Health and safety at the cutting edge
Effective control measures are critical to protect workers from occupational health diseases. However, only recently has it become possible to integrate digital and sensing technologies with personal protective equipment, opening up a new realm of worker wearable smart or connected solutions. Sean Clay, President of Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions for Europe, argues that a connected safety solution that uses cutting edge technology to continuously monitor the environment and worker exposures can help managers make more-informed decisions.
The UK has one of the best combined health and safety records in the world, which has partly been achieved through efforts to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries following the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.  Increasingly, the focus for action has shifted to the burden of occupational diseases, highlighted in campaigns like the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s No Time to Lose  and HSE’s new Helping Great Britain Work Well strategy, which identifies tackling ill-health as one of the regulator’s priorities. 
One of the main challenges with occupational ill-health is the long latency of the diseases. Control measures are critical and decision makers need sound data to inform the process. Historically, industry has not recognised the potential of technology-based solutions to shape decisions that can better protect workers’ health but a shift in this cultural mindset is overdue.
A ‘connected safety’ solution that integrates smart, often wearable sensors with cutting-edge software, and underpinned by a suite of services and software, already exists to enable safety managers to continuously monitor the worker environment and exposure to potentially hazardous environments. Armed with intelligent, real-time data, safety managers are now better placed to make well-informed and intelligent decisions that can drive further improvements in health and safety.
The combination of smaller sensing technologies, reduced power consumption, ubiquitous wireless connectivity and the smart phone as a personal hub come together to enable this solution to become a reality. Weaving these vital threads together, safety managers can now capture and transmit valuable data to the cloud, which opens up an enormous amount of health and safety applications.
While safety remains a priority, increasingly businesses need to consider the health of the workforce. Take particulates, for example. Exposure levels may not necessarily be fatal in the immediate-term but a sustained exposure for an underlying level over a prolonged period of time could be detrimental to health.
Companies need greater insight around health exposures and accurate information to identify where any potential issues may lie. They need to be able to identify exposure levels, not only for potentially fatal substances such as gas, but also other risks such as excessive noise, which can cause significant long-term damage to health.
Industry trends are also being driven by two important market levers. We are seeing more rigorous legislative requirements, which has prompted business to question how it can respond effectively and provide a better, safer environment for people to work in.
Also, there is an increasing desire to move away from safety being about compliance towards something that businesses can use as a differentiator to create competitive advantage. Safety is becoming an integral, strategic part of decision making where businesses see the value in dealing with safety issues upfront rather than the consequences of failing to act after the event. Connected safety can be used to predict outcomes. But how does it work?
Intelligent sensors are edge devices, occupying the space between the real world and the digital world. By capturing real-time data from a diverse range of environments, safety managers can gain an in-the-moment view of a worker’s location and circumstances. By interpreting and using this critically important information, businesses can respond more quickly and decisively to a safety threat. For example, data could be used to inform decisions about working patterns so that a worker’s exposure levels over a particular shift are reduced.
Sensors can be embedded in PPE to capture data at the point where the individual enters the working environment. This data will enable businesses to check whether workers are wearing the right type of protective equipment. If it’s a single-use or multi-use product, safety managers can even make sure equipment is not being reused when it shouldn’t be. It is even possible to check that the worker has had the correct training and the correct sign-off permit to operate in a designated environment.
The technology can help businesses improve productivity in a number of ways. Inefficient storage processes and software platforms have forced safety managers to spend a significant amount of their time manually looking for safety compliance and related materials. However, by accessing real-time data at any time, businesses will gain an entirely new level of control over plant operations. They can make informed decisions much more quickly, reducing costs and downtime and increasing worker productivity. Workers can concentrate on the job at hand rather than worry about whether their equipment is working properly. Improved worker productivity underpins the business decision to invest in connected safety technologies, ensuring a speedy return on investment.
Technology-based solutions sit at the cutting edge of health and safety innovations. A connected safety approach can help predict what might happen in the future. Importantly, it can also determine what actions are required to drive further improvements in safety and increasingly health.
For more information about Honeywell Industrial Safety, its products and services, visit the website at http://www.honeywellsafety.com
Sean Clay is President of Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions for Europe