technological shift will accelerate with the introduction of far more advanced systems, to help move the sector forward.

“There will be a certain level of expectation for technology from the next generation of health and safety professionals both functionality and ability. With wearable techs and AI fast becoming the norm in their day-to-day lives, those beginning their career in the sector will require a lot more from industry devices and system, meaning it’s vital the industry embraces new technology

“This is an exciting chance for those offering technology enabled solutions, much like Alcumus, to learn from consumer systems and the next generation to enhance their products to suit their quickly adapting clientele” Says Danny.

The use of advanced technology including drones for site inspections, wearable sensors for protective clothing to help monitor hazardous environments and AR and VR to enhance the delivery of health and safety training, are all creating a buzz around the industry, especially with industry leaders.

Although the increase of adoption rates of these advanced digital tools is a positive step forward for the industry, the difficulty may actually be in getting employees to engage and to alter their negative perception of health and safety.  As the processes involved in reporting are often viewed as an annoyance and time consuming, a way of encouraging workers to monitor their safety and wellbeing, says Danny, is to simplify the process and instead utilise apps that they already use. This would streamline the implementation process and potentially increase the appeal.  Apps such as Whatsapp and Facebook will enable industry leaders to showcase the new era of health and safety, an era where monitoring is something workers want to do rather than being ‘forced’ to by employers and regulation.

Danny added:

“Offering the option to report health and safety issues using a Whatsapp group, which automatically goes to an online dashboard to report the incident, will allow health and safety managers to properly protect their sites in real time. One billion people use Whatsapp globally, why wouldn’t we tap into that market in order make health and safety easier, quicker and more accessible?”

It’s an exciting time for the health and safety industry, with many technologies emerging that could revolutionise the way we report, work and safeguard against hazards. The sector is becoming far more accepting of these new systems, however, as the Verdantix report demonstrates, an increase in investments by clients is vital to ensure it continues to progress.