Technology: changing the face of health and safety in the workplace

Around 2.3 million people worldwide have work-related accidents every year. Technology is critical to improving workplace safety, even in the most hazardous environments.

Some industries, such as construction, mining, manufacturing, transportation and oil and gas can be particularly dangerous. Regulations and best practices, like those suggested by the United Nations Global Compact regarding health and safety in supply chains, are a start. This includes putting employment injury into procurement processes and improving compliance monitoring. But there is still much to be done, and this is where technology comes to the fore.

Technologies, such as IoT and artificial intelligence (AI), are proving to be game changers in helping companies implement efficient safety plans across the company, even in the most remote and harsh locations.

Key challenges facing health and safety professionals

Employers have a duty of care for their employees' physical health and safety as well as any visitors to their premises, such as customers and suppliers.

However, accidents in the workplace are still a major concern for organizations despite increasing global regulations. Technology can help to reduce workplace injuries and deaths in conjunction with traditional workplace initiatives, such as proactive risk assessment and safety training.

Technology can also help health and safety professionals with pressing challenges, such as meeting compliance requirements, managing training needs, controlling site access and keeping track of teams.

Poor health and safety can be disastrous for business. Incidents can lead to reputational damage, legal repercussions, decreased productivity and a severely dented bottom line.

It doesn't stop there. Increasingly customers are looking to purchase products and services that are ethically produced, which means having safe and fair work practices.

Data is central to improving workplace safety

Today, almost all organizations collect health and safety data, including types and frequencies of accidents and injuries. The data is often stored in silos in different systems used by HR managers and health and safety officers. However, this data is invaluable when integrated to provide health and safety insights and analytics to introduce evidence-based decision making, for example, the best locations to introduce geofencing.

Orange Business and DeBeers Marine South Africa have installed and tested a customized IoT solution incorporating geofencing to maintain worker safety around heavy machinery involved in marine diamond mining operations.

Technology also allows real-time data to be analyzed with AI, such as deploying telematics to monitor driver behavior in dangerous terrain or using wearables to track workers' exposure to heat or noise.

How to choose the best health and safety technologies

Essentially the level of monitoring precision dictates the type of technologies enterprises need to consider improving their health and safety posture.

Precision depends on the type of network. A Bluetooth mesh network can provide accuracy down to around five meters. With a star topology, each sensor is connected to a gateway, which can bring precision down to two to three meters.

Hyper-precision based on ultra-wideband, a fast and secure radio protocol, can determine accuracy unmatched by any other wireless technology. Costly to deploy due to the number of connected gateways required, it is used in highly specialized manufacturing, such as jet engines.

Location-based safe places are designed to protect workers from dangerous places. Geofencing, a GPS-enabled technology that can be used with other data signals, including cellular, Wi-Fi, and RFID, can create a virtual boundary or fence around a dangerous location, such as on a construction site or a hazardous chemical store. Automatic alerts or push notifications via text, phone or email are sent if a worker enters a dangerous zone. It can be coupled with telematics and track the whereabouts of assets and prevent them from leaving a defined area.

The next step is computer vision, which uses AI to intelligently monitor visual data in the workplace. It can analyze near misses to improve safety processes and prevent accidents by raising real-time alarms. This can include monitoring forklift trucks carrying heavy goods in a warehouse, for example.

Augmented reality (AR) glasses can help to improve health and safety compliance by enabling health and safety officers to ensure all work is executed safely in remote areas. They can also provide accurate real-time insight into how assets perform and assist with maintenance without experts needing to travel.

Often paperwork reports on incidents can be incomplete. Health and safety software enables enterprises to efficiently manage compliance, risk assessments, incident reporting and maintenance checks and be fully prepared should a regulatory audit arise.

From wearables to geofencing, technology can make it easier for workers to adhere to health and safety rules, including working in enclosed spaces and at height. There are many technologies on the market; enterprises need to choose the solution that works best alongside existing work practices.

Aligning technology with health and safety risks

Technology is becoming essential to streamlining processes, making smart data-driven decisions and ensuring continual compliance to health and safety legislation and client contractual obligations. However, many enterprises do not have the experience to scale up health and safety solutions. This is where consultancy is imperative.

Consultancy will enable an enterprise to understand its current risk landscape, what needs to be put in place to improve its health and safety posture and how it can address emerging risks going forward.

Click here to learn more about how you can ensure the health and safety of your employees in remote locations.

Pier Giuseppe Dal Farra
Pier Giuseppe Dal Farra

Before joining Orange Business, Pier Giuseppe Dal Farra served as Chief Operating Officer of ASTES4 SA, a Swiss-based tech company specializing in mechanical design and automation software. He was also cofounder of IPenable Inc., a company which pioneered the deployment of IoT in the Energy Vertical Sector. Today he is an IoT Industry Business Expert at Orange, focusing on all things IoT.