We’ve previously discussed the role technology can play in breaking through the statistical plateau we’ve seen recently in UK work-related fatality rates. We’ve also discussed how technology can be the impetus to recruit young people into the work of health and safety.
So what technology is out there today that can help you ensure your workers are safe at work and work safely? What’s sexy that would turn a millennium to a career in health and safety?
In fact, there are plenty of options available today for all industries, all of which can have an impact.
Then there are new developments in technology which will become available in the near future. Many of these technologies will create opportunities for innovators to create new products that will help improve health and safety performance even further.
Let’s start with the technologies that are available now. Here are 14 new technologies that are having a real impact on businesses today.
Sensors are nothing new. Formula 1 cars, for example, have had sensors for years that feed real-time data back to engineers in the pits. As a result, the engineers often know more about what is happening with the car in real-time than the driver. In addition, they can often diagnose the precise cause of a mechanical fault even before the car gets back to the garage.
Sensors providing real-time monitoring of people are being used more and more too. Sport is one of the most obvious fields – sensors monitoring the performance and health information of rugby players, for example, which helps coaches make decisions in training as well as during matches.
This technology also has a use in health and safety. For example, it is possible to fit sensors to PPE (personal protective equipment). This allows for the continuous monitoring of workers in hazardous situations.
2. Lone Worker Devices
Lone worker devices have a range of features that improve the safety of individuals who work alone. This includes everything from social workers whose job it is to visit people in their own homes, to utility workers working in remote areas and often completing tasks with an element of risk.
Lone worker device features include:
- Man down alarms
- Panic buttons
- Check-in/out functionality where a worker must check-in within a pre-set period of time. If they don’t, escalation procedures begin to verify the safety of the worker and take action, such as calling the emergency services, if that is not possible.
- Listen-in features where a worker can open audio communications so discussions in difficult situations can be monitored remotely.
- And more
Lone worker devices are common in the utility sector, for example. Power generation contractor Edina Ltd has equipped its engineers with lone worker devices. They are also common in a range of other business and industries, particularly those with large numbers of lone workers.
Another industry where lone worker devices could help reduce accident rates is agriculture. After all, many people in the agricultural industry work alone.
3. Permit to Work (PTW)
PTWs are a crucial health and safety tool, but using technology makes them even more effective. Digitising PTWs delivers substantial efficiency savings over manual, paper-based systems, for example.
Electronic PTW solutions also improve the accuracy and integrity of PTW records, plus they give businesses essential information in the form of reports. This information can then be used to make decisions that benefit both health and safety performance and overall business performance.
PTW technology can go much further than this, though. In fact, the possibilities that exist with electronic PTW technology today gives you an insight into the health and safety tools that will be commonplace in the future.
For example, it is possible to integrate a PTW and lone worker solution. The lone worker can then sign a PTW using the lone worker device to ensure they are approved before beginning work at the remote location. This delivers even more efficiency savings while also maximising the benefits of PTWs.
You can request a demo of our e-permits solution in the sidebar to the left to see how this crucial innovation can improve your health and safety performance.
4. Automation Technology
Automation is currently one of the most rapidly growing fields of technology. As a result, businesses in all industries are developing and implementing solutions that automate manual processes. This includes in manufacturing facilities where automation is being used to improve productivity and make production lines more efficient.
Another benefit, however, is worker safety. In fact, a parliamentary report outlined the benefits of automation to worker safety back in 2016.
Automation technology can result in workers being exposed to fewer risks by, for example, removing the need for a worker to be physically present in a hazardous location. Automation also improves accuracy in business processes, something which can also reduce the risks workers face.
5. Virtual Reality (VR)
VR, where you create a completely virtual world, and AR, where you overlay the real world with virtual elements, are today being used by companies in a range of industries to improve worker safety training.
For example, you can use VR to create safety training simulations that are highly relevant and realistic for the worker. The interactivity of this type of training compared to traditional classroom training greatly increases engagement levels.
In addition, VR also lets workers experience extremely dangerous and hazardous situations from the safety and comfort of an office. The construction company Balfour Beatty, along with Highways England, has done just this. Balfour Beatty uses a VR simulation to improve the quality of its training for workers involved in highways construction and maintenance projects. With this training, workers can be in a physically safe office environment while experiencing a simulation of highly hazardous situations.
The uses of VR go far beyond the construction industry, however, including in other high-risk industries like manufacturing and agriculture.
6. Augmented Reality (AR)
The uses of AR are different to VR. With AR, you use the real-world environment, overlaying it with elements such as text or media.
So, for example, you can add virtual text overlays giving instructions to someone working on a real machine. Another example is providing real-time status information to a user, such as pressure readings or temperatures. The latter is a bit like heads-up windscreen displays that are in use in some makes and model of car.
As with VR, there is a range of industries that can benefit from AR worker safety training.
VR and AR are not the only technologies currently being used to improve worker health and safety training. E-learning is another option that companies are increasingly using.
E-learning involves the delivery of a training course on a computer or a mobile phone. It offers significant benefits over classroom-based training, including lower costs, particularly if you have a dispersed workforce. After all, there is no need for travel if you can simply send the training course to the worker.
E-learning also achieves higher levels of engagement than other forms of learning, plus you can integrate e-learning courses and content with other processes and technology. PTWs are an example of this again, i.e. linking a PTW directly with e-learning courses provides an improved audit trail and a more efficient system overall.
8. Cloud Computing
Many businesses already use cloud computing for reasons other than health and safety. Health and safety does benefit from the technology too, however. This can be something as simple as providing workers with access to health and safety documents, equipment manuals, health and safety e-learning training courses, and more. With cloud technology, workers can access this information from anywhere, providing they have an internet connection.
Cloud computing solutions can also make health and safety policies and procedures work more efficiently. Lone worker solutions, electronic PTW solutions, automation technologies, and more can all be linked to the cloud to provide a more efficient, accurate, and useful health and safety tool.
In fact, many of these solutions use cloud computing technology as an integral and essential feature.
9. Digital Signage
Digital signage is a relatively simple but highly useful technology that can improve worker safety. It can also improve business operations through better communications.
The technology involves installing signage where the message on the sign is controlled by a device, often remote from the sign itself. As a result, it is possible to provide workers with real-time information, such as alerting them to an imminent danger.
An everyday example is the digital signs on motorways that alert you to incidents and dangers on the road, such as accidents, heavy traffic, or reduced visibility.
Digital signage has applications in a wide range of situations, but it is particularly beneficial in manufacturing facilities where communications are difficult or there are a lot of worker distractions. A manufacturing or production facility that has high levels of noise is the best example. With digital signage, you can quickly and easily communicate important messages to workers without the need for speaking to them.
Drone technology is used to inspect dangerous and hazardous locations without the need for a worker to be physically present. An accident site or a location where a spill has occurred are examples.
Without drones, you would probably need to send workers into the area to inspect it. You would mitigate the risk to the worker by, for example, ensuring they had the necessary training for this situation and giving them appropriate personal protective equipment.
However, removing the risk entirely is a much better option to mitigating the risk. This is exactly what drone technology makes possible.
11. 3D Visualisation
3D visualisation technology creates 3D images of objects or locations. So, in the example above of a hazardous material spillage, the drone could take images which are then used to create a 3D image of the location. Workers and managers can then investigate and analyse the situation. With 3D visualisation, they will have a full understanding of the risks involved.
In addition, 3D images also help managers and workers develop plans to deal with the problem with no need for anyone to enter the location physically.
The above is just one example of how 3D visualisation technology can improve health and safety.
12. Fleet Management Software
Fleet management software offers productivity benefits to businesses, but there are health and safety benefits too. In particular, fleet management software lets you monitor the quality of driving. You can then use this information to develop training courses aimed at improving the quality of driving to reduce accident rates.
In addition, you can use the information to give drivers individual feedback on the things they can do to drive in a safer way.
Many fleet management tools also have features that help you manage the maintenance of your fleet, ensuring all vehicles on the road are in a safe condition to drive.
13. Digital Risk Assessments
Risk assessments are an essential health and safety tool in almost all businesses. In high-risk industries, they are used frequently, sometimes on a task-by-task basis. The effectiveness of risk assessments relies on them being completed properly, however. It is also important to keep proper records of all completed risk assessments.
Doing this manually is a laborious task. This applies whether you use paper or digital risk assessments, i.e. completing a form on a sheet of paper or opening a word document, completing it, saving it, and sending it wherever it needs to go.
Digitising the risk assessment process, as well as the actual form, is the solution. There are many apps available that make this possible. These let workers easily and accurately complete risk assessments with full automation of the administration and reporting side of the process.
14. Data Dashboards
Data dashboards are becoming increasingly important in a range of situations. This technology is essentially about making sense of data so that data can be used to take real-world decisions. This typically involves presenting the data in a visual way rather than in tables or lists.
Health and safety tools often already have data dashboards built in. For example, most electronic PTW solutions, e-learning tools, and fleet management tools all have reporting functionality.
The use of data dashboards is set to increase, however, as more data is collected in your business. With proper visualisation of this data, you can make more informed decisions on everything from where to allocate your health and safety training resources to how you will spend your safety equipment budget.