Every year, more than 320,000 people die due to an occupational accident. And another 317 million have some form of accident in the workplace. Despite years of increasing investments in safety, and decreasing injury rates because of this effort, the rate of workplace fatalities remains at a plateau. And this plateau is not at zero, where it needs to be (ref: National Safety Council, analysis of OSHA Recordable Rates).
This disconnect - increasing investments in safety leading to diminishing marginal returns - along with the fatality plateau can, and should, be challenged.
The concept of the connected worker or enterprise is not new, but we’re in a new era as it relates to safety. Connected workers have been part of the safety performance landscape for some time, but instead of monitoring people, the focus is now on empowering them. This can involve both simple and complex solutions. For example, field workers can be connected to additional information sources and team members via a mobile device. This enables knowledge to be shared in real-time and safety hazards to be identified and addressed before they culminate in an accident.
The potential for transformation is well recognized: according to an ERM survey, 92% of organizations regard harnessing technology and data as vital to improving safety performance2. Yet many still struggle to make the leap from great ideas to practical solutions - particularly as the concept of a connected worker enters a new era as technologies becoming more accessible, affordable, and advanced.
We believe the smarter use of technology and data can help organizations transform their approach to safety and dramatically reduce accidents and fatalities. So we define ‘connected safety’ as a human centered, digitally enabled approach to improve safety performance by:
- Eliminating the need to send a person into high-risk situations by identifying digital substitutes
- Providing advance near real time Intelligence as a Safeguard to the frontline worker
- Introducing remote monitoring, automated interventions and smart devices to guide frontline worker in hazardous conditions
The Elimination Step
The best form of prevention is to completely remove the need for human intervention from potentially dangerous tasks and scenarios. This is the ‘elimination’ step, the highest control in the mitigation hierarchy. We are already seeing organizations achieve this through the use of robots, drones, sensors and artificial intelligence. The adoption of drones and other connected safety technologies will soon become ubiquitous: by 2022, one trillion networked sensors will be embedded in the world around us1.
Real-time intelligence as a Safeguard
Technology can also remove risk from the workplace by making people more connected – to each other and to the insights they need to make the decisions to keep themselves and their teams safe. By providing workers with richer insights in real time, they can make smarter decisions that enable them to manage the right risks in the right ways. One aircraft manufacturer has equipped its assembly line staff with smart boots and glasses, which enables them to check data in real-time, avoid ergonomic stress, and receive safety proximity alerts
Some organizations have taken the connected worker and connected safety use one step further by enabling automated interventions.
As an example, ERM helped an Australian freight operator design and implement an in-vehicle monitoring system that delivers visual and audible alerts to drivers based on their behaviour. This resulted in a 97% reduction in speeding breaches. This system captures the sensor feed to specifically carve out safety level data points and transfer those into the SAP Incident Management solution and safety dashboards, resulting in a single point of management and reporting on H&S information throughout the company.
A leading Oil and Gas provider in Asia has invested heavily in driver fatigue monitoring technologies such as advanced cameras and telemetry solutions to improve road safety as part of its retail operations. However despite this, driving related fatalities and risks continue to be a serious issue for them. We are leveraging machine learning, human factors, and road safety expertise and analyzing the right data sets to understand the real drivers behind these incidents. Driver fatigue is emerging to be more of a symptom rather than the cause itself. We are now working with the client to identify the right digital interventions to help eliminate the underlying clauses while continuing to monitor the symptom.
Addressing new risks with technology adoption
Introducing new technologies and processes without adapting culture or commercial models to scale, can introduce new risks, leading to a digital safety paradox. This can expose workers to additional hazards and add complexity to technology adoption and data management.
Organizations need to balance potential risks with the potential rewards. For example, does implementing robots to perform a task that might result in multiple employees being exposed to ergonomic stress outweigh the risk of one staff member being hurt through an unforeseen human-machine interaction? We are seeing a growing shift towards asymmetrical risks where the likelihood is lower but the risk higher.
Making it work for you
To minimize the risk and maximize the return from connected worker and connected safety initiatives, organizations need a mix of both digital and safety expertise. They also need to understand human behaviors, which could help or hinder the adoption of new technologies and approaches. Ultimately, new technology needs to fit into a dynamic of people, processes and technology. Getting the human factor right – through design thinking approaches on the front-end and clear organizational change management throughout – will be key to success.
By understanding worker behaviors and needs, organizations will be better placed to transform worker experiences. Empowering people with smarter technologies and richer data insights will enable them to make better safety choices regardless of their work location or situation. This will not only help organizations to achieve the ultimate target of zero fatalities but also increase productivity: a safer workplace often results in a happier and faster workforce.
2 ERM’s Global Safety Survey, 2018