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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.
June 5, 2019
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Technology and Training
‘Safety tech makes training more engaging, efficient and evidence-based’: In conversation with James Pomeroy from Lloyd’s Register
James Pomeroy, Group Health, Safety, Environment and Security Director at Lloyd’s Register speaks to John Kersey about the impact of safety technology and the future of the profession.
How did you get involved in health and safety?
James Pomeroy (JP): “I’ve been fortunate to have worked in EHS for most of my working life. After an apprenticeship, I trained as a mechanical engineer. I became involved in safety when three of the older and more influential members of the team that I was working with were diagnosed with mesothelioma and subsequently died, all within 18 months. Seeing colleagues that I deeply respected suffer because of their historic workplace exposure affected me quite profoundly and I became interested in EHS and then decided to make a career of it. My early exposure to safety has shaped my whole career and I continue to view EHS as an ethical and personal responsibility.
“I like the diversity that EHS brings and have been fortunate to have worked in variety of sectors, including heavy manufacturing, aerospace, construction, shipping and food and drink. For the last twenty years, I’ve been privileged to practice EHS internationally.”
(JP): “The safety profession is going through a profound change, and a lot of this is technology-driven. In fact, I’ve seen more change in the last three-four years with the technologies, approaches and thinking than I experienced in the preceding 25 years. This is hugely exciting and the opportunities that the new safety technologies and data-driven solutions will bring to long-standing challenges are mind-blowing.
“Unlike many other professions, EHS has not experienced a lot of innovation and the plateauing in rates of fatal and serious injuries tells us we desperately need new technology and ideas to improve our operational control. Indeed, many of the control measures we continue to rely upon to keep people safe are embarrassingly primitive, such as of bits of paper, e.g. RAMS and permits, PPE and the occasional training set. As a profession, we can and must be curious about the opportunity of safety tech, so I’m hugely excited to see The Safety Tech Zone at the show.”
Do you feel technology is a threat or a potential benefit?
(JP): “We’re doing a lot of work at Lloyd’s Register to enable the transition to a new digital and data-driven approach to EHS and I’m privileged to be exposed to some great insights into how the technology will improve personal and process safety. Some of the benefits are well known, such as the opportunity to make our training more engaging, efficient and evidence-based through VR / AR training. Many practitioners will also have probably seen how drones are helping to eliminate human exposure to working at height and confined space working. The opportunity of data science and artificial intelligence to improve how we learn from the EHS information we collect or improve how we monitor hazards is however is less well published. The early insights from the Discovering Safety project that Lloyd’s Register Foundation is funding with the HSE, along with tech start-ups that our Safety Accelerator programme is funding is very promising.
“We do however need to think about the changes we’re introducing and understand the risks. Many accidents stem from systems becoming too complex and as we introduce safety tech, much of which will be connected and learn in real-time, we need to ensure that we understand the additional complexity that we’re introducing. Likewise, we need to ‘take people with us’ and that means addressing their concerns about data privacy and retention, the perception of control and any loss of autonomy. We need to be able to demonstrate a clear benefit to the employees when considering introducing safety tech, and workers need to be at the heart of our thinking. With all the talk of ‘control and monitoring’, I’m not sure we’re yet approaching safety tech from the right perspective.”
What do you feel is driving the development of technology within safety?
(JP): “I see three drivers: efficiency, investment and the aggregation of data.
“The need to improve efficiency and control effectiveness is one driver. Most EHS is currently managed using inefficient and disconnected solutions, many of which are paper based. For example, the typical control measures for working at height consist of training records, RAMS, permits, PPE, observations and equipment inspections. Each of these controls are managed in isolation, often manually and few provide output data. The lack of connectivity is inefficient, is error-prone and means that opportunities to learn are missed.
“Inward investment is a second driver. Technologies proven in one sector are transferring into EHS. For example, wearable technologies are migrating from the sports sector, exoskeletons from the medical prosthetics market and data science from finance. The industrialisation of China and India, along with the ability to transform commodity products, such as an item of PPE to become valuable data sources, is attracting a lot of inward investment in EHS technologies.
“As we see more EHS control measures become IoT connected, data will become more valued. This is leading to consolidation of the conventional EHS hardware providers and suppliers of software.”
You have some ideas on the future of the profession – how do you see that developing?
(JP): “The EHS profession has grown tremendously since I joined it nearly thirty years ago. It was unique and specialist discipline when I undertook my first safety training, but it’s now a recognised and common profession. EHS practitioners have deep technical, systems and legal knowledge, and have a lot to offer their employers in terms of transferable skills. Our training and approach have served us well for the challenges that we faced previously. But the profession does need to change if it is to successfully navigate the new world we’re now entering. Our training has taught us to ‘know the answer’, but the challenges we’re facing now are about realising that we are no longer the experts, so we need to focus on the right questions and immerse ourselves in different disciplines to enable cross-fertilisation of new thinking.
“As more organisations operate in virtual and matrix structures, where they are constantly refining and reinventing what they do in response to dynamic market demand, we’re going to need to be more agile as a profession, with a greater focus on efficiency (versus today’s compliance mind-set). Emotional intelligence and relationship building will be pivotal.
“We equally need to be more evidence-based and comfortable innovating and taking risks. It speaks volumes of the EHS profession that we’re still using discredited theories from the 1930’s as a basis for improvement. We need to be curious about the new technology and the new theories, such as HOP and Safety Differently because the evidence that our current approaches are not working is clear.”
What do you see as the greatest achievement in your work so far?
(JP): “The most enjoyable thing about my role is also the thing I’m most proud of, and that’s building relationships and trying to help people think differently about EHS. Because of my early exposures to the personal impact of poor safety, EHS is very personal to me and I’m very passionate about improving our performance and changing our approach.
“I’ve also been privileged to work with EHS teams in different organisations throughout my career. I love the diversity of approaches that we all bring to EHS and the way we learn from each other.”
How do you see technology in general being applied to health and safety over the next five years?
(JP): “Training will be one of the first areas to see the benefit of digital. The price point for VR training will decrease and we should hopefully see more ‘off-the-shelf’ training programmes coming online. The adoption of drones to eliminate high risk inspection work will also increase.
“If we can successfully navigate the data challenges and address employee’s concerns, then wearables could be game-changing. The capabilities of some of the latest wearable devices are incredible. We will also see wearable fabrics being incorporated within workwear and PPE. The insights these technologies will provide could help us change the type of work, potentially altering exposure periods and shift patterns or making physical changes to the work set-up to improve safety. This type of information will establish a real-time feedback loop helping us to learn from ‘work as done’.
“Safety analytics will also become more mainstream, providing more efficient ways to learn and identify improvement opportunities. Many EHS practitioners spend time reviewing employee’s observation and near miss reports, and text analytics tools will enable a lot of this manual work to be done automatically. We also have lots of data in EHS, but it’s often isolated and time consuming to identify patterns. Data science will make such studies easier.”
James will be leading a session entitled ‘Agents of Change: Delivering change requires the practitioner to change‘, taking place in the Leadership Forum at 13:20 on Tuesday 18 June.
James will also be part of two panel debates, ‘How to attract, develop and retain the best talent in health and safety’, which takes place in the Keynote Theatre at 16:00 on Tuesday 18 June, and ‘What is the future of the health and safety profession?’, taking place in the Leadership Forum at 14:00 on Wednesday 19 June.
John will be bringing his Robot Safety Rocks series to life with a session on ‘5 safety tech trends‘, taking place in the Safety Tech Zone at 16:00 on Wednesday 19 June.
WATCH: Safety & Health Event Director Chris Edwards discuss the new Safety Tech Zone at Safety & Health Expo 2019, where there will be demonstrations of the most innovative pieces of technology that are having an impact on health and safety.
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‘Safety tech makes training more engaging, efficient and evidence-based’: In conversation with James Pomeroy from Lloyd’s RegisterJames Pomeroy, Group Health, Safety, Environment and Security Director at Lloyd’s Register speaks about the impact of safety technology and the future of the profession.
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