When companies commit to digital transformation, it’s not often that the term “workplace safety” is heard in the discussions surrounding the strategy and implementation of new technologies. Even within industries where safety metrics directly impact both the financial bottom line and the organization’s overall reputation, it’s still a lower priority in terms of implementation.
In many cases, this is not for lack of trying. Several industries, including heavy manufacturing, have spent considerable time and effort incorporating sensors, cameras and other monitoring devices to help create a safer environment. Others have become even more advanced, beginning to connect those tools (and their data) within sophisticated IoT frameworks. However, the underlying process behind reporting and documenting safety incidents and risks is still based on a top-down, historical approach in which paper forms are still prevalent.
Companies are still mapping these traditional processes to new technology, which only moves the needle slightly when it comes to digital transformation. For that reason, it’s been challenging for organizations to achieve stronger ROI from their safety programs even after significant investment. Although it may seem contradictory, the answer to this riddle lies not in technology, but in how humans — meaning the actual workforce — interact with that technology.
A top-down approach to safety lacks one vital aspect to a strong safety culture, and that is worker engagement. Even with an IoT platform in place many companies forget the most essential component in this connectivity of “things” — the workers themselves. This includes not only people on the shop floor or at the jobsite, but throughout the organization. Real digital transformation where workplace safety is concerned relies on incorporating the human factor into a safety ecosystem. The best news is that safety is also one of the places in a company’s technological evolution where the return on investment can not only be large, but also fairly immediate.
First, it’s important to understand how people fi t into this new view of connected safety. It does start with devices like passive sensors and smart PPE, but it doesn’t stop there. Technology has advanced recently to allow workers to actually direct the flow of information from the floor, supplementing passive data. New handheld devices are available to give workers the ability to communicate and report not only incidents, but possible safety risks — as they’re happening. From our experience, when workers are given the tools to actually become part of the safety process in real time, engagement increases almost immediately. It’s not hard to understand why this happens. A worker who experiences their own actions resulting in the rapid correction and prevention of problems, especially when their own safety or that of their co-workers is affected, is likely to be much more committed to the process than if they’re simply stuffing a form in a box at the end of the day. This sense of ownership translates to a proactive, rather than a reactive mindset and the resulting behavior changes are enormous.
This transformation, for lack of a better word, is also obvious at the management level. Safety managers, when equipped with a dashboard that provides real time, relevant data, are incented not only to troubleshoot ongoing issues, but to look forward to try to predict and prevent possible safety incidents. It’s a commonly known statistic that within five years over half of all safety managers will be millennials. This generational shift is driving a demand for data driven processes in every industry as digital transformation becomes a requirement for recruiting and retaining the best talent.
One extra note on generational shifts is this: it might seem natural that younger, more tech-savvy workers would adapt to a connected safety strategy much more easily. That’s not an assumption we should make, however. Most workers have a smartphone for personal use. Adapting to the use of a handheld device that works in a similar fashion by capturing images and recording data is not a big stretch for most workers regardless of age.
Real-Time Rapid ROI
Whenever an unsafe working condition is reported and changed, workers begin to take more ownership of safety. As a result, the “plateau” mentioned earlier disappears, and workplaces often experience large improvements from even the smallest changes. This is especially obvious when management addresses high-risk areas first. Piloting connected safety strategies within these locations often creates rapid results in terms of engagement and safety metrics. Consequently, this experience (and the excitement from realizing rapid improvement) flows into the next implementation and the next.
Another aspect of connected safety is the fact that data can be processed much more quickly when hazards or incidents are reported. That means that safety managers can formulate and implement plans more rapidly as well. Instead of being mired in cumbersome spreadsheets and endless paper, management has access to real time data from the various sensors, smart PPE and worker reports involved. Digital dashboards that provide customized views of this data for each level of management increases engagement within those ranks as well. A connected safety system provides predictive capability, which leads to safer workers in the long run, and all the subsequent bottom line returns from a stronger safety.
Workplace safety is one of the hidden areas where digital transformation can have massive impacts. Fortunately, technology has improved enough so IoT can play a big role in strengthening safety from many different aspects, from improving processes to strengthening the safety culture. But the real key to succeeding has nothing to do with software, hardware or equipment. The real critical success factor is worker engagement.
Ted Smith is the CEO and President of Corvex Connected Safety.