The Connected Safety Inflection Point: Where the Industry Stands Now 

The Connected Safety Inflection Point: Where the Industry Stands Now 

Safety products are born out of recent incidents and a need for compliance.

Many people view the world of “connected safety,” or the concept of connecting safety devices to cloud-based software for real-time data, as a system of tools that enable the noble goal of drastically reducing injuries and death on the job. While that is a significant part of the potential, the standard view has a blind spot.

Safety products are born out of recent incidents and a need for compliance. However, when those safety tools are working as intended and preventing incidents, users tend to forget their importance and the perceived value of the products decreases dramatically. This phenomenon is known as recency bias and it is part of our human nature. Thus begins the cycle of devaluing tools and products until an accident happens.

The safety industry is roughly four years into the emergence of Industry 4.0, where data and automation are the established cornerstones. We would all be naïve to think that these efforts will not suffer the same fates as previous generations of improvements. However, unlike the past generations, this new generation of products has an untapped reservoir of potential. Simply defining this potential as the insight you gain into acute life-threatening situations is a shallow interpretation. Within the depth of this reservoir are workflow optimizations, productivity increases and predictive analytics. If we fall to assess the depth then the cycle will repeat.

These unrealized resources enable the new wave of connected safety products to influence everyday business operations. To extract value, we need to be honest about the change in mindset, current functionality and potential additional resources.

Let's start with the mindset change. To frame our discussion, consider an example outside of the safety world. In 2007, Apple launched the first iPhone. Before the iPhone, many people carried simple mobile phones for basic communication. Until a computer manufacturer from California began offering devices with the potential for something greater, everyone was content with his/her simple devices. At first, many balked at the cost until they realized the potential. That potential is today's bare minimum, resulting in higher market expectations. We can now reflect on the tremendous change we have all experienced in a little more than a decade.

The safety industry is at a similar inflection point, on the cusp of realizing the enormous potential of connected safety offerings. These offerings are not just for an emergency, to check a box on a job safety assessment or "because of that one incident that one time." Would it help to drop “safety” from the name? Then we could see these offerings for what they are—vital data inputs regarding some of the most critical elements to a business. If gathered and processed correctly, this data will determine tomorrow’s leaders and businesses.

A current barrier for many is that these modern offerings spit out volumes of data. Without the ability to process, organize, contextualize and prescribe, it all seems far too daunting. In times of transformation, we need to look toward platforms that help users make sense of the new information. Platforms are leaders not only because of their design, but also because of their user experience. Generally, dynamic plume modeling software platforms offer a prime example. In a market chock-full of information, they lead with the ability to use data inputs to contextualize, model and predict potential incidents. Many companies today aspire to bring this level of clarity and visualization to multiple sources of data.

At its core, dynamic plume modeling software gathers multiple data sources from various gas detection and weather sensors. Once collected, the software can then calculate an endless number of scenarios using real-time data and a vast chemical library. What results is a predictive model that details specific characteristics on several factors, including but not limited to plume and combustion modeling. Naturally, many see the value of the tool for emergency response. However, associating critical tools only with safety is limiting their application and, thus, benefit. It is like thinking the 2007 iPhone is only valuable for making phone calls and sending text messages.

At this inflection point, we begin to tap into the vast potential for everyday impact. What could your organization do with historical weather analysis? As we move toward a more environmental, social and governance (ESG) conscious marketplace, understanding how your company impacts and is impacted by the environment is vital. Daily occurrences surrounding odor investigation and fugitive emissions are visualized, driving corrective measures previously not established. Your community relations can have a solid, data-driven foundation. Project planning becomes easier when you can model how chemicals on-site would behave during a release or combustion. Finally, crews will know how to use critical resources best and establish appropriate zoning. Many planning sessions and daily toolbox talks strive to have that level of insight.

What plagues the connected safety movement isn't a lack of imagination, rather a lack of routine. Organizations have yet to understand how to use the benefits from these solutions every day. Many of these solutions still have a mental watermark of "use in case of emergency." The amount of dust gathering on solutions is growing each year. Let's work together to sweep off the dust and break through these barriers to realize the potential. After all, the results will improve worker safety and business efficiency, both goals that any company can rally around.

This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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