Trends Driving Safety Programs’ Digital Transformation: Connectivity, Wearables and Data Science
In this digital world, companies are beginning to integrate wearable technologies and data science into their EHS programs to improve worker safety.
- By Sean Stinson
- Dec 02, 2019
Digital transformation has reshaped our daily lives and the way we do business. More than ever before, individuals and organizations are leveraging technology to improve performance, empower decision-making and drive their businesses forward. From cloud-connected devices to the Internet of Things, the data collected from cutting-edge technologies allow users to make fact-based decisions that steer continuous improvement efforts and efficiencies. In 2020, we expect this digital revolution to play a leading role in driving organizations towards world-class safety cultures.
From social media and streamed entertainment services to smart homes and electric cars, we often take for granted the connectedness of our lives. In the workplace, health and safety professionals are beginning to integrate the same connectivity principles to integrate wearable technologies and data science into their EHS programs at an ever-increasing pace.
In our personal lives, instant connectivity and visibility is an expectation. When we receive an email, we can read that message using whatever device we have readily on-hand, whether that is a computer, a phone or even a watch. If that email contains the delivery status of an Amazon order, we will know the location of the package and can even track it down to the number of stops away it is from our doorstep.
This level of instant connectivity and access to on-demand information is becoming the expectation of more and more businesses, particularly when it concerns their employees’ well-being. The safety industry has traditionally been slower to adopt new technologies. Yet, as instant connectivity and visibility become standard, more companies’ safety teams are driving all-inclusive, holistic approaches to developing connected safety programs.
With digital transformation taking hold across industries, previously disparate devices and sensors are becoming increasingly interconnected by streaming and syncing data in the cloud. Cloud-connectivity allows data to be compiled in a centralized location and streamlines operations through automated reporting and visualization tools. Safety managers can now have immediate access to pertinent insights about their teams, such as their safety status or current gas reading levels, when and where they need them. Most importantly, cloud connectivity provides real-time, situational awareness that safety managers need in order to make quick and informed decisions. It is this level of visibility that increases the odds of a recovery versus a rescue.
Connected wearable technologies are common in life outside of the work environment. Today, our watches tell us much more than the time of day—with a quick peek, we can check our heart rate, the temperature outside and our next appointment.
In the workplace, the use of connected wearable technology is less common. However, as increasingly robust safety programs become standard, the adoption of wearables is expected to grow at a more rapid pace. Companies are more aggressively exploring and adopting devices equipped with various biometric and ambient sensors to help their teams work safer and more efficiently. When it comes to their own wellbeing, employees tend to be more accepting of change, and their perspective is more positive regarding these solutions. Research has found that acceptance is even more likely when organizations people work for have strong safety cultures. This alignment between companies, their employees and the technology they use is crucial for businesses to become more competitive in the changing economy.
Connected wearables can monitor and detect a wide range of safety incidents, and they can even be customized to for instant worker communication help in the event of an emergency. Devices can compute an employee’s location and monitor their activity level. Sensors can detect exposure to environmental hazards including toxic gases, heat and humidity. Biometric signals, ambient radiation and sound intensity are also easily sampled through a range of sensors. By applying connected technology to safety, businesses can know a person’s overall health and the impact of their working conditions.
In addition to safety, companies are increasingly looking to wearables to optimize workplace productivity. For example, rather than sending several individuals to a distant site, wearable cameras will provide employees with access to a team of experts who can remotely support the individual. Connected wearables and tracking technology will give businesses a real-time understanding of where their workforce and assets are deployed, helping them make informed decisions about schedules and workflow. Large maintenance and construction projects in particular will benefit from the efficiencies delivered through location-enabled workforce orchestration.
Data science is the process of collecting data from multiple sources and combining it in different ways to test ideas, extract insights and make decisions. When applied correctly, it can boost safety, quality and efficiency. Managers can better visualize a situation, prescribe solutions and predict future events with accuracy.
Once collected, data can be used to objectively identify a problem and develop a well-informed solution. For example, connected wearables make it easier than ever before to assess whether workers are properly bump testing and calibrating gas detection devices. This is mandatory for regulatory compliance, ensuring that workers are properly maintaining their potentially life-saving equipment. And this is just the start using big data to manage world-class gas detection programs.
Data science can also help companies optimize business operations. Today, technology can assess the ideal ratio of supervisors to trades personnel on the jobsite. Traditional organizational charts describe the supervision structure of a business on paper but do not account for the ongoing deployment and movement of teams throughout the jobsite on an ongoing basis. By design, the organizational structure aims to control safety and quality through a reporting and support structure.
However, there is likely to be a correlation between injury rates and the geographic ratio of supervisors to workers over time. If the ratio is too low, the likelihood of injury may be higher. This type of research can help companies make fact-based decisions to ensure a safe and productive workplace.
With large volumes of collected data, it is critical for safety managers to design a plan for how to use and store this information. Companies’ legal and IT departments should play an integral role in creating this strategy. Legal departments can help safety managers navigate how to use the information in light of trust or privacy issues. A company’s IT department can help safety managers store and recall data securely. Whether for a safety program or another initiative, these departments should be viewed as partners and collaborators in a company’s digital transformation.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.