Safety Digitally – a new approach to health and safety improvement, with technology as the driver
Is it time to shift from focusing on health and safety culture, to focusing on the possibilities of technology? In his latest blog, John Kersey looks at how technology is becoming the main driver for progress in our profession.
Safety Differently, mental health, wellbeing – these are just a few of the themes that have become topical in recent years and they have had a lot of exposure. The emphasis is around activists and empowering people to make the change by changing the culture. I would call this ‘the cultural approach’ and it has certainly elevated the status of workplace health issues from being the minor to an equal partner in the health and safety duo. Technology has been present but perhaps seen as an enabler; supporting the system more than influencing it. It’s time to think about a new approach with technology as the driver. Maybe it’s time to start thinking Safety Digitally.
A personal perspective
A personal perspective – in the 1990’s as a newly enrolled health and safety professional I was struggling to get to grips with managing the display screen equipment situation using the legacy ergonomic system. It was very sound practice but required a lot of trained resources to keep pace and was time intensive. And then Cardinus – the DSE software happened; in particular the PACE administrator software enabled users to get basic training and their situation could be assessed remotely. During an intensive 6 week campaign 89% of the users could be trained, assessed and the records done automatically. This freed up any human resources available to concentrate on the people needing extra help. Such progress came when technology was the driver.
Stalemate and uncertainty
A common view I hear is that health and safety systems have reached a plateau, are flatlining or it feels like they are in a stalemate. That seems to me like it needs a change of system to give the system a kick forwards.
Currently, from conferences I’ve attended or conversations with those within the safety community, I sense hesitancy in which direction to travel, and how. This also extends to regulators, professional institutions, learning organisations and so on. There is recognition that technology will be a contributor but how best to work with it? Some of the issues are:
- How do we best use technology and what type of technology?
- Is it best to use small enterprise devices like mobile phones which are familiar and prevalent or larger powerful systems running over servers based systems?
- What will be the respective roles of man and machine?
- What will be the best strategy? A cautious bottom up approach based on aggregating smaller systems or a large corporate top down planned system.
Each has its own merits depending on the organisation’s settings, its aims and strategy. A good overview is provided by the RICS publication Artificial intelligence: What it means for the built environment.
Even more fundamental is the nature of the change – we tend to use the terms “innovation” and “disruption” fairly loosely. Innovation can be seen as inventing ways of doing the same thing a bit better. Disruption can be seen as doing completely new things. If we accept that the Industry 4.0 is a major sea change in society then we have to look at embracing disruption – thinking of a totally new approach to safety that is technology driven.
Towards a New Safety
Although we need to tread between “AI fear” and “AI hype” those that have engaged with new technology have universally had great experiences where it has been handled sensitively. Some innovative examples will serve here:
- Issue – traditional training methods not being well received by operatives. Solution – VR training creating an immersive experience for trainees.
- Issue – traditional manual handling assessment and training not really delivering results. Solution the application of sports training and medical technology to workplace manual handling issues.
- Issue – large volumes of incidents with a no clear root cause over a large diffuse enterprise. Solution using machine learning and predictive analytics to seek clusters and correlations in the events.
People at work will be resistant to change for sure – it’s a safe assumption they have read the media scare stories. This is however a benefit – for your initiative to be successful you will need to engage with the people affected and have a convincing case – how what you are doing will benefit them. In a sense it’s a deal – if you help us gather this data we will use it for the greater good to make you healthier or safer. The massive benefit is the workforce is enthused, energised and engaged when they see it is working for them. It also needs trust to make it work – if people are wearing sensors it is in their personal space and they need re-assurance the data is secure and being used for the right purpose.
Definitely massive change is coming fast and the safety community needs to engage with this fast.
Images courtesy of VR Learning Studios and with the assistance of dorsaVi Ltd and ISS UK Limited.
Categories: Innovative, Leadership, New Safety and Health, Technology
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