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December 27, 2018

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technology leadership

Alcumus Chief Technology Officer: How technology is creating a safer workplace

SHP speaks to Mike Talbot, Chief Technology Officer, at Alcumus to find out how best to get employees engaged with health and safety with the use of technology. The article discusses progressive web apps and what work Alcumus is doing behind the scenes to make workplaces safer places for both employees and the public.

Mike Talbot, Chief Technology Officer, Alcumus

Those involved in any aspect of health and safety will have noticed the effect technology is having on our day to day roles and responsibilities. From drones in construction and VR for training, to wearable technology for safety surveillance and mobile apps for reporting, technology is changing the face of health and safety, for the better. It’s enabling professionals to revolutionise the industry, giving it that all important reputational ‘face lift’, which can only push it in the right direction and attract future talent.

The best way to increase engagement levels amongst employees, which is vital for the successful implementation of any health and safety process, is to make it quick and easy to do. There are a number of ways developers can do this including simply utilising the apps workers are likely to be using already, such as WhatsApp and Facebook. Data collected from these apps can then link directly onto an online portal to offer real-time analytics.

Another way to encourage uptake, and something Alcumus is planning to innovate with, is to create Progressive Web Apps (PWA) rather than native or traditional ones. PWAs are a mixture of a mobile and web app and are far easier for end users to download, as they don’t need to go through the App Store or Play Store. What’s more, once they have been downloaded they don’t require WIFI and will work almost immediately. Mike said that it was the human element that’s the key thing though, “getting people to buy into the whole health and safety vision.”

“There is a lot of work happening in general employee engagement around the world right now. In health and safety, technology has the added benefit that if it can embed that kind of protocol where it can increase safety, it can be measured against accidents and lives saved, rather than profits.”

Mike explained that half the battle is trying to get the message across to workers as to why health and safety is important. “Being able to use gamification to demonstrate and teach people the importance of wearing the correct PPE, ensuring it’s fitted properly can really help to get that message across to the workers.”

He recalled an example of an oil worker having to be formally disciplined because he refused to shave before applying his respiratory equipment. Despite repeated warnings of how an unshaven face does not provide an airtight fitting for breathing equipment, it took an official procedure to get the message across.

To build anything great you need to consider the requirements of what people need and what technology can do now and what protocols and practices you can use in external areas. Mike believes much of the software that has been developed in recent years has been designed with the purpose of replacing paper, but he says times have moved on now and software needs to have a greater purpose than just helping an organisation become paperless.

Mike’s role is to create a vision for how organisations can use technology to truly save lives. “At the moment, our technology is mostly used by Health and Safety professionals, but the big drive is to push this down into the hands of the people doing the job.”

SafeContractor

Part of Alcumus’ business is SafeContractor, an accreditation service they provide to SMEs. Essentially, the company carries out a desktop audit of a series of documents which are provided by the contractor to ensure they are eligible to carry out the work required for their clients.

Mike explained that they are looking to enhance their accreditation offering by developing an ‘Uber’ised’ booking for SMEs and their clients.

Mike’s vision is to enable quick and easy access of all the details required for a particular job for the person carrying out the work, using an app. In the style of Uber, a call will be put out, using the app, to all accredited SafeContractors in the area and they can then respond with when they are free to do the job if it’s within their repertoire.

COSHH

In a longer-term vision, Mike wants to look at getting technology out into the hands of workers without them having to go through their web browser, through Alcumus’ ‘At work network’. When working with hazardous substances, employees are required to work out what they are going to do with a chemical, how long they are going to do it for and where they are going to do it, to work out what kind of PPE they need for the job.

The Sypol system Alcumus has, helps to identify the right practices and how to apply current law and which alternative chemicals should be used as the law changes and substances are phased out or banned. “It is a very tailored risk assessment where we’ve really pulled apart the manufacturers safety data sheets and their claims on the hazardous elements of their product and re-assessed this using scientific research.”

“The challenge going forward in this area,” continued Mike, “is to ensure compliance with that safety data sheet and to be able to monitor for how much time an employee is exposed to that chemical.” As an example, a welder for instance may spend their life around chemicals, but perhaps working for more than one employer at a time. Each employer may be monitoring the exposure to chemicals for that welder, but only the welders themselves can be sure they are not being overexposed to dangerous substances. We’ve been able to build a model for what the chronic exposure to dangerous chemicals is, enabling people to track their own personal exposure to chemicals.”

“The app will also provide training awareness, education and compliance. So, it will give advice on what to do if you spill a specific chemical on the floor or on yourself, or what to do if it catches fire. It will also track exposure of the life of the worker, giving them evidence and or help to understand what the effect of that is.”

Another challenge Alcumus is seeing is a lack of awareness of exposure to certain chemicals. There are significant fines being handed out in the COSHH space, so when something goes wrong it goes seriously wrong and companies need to be aware of the consequences. Mike cited an example of a cleaner who may have to clean six toilets during a day in an office block. If that cleaner used bleach to clean each of them, they would be exposed to a dangerous level of chemical over a prolonged period of time, even from something mainstream as toilet bleach.

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