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.

Fresh thinking

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.

safety digitally

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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John KerseyPaul CooksonNigel DupreeJohn KerseyKarl Spencer Recent comment authors
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Karl Spencer
Karl Spencer

John, another great article, very informative.
What the article seems to lack as many I read today, is How do we solve it, how can we change that plateau so we do have zero accidents and zero fines?
It’s this reason I would like to speak further and potentially give you the opportunity to independently test a product that does just that?
http://yoursafetypal.com

Thanks in advance
Karl Spencer

John Kersey
John Kersey

Glad you enjoyed it Karl. In terms of solution that is very much up to the organisation’s situation of course but I did give three examples of how new technology could offer some ways forward.
I looked at your website and it is indeed an interesting product. The fines generator caught my attention which is a way of demonstrating the working of the sentencing guidelines prior to mitigation. I wish you success with it.

Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree

One has to wonder why the potential and significant gains in performance and productivity through the use of technology have been ignored for so long ? Is it because these gains have been hiding in plain sight for the last 28 years or, the fear of addressing the predictable and foreseeable hazards to health of the known risks of using or operating the technology that has blinded everyone to the significant commercial benefits ? With the International MSD Summit later this week will the risks finally be acknowledged now, as so many employers are migrating to ISO 45001 and Work… Read more »

Paul Cookson
Paul Cookson

I’m all for moving forward into ‘safety digitally’, and am sure there are a fair few companies out there that are this way inclined, but for most of us we are still working on encouraging and changing the culture of the company, usually from the middle down as opposed to from the top down which is the ideal. I feel very much that depending on the industry and generation of those with control, this is the single biggest enabler or preventer to moving forward with H+S for most companies. Please don’t assume we’ve all got there and hit a plateau… Read more »

H&S Manager

Author Bio ▼

My career started in the construction industry and I have followed a path from project management, facilities management to health and safety.

I continue to be surprised that there is always something new to learn in this fascinating field and a common thread is my interest in the use of software having graduated from punch cards at the school computer society to the latest trends.

Lately the boundless possibilities of Artificial Intelligence applied to safety have captured my imagination and I hope to show you, the reader, a hint of the future.

March 19, 2018

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