What’s New in Health & Safety Technology?

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health and safety technology

Technology advances at a rapid pace, changing the way businesses operate. The field of health and safety is no different. So, what are the new technologies and technological trends that are impacting health and safety?

The most obvious one is the increasing digitalisation of health and safety processes and systems, where those processes and systems move from being manual to digital. Importantly, these changes are about more than swapping a paper document for a digital version. Instead, modern systems are integrated and offer features like real-time reporting, cloud access, data analysis, and compliance auditing.

Health and safety outcomes improve with these systems, but there are other benefits too, including making the health and safety function in businesses more efficient and effective.

What about other exciting new technologies and technological trends in health and safety? Here are some examples.

Artificial Intelligence

Health and Safety is one area where Artificial Intelligence (AI) is yet to make a big impact, but its time is coming. One particular area that is developing fast and is gaining traction is the monitoring of health and safety performance in the workplace.

Examples are systems that use computer vision technologies to monitor workers, feeding the data back to a central platform where it can be assessed. These systems can identify a range of health and safety concerns, such as incorrect use of PPE, dangerous machines causing risks to people, overheating equipment, and more.

These systems can provide data to managers to help them improve working practices in their organisations. However, the systems also offer real-time benefits as they can identify imminent safety risks. When they do, the system can send an immediate alert to the workers involved via, for example, a wearable device.

Automation Technologies

More and more tasks in workplaces in all industries are becoming automated. Companies often focus first on repetitive, non-value-adding tasks, replacing the people that used to do those tasks with everything from software applications to robotic process automation solutions to autonomous vehicles.

Many companies are also now implementing more advanced automation solutions on tasks that are increasingly complex. This is made possible with the advances that are taking place in automation technologies.

How does automation impact safety outcomes, however? Unlike their human counterparts, automated solutions don’t get tired, they don’t make mistakes, they don’t get sick, and they don’t make bad decisions because of stress or other factors. Everything on that list is a human factor, and they all are important to health and safety. By removing them from the equation, health and safety performance should improve.

IIOT and Edge Computing

Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) and edge computing technologies are also impacting workplace health and safety. Sensors in PPE are one example, as well as sensors that monitor the working environment. In the latter example, sensors, in conjunction with machine learning algorithms, can detect risks to workers before they become apparent, alerting them before an adverse incident occurs.

Increasing Importance of Cybersecurity in Health and Safety

There is a growing concern in the industry about the impact of cybersecurity on health and safety. It is an issue that deserves greater attention as cybersecurity is often thought about as a way of protecting financial and reputational risks, i.e., where the aim is to protect data, intellectual property, financial information, etc.

However, there are also cybersecurity risks that can have serious health and safety repercussions.

One example is the physical risks that can result from a cyberattack where a company loses control of essential machinery or equipment. We often talk about this in relation to driverless vehicles, i.e., how do we stop a driverless vehicle from being hacked and crashed. What about heavy machinery on an industrial site or equipment on a production line? Those systems are increasingly becoming automated, creating cybersecurity risks that, in turn, create health and safety risks.

Operational risks are also a factor. An example would be a cybersecurity attack that stops lone worker devices from operating, or that diverts or intercepts communications from these devices. This sort of hack can expose lone workers to increased health and safety risks.

As a result, cybersecurity considerations are set to become increasingly important in health and safety.

Algorithmic-Based Risk Assessments

New algorithmic-based risk assessments are set to take the place of manual systems. They work by an employee inputting general details of the activity they are about to undertake into the system. The employee will then be presented with a score that rates the activity’s level of risk.

The employee can then input both mitigating factors and additional risks to get a customised risk rating for the activity. These systems will then also be able to provide the employee with information on further mitigation steps.

Automating Dangerous Tasks

There are many examples of solutions that automate dangerous tasks, removing the risk to workers. One of the most recent is the automated laying of cones.

Laying out cones is an essential part of construction and maintenance projects on roads up and down the country.

It sounds like a simple process, i.e., pick a cone from a stack or off the back of a truck and lay it on the ground. However, it is a task that involves significant levels of risk.

The cones themselves weigh around 10kgs. A stretch of road of around 2.5 miles will require up to 300 cones. With two people working on the cone laying task, each could be lifting 1.5 tonnes to lay the cones out and then another 1.5 tonnes to remove them. Plus, the lifting process usually involves a lot of twisting, increasing the health and safety risk.

Then you have to consider the location. Cones are placed to increase the protection of workers on the road, but those workers laying the cones are exposed to traffic while they complete the job.

Automated cone laying machines will revolutionise the cone laying process. Prototypes of these machines have been developed and tested, and they can effectively remove workers from the task of laying cones while delivering the levels of productivity required on modern construction sites.

Further tests are being conducted, but the technology is looking promising. Therefore, we can expect to see these automated cone laying machines working on our roads before long.

New HSE App for SMEs

The Health and Safety Executive has launched a new app targeted at small and medium-sized businesses. The aim of the app is to help businesses understand health and safety law and their responsibilities.

The features of the app include a Health and Safety Toolbox that provides a general overview of risks, the law, and business responsibilities. There are also risk management guides and information on managing work-related stress.

Posture Monitoring

A significant proportion of workplace injuries are posture-related with connections to lifting, handling, carrying, and even sitting. Several new technologies are coming on-stream to help reduce the posture-related risks that workers face.

These technologies include lightweight exoskeletons, apps that use computer vision technologies to monitor workers’ movements in real-time, and sensors that collect data that can then be assessed to provide guidance for workers who spend a long time sitting in a chair.

Remote Fire Safety Monitoring

Fire safety regulations put a responsibility on landlords to ensure their properties are compliant while also minimising risks to their tenants. In the past, this usually meant physical inspections of alarms in the properties in their portfolios. The Covid-19 pandemic has driven a re-think in the industry, and there is now a move towards automated processes and systems.

The solution is to install smart systems that monitor smoke, heat, and carbon monoxide alarms in real-time, storing the data in the cloud for easy and secure access by all necessary stakeholders. These systems can also develop risk profiles, identify immediate risks, manage maintenance and replacement programmes, and conduct automated tests.

The data produced not only helps to protect tenants, but also creates a compliance audit trail.

Other Evolving Technologies

There is a range of other technologies and technical considerations that are not necessarily new, but that are evolving at a rapid pace and will impact health and safety outcomes. Examples include:

  • Drone technologies – e.g., where drones can be used to assess locations deemed too dangerous for people to enter.
  • Wearables – e.g., lone worker devices and other wearable technologies that help protect workers and keep them safe.
  • Communication technologies – e.g., the rollout of 5G will make it possible to digitise additional aspects of health and safety processes, particularly those that take place off-site.
  • Virtual reality – e.g., in health and safety training where immersive training experiences can mimic dangerous situations without putting workers at risk.

Disrupting Health and Safety

While the examples of technology advances and trends listed above are not, in themselves, disruptive of the whole health and safety industry, many do have the potential to disrupt specific processes, changing the way we work forever. One of the exciting things is that many of the technologies offer health and safety benefits in addition to other business benefits, increasing the attractiveness of the technology.

In the areas of health and safety that have been stubbornly difficult to resolve, technology might provide at least part of the solution to make our workplaces safer.

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