Technology Poised to Transform Safety
This year, safety professionals will have access to a wider array of safety technologies than ever before and the widespread adoption of tech will transform safety programs for the better.
- By Peter Grant
- Feb 01, 2020
This year, safety professionals will have access to a wider array of safety technologies than ever before. And with more providers offering freemium options, implementation support, and customer success services, the widespread adoption of tech will transform safety programs for the better.
Core safety management activities have long remained stuck in a world of paper and spreadsheets. According to a study by JBKnowledge, 71.4 percent of the construction contractors and subcontractors surveyed used outdated tools like paper or spreadsheets to gather data in the field. However, 50 to 60 percent of those companies used accounting, project management, and estimating software applications—and had been using them for years.1
This reluctance to adopt safety technology contradicts with evidence that an effective safety program has an ROI of 200 percent by helping reduce workers’ compensation costs and improving productivity.2 The shift toward safety technology has been a long time coming. If you want to use software, apps, or IoT to improve your safety record and processes, here’s what to look for:
Safety Management Apps and Software
OSHA encourages a proactive, preventative approach toward safety that can be difficult and time-consuming to manage without the use of technology.3 Enter safety management software (SMS), which allows for efficient tracking and standardization of safety activities.
SMS systems are safety program-specific project management tools. Your team can run and record paper or spreadsheet-based activities in less time on an app. In addition, you get the massive benefits of notifications, reminders, data trending, and digital documentation.
With digital data, safety personnel can set measurable goals, track process, and make evidence-based decisions long before an incident occurs.
Look for these SMS features:
- Safety management structure. Safety activities, compliance standards, and data trending should be built-in so you can sign up and get started with minimal setup.
- Data trends and dashboards. Trend both lagging and leading indicators to provide an accurate understanding of your safety status in a fraction of the time spent when using a spreadsheet-based system.
- Automated reports. Daily, weekly, and monthly updates can be partially or fully automated to save your managers time and improve communication.
- Task management. Create tasks and assign them to various members of your team. Get alerts when tasks are completed or outstanding.
- Photo/Video Integration. Safety will remain rooted in the physical world, so your software solution should be fully integrated with the photo and video data captured by your team.
- Smart alerts and notifications. Your SMS should come equipped with customizable notifications (new report, new inspection, etc.) and alerts (hazards, incidents, and outstanding tasks).
- Compliance or safety score. Gauge how well you are meeting safety and compliance goals at a glance using an in-app rating system. (This feature should be shared within your team only.)
Up-and-coming feature: Use computer analysis of photo and video data (often using machine learning and artificial intelligence) to identify and alert safety managers to unsafe situations and behaviors.
IoT for Safety
The application of the Internet of Things (IoT) to safety workflows has exploded over the past three years. IoT uses Bluetooth sensors to monitor the status of tools, equipment, and/or environmental controls. Hardware and apps “talk to each other” in order to alert workers and supervisors to potential hazards in real time.
IoT applications use sensors to keep a constant “eye” on worker health status or the position of a piece of equipment as it’s being used, to name just a few examples. With IoT deployed, safety personnel can be more effective and less intrusive at the same time.
IoT features vary depending on your needs, but a few stand-out features include:
- Deployment assistance. The efficacy of IoT depends upon sensor accuracy, which may be affected by improper use or placement. Deployment assistance helps you rest assured that your sensors are operational and accurate.
- Secure remote updates. Remote updates allow your provider to improve effectiveness over time; however, this key feature of IoT is also a security risk. Your provider should promise regular, encrypted software updates. Worker health data should always be anonymized and encrypted.
- Predictive analysis. In addition to immediately alerting you to unsafe conditions, your tools should analyze tracked data over time to identify areas of improvement.
- Contextual awareness. IoT tools are most effective when they analyze data within context. Geolocation, worksite maps, and individualized worker health data norms are a few examples.
Hot feature: This uses a combination of human feedback and artificial intelligence to learn and reduce false alarms.
Required safety training has a bad reputation. For the construction industry, specifically, employee training is often criticized as a waste of time that doesn’t provide enough real-world experience or examples.
Technology providers seem to suspect that the main hang-up with training isn’t the program or even the trainers—the problem lies in traditional training tools. VHS Tapes, DVDs, and Powerpoint presentations lack context. In addition, the contents of traditional training sessions are easy to forget unless paired with regular repetition and testing. Indeed, the first advancement in safety training came in the form of interactive safety video series that required passing a short quiz in order to move forward.
Now, advanced training tools take workers to the field using Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) to instruct workers. With AR, users hold up a mobile or tablet screen to view a live camera with overlays. With VR, users wear hardware like gloves and goggles to view and experience a fabricated world.
AR applications teach employees as they navigate the jobsite and act out various processes and procedures. VR applications allow “on-the-job training” to happen anywhere. AR/VR may also be used to simulate dangerous situations to improve employees’ abilities to recognize and respond to warning signs.
Seek out these features of safety training technology:
- Integrates with your safety management software. Training is a core element of your safety program and a leading indicator for safety health. Integrate your SMS with your training tool to track and trend safety training.
- Aligns with standards for your industry and location. Your chosen training tool should include content that aligns with the federal, state, or nonprofit-based standards that apply to your situation.
- On-demand training. Lower the logistical and administrative expenses associated with training by getting a safety training technology that works on demand.
- Dangerous situation simulation. Experiencing “staged” scenarios helps employees base their onsite decisions on actual experience versus what they’ve been told.
Up-and-coming feature: the gamification of VR experiences to increase user engagement by incorporating score-keeping, upgrades, and rewards
For many years, safety management was neglected in favor of other departmental processes when it came to software implementation. Now, an increasing number of organizations are rolling out modern technology to manage safety, support safety personnel, and reduce costs associated with healthcare and lost work time.
This year, safety professionals will use technology to improve, augment, and even rebuild their current safety programs. Whether the next step is moving from paper-based forms to mobile app forms, implementing sensor-based alerts, or running new employee orientations on AR, broad safety improvements are more accessible than ever.
Peter Grant is co-founder and CEO of Safesite, a free safety management dashboard and app. His experience working as a civil engineer in project management for large commercial contractors motivated him to use mobile technology to reduce preventable incidents and deaths. That goal has driven Peter’s strategic decisions for Safesite, which has grown from a mobile app to a robust safety management system.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.