Future Directions: How Disruptive Technology Can Improve Safety Performance in the Manufacturing Industry

According to the EHS Daily Advisor’s recent Annual Safety Report, employee engagement tops the list of safety challenges faced by manufacturing companies in the US.

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Matthew ElsonMatthew Elson

According to the EHS Daily Advisor’s recent Annual Safety Report, employee engagement tops the list of safety challenges faced by manufacturing companies in the US.

It’s an issue that’s closely followed by employees taking shortcuts and ignoring rules—behaviors that can lead to potentially serious accidents.

If employees are not engaged by an organization’s safety culture, then it’s highly likely that they will take shortcuts and ignore rules—after all, if safety isn’t seen to be valued by employers, it’s unlikely to be a priority among workers.   

It’s widely recognized, therefore, that good employee engagement is key to improving safety performance—but how can employers get beyond the buzzwords and empower behaviors?

The answer could lie in the disruptive power of innovative technologies, which could radically change the way high-risk organizations like manufacturing manage their health and safety challenges, aiding better employee engagement—and potentially saving lives.

Why Disrupt the Old Ways?

We know that health and safety doesn’t happen behind a desk–particularly in the fast-paced world of manufacturing, where employees and managers are often accountable for strict deadlines and turnaround times—yet traditional paper-based or spreadsheet-driven health and safety reporting methods are still very much the norm.

Working and employment patterns have changed dramatically over the past 10 years. Even in manufacturing, working patterns are no longer as simple as they were. Perhaps a worker visits multiple locations across several sites, or their first language is not that of the company’s standard reporting system. The worker may be subject to unsociable hours, without recourse to office-based support staff, or unable to access incident books.

In this scenario, reliance on traditional ‘paper and pen’ or spreadsheet-driven reporting methods makes the risk of incidents going unreported—and potentially occurring again—unacceptably high. These bureaucratic and time-consuming processes do not engage employees. There’s a clear case for a radical overhaul that positions safety at the heart of the operation.

How EHS can Evolve

We can see the influence of disruptive technologies all around us: in recent years, innovations in technology have changed our lives to an extent that would have been unthinkable until very recently.

Why then, in a world where so much of how we live our lives is defined by technology, are so many organizations still bound to traditional health and safety reporting methods?

As developments in health and safety management software gather pace, some businesses are choosing to invest in disruptive web-based systems and associated mobile apps.

Such software solutions encourage employees to report safety observations by harnessing a fundamental psychological phenomenon: if a process is simple and straightforward, then it is more easily adopted.

With tools presented on a tablet or smartphone, safety is quickly and easily accessible—no matter where or when an employee is working, they can log hazards or near misses straightaway, providing safety teams with instant visibility. Multilingual functionality further empowers workers to record observations in their first language, reducing the risk of anomalies.

EHS software solutions also help to eliminate the administrative burdens faced by safety managers, freeing up time which can be put to better use learning lessons, benchmarking, identifying trends and taking preventative action.

The ease of reporting and action management provided by technology means that, for an organization, safety becomes part of ‘the way we do things’: employee engagement grows and a robust, sustainable safety culture begins to emerge.  

The Advantages are Clear

The fundamental benefits of innovative technologies in EHS management are clear, particularly when applied to high-risk, fast-paced industries such as manufacturing.

Organizations embracing this opportunity ensure that they are compliant, that costs are kept controlled, and most importantly, that workers are kept safe.

Matthew Elson acquired SHE Software in 2011 and, following a period as Chairman, took up the role of full-time CEO in 2014.

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