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Digital tools can make a real difference in workplace safety, but only after an organization’s safety management foundation is sound.
By Brad Wilkins | March 12, 2018 at 06:15 AM
Technology is opening new frontiers in risk management.
Keeping pace with these fast-paced advancements can be tough. But using new technology to prevent human and financial losses that otherwise would occur, is certainly worth the effort.
When reviewing the latest trends, keep in mind that these are tools and strategies, not silver bullets. The culture and customs that lead to a safe workplace, and a higher quality enterprise, are deeply-rooted in the four traditional cornerstones of sound safety management, which are:
- Management Commitment & Employee Involvement
- Worksite Analysis
- Hazard Prevention & Control
Once that foundation is firmly in place, take a look at these subcategories in the tech space that could become difference-makers in your organization.
There really is an APP for that
Apps are being released at a staggering pace, and this is greatly influencing workplace safety.
Just run a web search for “worker (or worksite) safety apps” or “environmental safety apps” and see what it returns.
When considering new technology, we must appreciate that there are safety apps developed in lockstep with true safety professionals, and then there are apps that are produced less stringently.
The best approach is to do your homework when evaluating an app, as worker safety and business assets are on the line, and avoid the allure of convenience or a quick decision. Also, know the strengths and weaknesses of your work environments, and what gaps an app can help fill.
Here are a few points to consider as you evaluate apps related to workplace safety.
- Have detailed, defined objectives for what you want to accomplish. Incorporate input from key staff.
- Use credible sources for information. Some places to start a search could be the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), OSHA and other respected institutions.
- Search reviews of apps, tap your social media outlets and colleagues.
- Invest time to compare and contrast similar apps and competing products.
- Know the differences between: data-gathering apps & real-time apps and the ins and outs of free vs. paid apps.
- Use a carefully-selected group to test-pilot the app, and a structured method to gather feedback before implementing changes.
Digital safety signage
You’ve likely seen them on the roads, in airports, and at malls. Digital signs are everywhere. They say anything from “Traffic Congestion at Exit 23” to “Flight Delayed” to “Plasma TVs – 50% off.”
This concept, when applied to the workplace, can deliver messages to staff using all types and sizes of digital displays, including desktops and portable devices. The idea is to reach employees where and when they work with frequently updated, useful content.
Unlike static information, digital signage allows information to be changed easily to match workplace conditions or to communicate news or other updates in real time.
For example, digital messaging can be used to notify employees of an upcoming training session, or to warn of physical conditions such as a shutdown further down the line.
The role of wearable technology
Wearable tech is being used in many companies to monitor workers physiology and movements. It has the potential to warn employees of hazards in the work environment and report back in real-time when an injury or hazard is approaching.
Monitoring movements such as bending, twisting and repetitive motions can provide key data to support modifications in work processes or equipment to help lower injury rates.
From heart rate monitors and gloves that sense grip strength, to industrial hygiene (air and noise) samplers, and virtual reality training, the opportunities for wearables are endless.
Devices such as wrist bands with GPS capability are being used successfully to track the real-time location and movements of individual workers or to light up a safety vest if an employee enters an unsafe or restricted area.
Other wearables can warn of close proximity to a fall hazard, or exceedingly high temperature on a nearby machine.
Hats similar to baseball caps monitor fatigue in truck drivers to prevent drowsy driving by lighting up and issuing a warning sound and vibration. Others can send an alert when jobsite temperatures can result in heat-related illness and yet others monitor actual physiology to alert the employee to take a break or rehydrate.
Keep your eye on this category. There is sure to be much more to come in this tech space.
Online or digital training
Computer-based training isn’t anything new and has been used in different industries across the country for more than a decade. Online and digital training is becoming more prevalent because it is an easy way for companies to remotely deliver safety training material developed by risk management professionals who are expert in their fields.
Online, digital and computer-based training provides the opportunity for a busy manager to reinforce safety through easy to use, effective training without missing any of the important components due to a heavy schedule.
Web-based training can be accomplished in a group format (classroom style) or further enhanced with a Learning Management System (LMS) in which each employee’s training is tracked to completion, with sophisticated reporting capabilities and customizable course-building for different groups or departments; for instance one library for the office staff and one for the maintenance department.
Both group and LMS learning formats can be supplemented with quizzes, certificates of completion and more. Periodic reminders can be set to trigger the next training module or to reinforce changing safety regulations or new programs.
Insurers can help their end clients by providing free subscriptions to digital training materials to help train their staff.
The big picture
The key to the success of a safety and health plan is to integrate safety as an inseparable part of your business operation, using proven risk management principles.
When it comes to using technology in the workplace, the possibilities are without limits.
Careful selection of tech-based strategies will allow you to leverage your safety approach to gain better control of workplace hazards, ramp up communication, and training, to better protect your workforce and business assets.