Connected Safety and COVID-19: What Blackline Safety’s Cody Slater Has to Say
Connected safety and data collection are crucial to worker safety—but maybe now more than ever during the pandemic and its many remote workers. Read what Blackline Safety’s CEO Cody Slater thinks about the role of connected safety today and tomorrow.
- By Cody Slater
- May 25, 2020
Keeping workers safe is more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase in remote workers. Cody Slater, CEO of Blackline Safety, offers his insights on the value of connected safety, data collection and connected technologies (like the Internet of Things). The industry of connected safety is emerging—but the time could be better than ever to capitalize on it.
Here are some commonly asked questions and his responses:
While much of the world has been put on hold, essential industries are really the backbone of operating society at this time. While they are important, they are also at heightened safety risks. What are some of the challenges you see facing essential businesses in critical industries like utilities, manufacturing, petrochemical and transportation?
Each industry today is facing a unique set of safety challenges, many of which they’ve never experienced before. While specific challenges vary, one common obstacle stands before all businesses – maintaining business continuity while also protecting the safety and well-being of the employees who keep those businesses running.
The global pandemic has forced businesses to adjust their operations to help ‘flatten the curve’ of COVID-19 and ease the burden on healthcare systems and others on the frontline of this crisis. Adjustments to operations have meant different things for different industries. These impacts will continue into the future as industry and governments work towards a ‘return to work.’ For all businesses, social distancing has been a key tool that provides practical guidelines for businesses to minimize the spread of COVID-19 to others in the workplace. While a new requirement, industry has stepped up to embrace the need to keep physical distance between workers and add methods for separation in areas where there’s closer contact.
The impact of COVID-19 has also meant that workers are more isolated than ever – sometimes in harsh environments. While lone worker protection has been an emerging discussion, this global pandemic has pushed it to the forefront of worker safety concerns.
What is “connected safety”? Why is it important for general worker safety?
Connected safety is the concept of leveraging interconnected technology and digital transformation to protect workers while on the worksite. Connected safety uses wearable cellular or satellite connected devices, cloud-hosted software, data and analytics and location technology to provide full situational awareness and connect workers to each other, their supervisors and emergency response personnel. Connected safety gives companies the ability to protect their workers to a greater extent than ever before given the near instant visibility it provides to safety incidents in the factory or in the field.
Digital transformation is also a key topic these days. A fundamental benefit to adopting connected safety is that businesses no longer have to “hope they know” what’s happening on their worksites. Objective data and visualization eliminate guesswork, showing how employees are using gas detection, where gas leaks are recurring, how personnel move through worksites, where cool-down units should be located and so much more. Using data, businesses can not only make decisions grounded in fact, but they can also predict and stop safety incidents before they occur.
Connected safety also supports businesses in the worst case — when there is an emergency situation. A live 24/7 monitoring team ensures that a safety incident never goes unnoticed. Personnel can utilize two-way messaging and even voice calling to ensure workers are safe and dispatch emergency response in seconds to the correct location.
Ultimately, connected safety helps to innovate a business’ safety culture. High-performing companies that adopt a connected safety approach experience morale and culture improvements and increased productivity, alongside bolstered worker safety.
How can companies use connected safety solutions for contact tracing and addressing a COVID-19 outbreak?
We hear more and more these days about the importance of contact tracing to help understand and slow the spread of infectious diseases, minimizing the impact upon the health system and slowing the spread of diseases. Historically, contact tracing has been a very arduous and manual task. Public health officials conducted interviews with infected individuals to determine where they had been, when they were infected, for how long and who they came into contact with. This manual approach is not efficient for businesses and can leave the door open to spreading contagions further and impact employee health and overall business continuity.
Smartphone app companies are utilizing location and Bluetooth data to develop contract tracing technology in order to streamline this process related to COVID-19. While this is a huge step forward, it leaves a contact tracing gap among most industrial businesses that cannot allow employees to take their smartphones onto the worksite. Connected safety steps in where smartphone solutions stop at the gate or office of a worksite.
Location-enabled wearable safety technology produces data that supports a successful contact tracing program, helping businesses manage risk as part of their COVID-19 return-to-work program. If businesses have already deployed connected safety wearable technology across their workforces, they may not require new devices or infrastructure, achieving an integrated digital contact tracing system and visualizations through the data provided by their current connected solutions.
Connected safety provides businesses with improved visibility into the frequency of close contact between individuals and where on the worksite these contacts are occurring. This information is key to identifying potential super-spreaders, workers who may not be taking distancing measures seriously and high-contact areas in which close contact is most frequently occurring.
Safety professionals can leverage this data to 1) geographically retrace a worker’s steps in the event they show symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or test positive and 2) to identify exactly which workers they were in close contact with during the past weeks. Armed with this information companies can quickly identify other workers who need to take isolation steps and those who need to be tested. All this will help enable companies to rapidly curtail any spread of the disease through their operations and provide their employees with the best safety response possible.
How can connected safety support the re-opening of the global economy? What can it do to help predict/prevent a potential second wave of COVID-19 cases?
It is incumbent upon businesses to prioritize the safety of personnel returning to work, plus essential workers who continued to provide the goods and services society needs to function. Industrial contact tracing, through connected safety, allows them to do this as well as implement precautionary measures against a second outbreak.
In addition to identifying super-spreaders and high-contact areas on the worksite, these solutions help businesses monitor the success of their social distancing procedures. If reporting shows that employees are still coming into frequent contact with each other, connected safety provides businesses the information and agility to actively adjust their procedures and see the results virtually and instantly, enabling companies to successfully adapt their procedures and workflow to this new normal.
In the case that a business identifies a worker with COVID-19, connected safety also provides the information necessary for a quick and thorough investigation to help mitigate the spread among other workers. It helps improve the accuracy of the timeline of potential exposure to support the proactive identification of other individuals who may have had close contact with that individual, initiating their own testing or self-isolation.
Making these solutions available to businesses is at the core of protecting society going forward. As more and more workers begin to re-enter the workforce onsite, a second outbreak could jeopardize the health and safety of individuals far outside just one company’s employees. If proactive practices maintained at the office, facility or in the field are loosened too early, or not followed by teams, they have ripple effects throughout communities across the world. Industries, including the safety industry, must step up to ensure there are no gaps in worker protections at this critical time.
How do you see the connected safety market growing post-pandemic? What other potential is closely within reach for connected safety?
At the beginning of 2020, our team forecasted that digital transformation will play a leading role in driving organizations towards world-class safety cultures. This trend will only accelerate post-pandemic. The visibility that connected safety offers will become key as entire industries navigate worker safety in a new reality. The global pandemic has also highlighted the need for businesses to be agile and implement effective worker safety procedures quickly, often to rapidly changing information—something connected safety is in a unique position to assist.
Connected safety provides the necessary technology to keep workers safe in any environment, during any situation. Expanding upon its capabilities, data science has emerged as a key enabler that will further empower businesses, providing data-rich insights that empower decision-making like never before. Data science leverages a broad range of data sources and brings them together through reporting and visualizations, to make sense of what’s happening in the workforce and on the worksite.
For example, activities such as large-scale construction projects and plant shutdowns are key areas that can benefit from workforce orchestration and movement pattern analysis and optimization. Connected safety provides the necessary location-enabled data that makes it possible to understand where resources are located and how to take advantage of them to ensure that projects are delivered on-time and on-budget.
COVID-19 will have lasting impacts across all industries and all businesses will face new challenges to meeting the needs of consumers and society while also keeping workers safe. Connected safety emerged as an essential businesses tool over the last few years prior to the current pandemic and will continue to play a key role in advancing and evolving companies’ safety and operations programs as the world moves forward on its path to recovery beyond COVID-19.