Every year companies invest extensively in compliance, management solutions, committees and safety culture to mitigate workplace injuries. However, more is needed. According to the latest data, the number of workplaces fatalities grew by almost 8% in Canada in 2019. Workplace related injury rates were also far higher across most jurisdictions, with Ontario and New Brunswick hitting rates of 15%. Even though strict government standards and employer safety initiatives are in place across North American, millions of workers are seriously or critically injured in wholly preventable accidents costing employers upwards of $170 billion a year.
Traditional approaches to safety often involved putting a physical barrier between the worker and the hazard, but that also slowed down productivity. Many companies have also seen their safety mitigation performance plateau, according to a recent Deloitte study. However, there is a new approach to safety, one that lies not solely in training and other initiatives but in the adoption of new safety technologies. Here’s how technology is helping prevent workplace injuries and accidents.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) has come a long way from simple safety vests and helmets. Technology-enhanced PPE includes Internet of Things (IoT) enabled wearables such as wristbands, vests and shirts that warn a worker of potential overexertion. Programmed to monitor the wearer’s vitals and temperature and humidity levels in the work environment, technology-enhanced PPE will also warn supervisors when a worker’s readings reach an unsafe range. Technology-enabled gloves can measure grip strength, and baseball caps can alert an employee to rehydrate. Others can detect worker falls in real-time and signal emergency services.
Industrial exoskeletons are another technological advancement that provides a dual service. They attach to reinforce the worker’s existing body, mainly the lower back and upper extremities, in order to assist the worker with demanding physical or repetitive tasks. However, exoskeletons can also provide critical data on workers and work situations that can be used to identify the causes of injuries and improve conditions for workers.
When an incident of workplace violence occurs, you may have only moments to communicate the danger to your workforce. New technologies can quickly communicate threats and provide instructions for getting to safety.
New tracking technologies integrated into vests or hard harts can monitor lone workers or those working deep underground and provide real-time tracking and communication. This can be critical in the event of an emergency. The availability of digital floor plans and mapping software can also be essential to help first responders locate and rescue workers or locate the source of a fire or explosion.
Visualization technologies, such as video cameras within safety goggles, allow support staff to see what the worker sees and quickly assess a situation or necessary repair. They can also warn a worker of an anomaly or hidden danger through radio frequency identification (RFID). RFID readers are attached to equipment such as forklifts or conveyors, and the sensors in the RFID tags supplied to your workers will set off alarms if they get too close.
Vital sign monitors can gauge an employee’s alertness, fatigue level, and course, heart rate and other vitals. Innovations in 3D motion tracking technology can help workers who handle vibrating equipment, such as pneumatic drills, to monitor their exposure levels and send out an alert if vibration levels are exceeded.
Workplace Safety Analytics
Incident reports have their uses, but of far more benefit is the ability to produce predictive modelling that can tell you when and where your people are most at risk. The growth in affordability of data technologies alongside increased access to data is making predictive modelling accessible to most companies.
These technologies take the incident report and put it together with other company data, including financials, maintenance schedules and even historical attendance and sick leave data. These can even include relevant external data. This allows an analysis to include worker-centric data and all other available data to identify issues and isolate all possible factors contributing to workplace injury. Most importantly, these analyses also enable companies to produce predictions about future safety issues and take preventative steps to avoid them.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) bring the real world to your safety training. VR creates the real work environment of your workplace, and AR allows workers to perform their tasks and daily activities within that environment. Workers are exposed to everyday hazards and develop the skills they need to overcome them without incurring the actual risk involved with these hazards.
Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, are simple to use devices designed to help workers with challenging, dangerous, or repetitive tasks. Better yet, cobots employ what is known as a human-machine interface similar to that used on a smartphone. This means that, unlike traditional robots, which require complex coding knowledge to operate, cobots are easy to operate. This dramatically reduces the time, effort and cost of learning to direct them while keeping your workforce safe.
Safer Workplaces of the Future
In conjunction with traditional workplace safety initiatives, technology can bring workplace safety to an entirely new level, one that actively reduces workplace injuries and deaths.