Achieving Safety and Operational Excellence through a Digital Worksite
It’s no surprise there is an increase in leading organizations transitioning into digital worksites.
- By Igor Avlijas
- Aug 02, 2021
Maintaining and enhancing workplace safety is a growing challenge for OH&S professionals as organizations and contractors are continuously being tasked with delivering initiatives—with increasing speed and complexity—that improve operational efficiency and savings. Companies leading the way have one thing in common: complete buy-in from the top-down that a safe worksite leads to a more productive worksite and operational excellence.
These innovative leaders are turning to accessible safety technology to accomplish their objectives, seamlessly gaining higher visibility of front-line activities—and threats—to make real-time fact-based business decisions and drive desired behavior.
That’s why it’s no surprise that an increasing number of leading organizations are transitioning to a digital worksite, which is the process of leveraging technology—such as safety wearables or area monitors—to supplement a physical worksite. This process focuses on using data from technology to gain better knowledge of worksite processes and behaviors, with the goal of increasing both safety and productivity.
With a multitude of factors impacting an industrial worksite daily—such as managing gas exposures, severe weather, chemical spills, the risk of trips and falls and more—these vast, fast-paced and complex environments make it impossible to have eyes on every worker, protecting and guiding them.
Whether it’s a three-week turnaround, a multi-year maintenance contract or a construction project, small safety teams can benefit from the greater line-of-sight delivered by a digital worksite. It can also support a company’s strategic corporate direction and business objectives, including its environmental stewardship and sustainability goals.
With the right partner and systems, the transition is simple and seamless. Below is a short list of practical steps that safety and operations teams can deploy to make the switch to a digital worksite.
The Reasons to Digitize: What’s Your Why?
Before making the transition, safety teams and their operation’s counterparts must collectively align on what they are aiming to improve or achieve.
Are you lacking visibility into sources of low-level or residual gas exposure threats? Is fixed gas detection equipment expensive to deploy in a way that meets your expectations? Would greater visibility of gas exposures ensure safety reporting and escalation processes are being followed? Are we losing experience due to the generational transition?
In addition to these questions, others may seek complete peace of mind that workers are operating with ideal safety behavior, ensuring individuals and the organization aren’t vulnerable to significant or fatal injuries. Contractors specifically aim for zero-harm targets through technology to achieve greater safety stats, attract the best talent and win more work.
For example, many baby boomers are retiring and being replaced with inexperienced youngsters familiar with digital tools. This demographic is keen on using these resources to level up and quickly add value. Today’s leaders recognize this trend, going digital to connect their workforce to a hub of in-house experts and provide the youngsters with just-in-time, on-the-job, high-value training.
The Obstacles to Digitization: What is Keeping You from Achieving Your Why?
Visibility is almost always the barrier to identifying risk and implementing safety improvements. On performance-driven sites where a small number of safety professionals are overseeing hundreds of employees, contractors and vendors, having eyes on every worker without a digital solution is simply not feasible. Some may have an idea of threats across a worksite, but the lack of visibility leaves gaps where unsafe behavior and events go unreported.
For example, many safety teams today rely on worker testimony, paper surveys and legacy systems to collect worksite information. These processes may cause personnel to unintentionally overlook inadequate safety behavior and other site threats, especially if individuals are working alone and don’t have a way to call for help immediately.
Alternatively, a lone worker may experience a safety incident and choose not to report it to avoid the paperwork or out of fear of being punished. Without knowledge of the event, another worker may be put at similar or greater risk in the future.
Safety teams are also often provided with limited financial resources to make improvements and scale them across an organization. Technologies of the past that dominate most industrial facilities came with a prohibitive cost of ownership to be deployed at scale.
Modern, connected and intrinsically safe wearable technology can help overcome this obstacle with a budget-friendly, scalable, quick-to-deploy and seamless solution that increases front-line visibility out-of-the-box for OH&S teams located on and off site.
You Get What You Measure: What are Your KPIs?
Most safety teams are focused on what we call the four W’s: What happened to Who, When and Where. These priorities are the first step to establishing KPIs when incorporating a digital worksite.
Using the four Ws as a starting point, example KPIs may include the time the average worker spends alone each day in hazardous areas, or how long they walk through unnecessary, dangerous site locations while in transit to the lunch area. Connected wearables equipped with gas sensors can help map out exposures and fugitive emissions across a site, seamlessly, without requiring additional work.
Making improvements of this nature can be mutually beneficial to both safety and operations. For example, identifying a safer walking route may also be the faster path. No matter your KPIs, make sure to collaborate with operations during the selection and integration of a digital worksite, as the outcomes benefit both parties.
How Do I Choose the Right Technology Partner?
A few qualities exist that companies and contractors should focus on when engaging with a digital worksite partner:
- operational and financial flexibility
- speed of deployment
Most importantly, a digital worksite partner must have extensive experience in your respective trade and vertical. It’s ideal if the team has worked in the industry before, sitting on your side of the desk, so they understand the obstacles you face.
This experience will ensure you have proper counsel when incorporating data-driven practices, anticipating challenges and recommending the appropriate solutions. For example, there are significant differences in engaging a unionized and non-unionized workforce—the right partner will be able to help you navigate this process and cater to the appropriate players.
Secondly, a partner must have the flexibility to work within your budget. The modern digital worksite technologies are adaptable and scalable in nature. Whether you can afford full-time support where professionals help you stand up systems and provide training daily, or you prefer occasional assistance and check-ins, the right digital worksite solution is scalable both operationally and financially—supporting worksites of any size.
Some of the greatest benefits to digital worksite deployment is its speed of deployment, robust communications, accessibility and ease of use. When engaging a technology partner, look for capabilities and platforms that enable you to review real-time and historical worksite data in a simple, intuitive and visual way. This provides the visibility needed to always have an eye on your workforce and to identify leading indicators and trends of threat to your people. It also centralizes data that allows for real-time incident response and fleet management.
These systems should seamlessly work together, be quickly deployable and not require additional infrastructure, allowing for fast scale up and down times during short-term projects such as plant turnarounds.
The digital worksite is the present and future of workplace safety. When executed correctly, it helps further align HSE and operations, enhancing worker safety and confidence while maintaining and often improving productivity. By identifying your goals, challenges, KPIs and the right partner, organizations can begin identifying unknown risks, prioritizing initiatives and implementing improvements in a matter of weeks.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.