In the last few decades, technology and its use has accelerated at an almost alarming rate, and technology in the health and safety sector is no exception. We don’t just mean machines being used in the place of human employees. We’re talking about the kind of tech that can be harnessed to enhance the HSE processes and systems you have in place.
Those who are early to adopt new technology typically have a competitive advantage, which allows them to stay ahead of their competition. Conversely, failing to identify and adopt advancements in technology has had irreparable consequences for several well-established businesses. A recent example of this is Blockbuster, the once-ubiquitous US video rental giant, which was overtaken by Netflix, a web-based movie rental service. While Blockbuster failed to recognise the influence of the internet on the video entertainment industry, Netflix leveraged technology to provide its customers with a more personalised viewership experience, allowing them to overtake Blockbuster and dominate its share of the market.
So, what is technology’s impact on the health and safety industry? Take a moment to consider the most basic advantages of technology:
- It increases efficiency
- It ensures accuracy
- It improves the ease with which information is communicated
In the same vein, one of the biggest challenges facing the safety industry is ensuring an instantaneous and smooth transmission of accurate data between multiple work sites, and from the field to the boardroom. You need to communicate critical information quickly, to the right people to take actions that will proactively prevent incidents, and modern technology assists in this regard.
Here are the top five ways technology is changing the health and safety industry:
- It allows real-time collection of data
Using portable devices to capture complete data in real time is becoming increasingly important within the health and safety industry. In fact, studies show that 82% of contractors believe that the use of technology, such as smartphones, on the field, has a positive impact on safety performance. Using mobile devices, safety professionals can make the workplace significantly safer by capturing hazards, completing audits, and accessing training documents electronically and in real time.
- It reduces administrative work and creates transparency
The transmission of electronic data technology also eliminates the need to physically transport paper data from the field to the data entry site. This reduces the time safety professionals will spend entering and processing the information. They can instead allocate time towards risk reducing activities. Digitising data also makes the information more:
- shareable, and
while also making the process more transparent.
- It makes safety managers responsible for change management
Incorporation of modern technology mostly implies a change in the way processes are conventionally undertaken. As technology continues to be part of the safety initiatives, HSE managers and professionals will have to become change managers as well. Even though technology today is made to be very user-friendly, research shows that there is an average of a 70% failure rate of corporate change management initiatives.
There are four main reasons for the high failure rate of change management initiatives:
- A failure to communicate the importance of the change
- A lack of role models
- No incentives for change
- A lack of skilled personnel
- It is easier to track leading indicators
With technology, the focus of health and safety professionals is changing from relying on lagging indicators to leading indicators. Lagging indicators are easy to measure but limited in their ability to help proactively prevent future incidents. Leading indicators, however, are typically harder to measure because they are activity- and behaviour-based. This is precisely why 80% of companies in studies conducted indicated that they wanted to track leading indicators, but only 15% of them were actually doing so. Modern technology, however, has made tracking leading indicators more feasible and can close the gap between those wanting to track leading indicators and those who are actually doing so.
- It increases organisation-wide transparency
The use of modern technology in health and safety is resulting in increased transparency of safety performance, which is helping to improve the overall safety culture of organisations.
Case study: Mechanised mining
Underground mining is a complex high-tech industry. New technologies have removed a lot of the labour intensive work that was part of mining operations in the past and, in some cases, they have also improved safety. In 2003, at the International Association of Labour Inspectors annual meeting in Toronto, a tripartite panel identified three key factors in improved mining safety in Ontario and lower rates of lost-time injuries:
- Improved technology
- Mandatory training
- The development of tripartite mechanisms
New technologies can play a significant role in improving performance and processes. In these times, mining operators see the potential for higher productivity and lower operating costs. However, each new technology represents a change in a mining operation and requires proper management of change strategies. Effective change management can help identify and eliminate hazards, enhance equipment performance and improve the bottom line – while improper change management can introduce new hazards into the workplace.
A variety of new technologies intended to make the mining environment safer are currently being developed, and include the following:
- Tier 4 engines that reduce emissions
- Ventilation on demand systems that will improve air quality
- Fire suppression systems to reduce risks associated with fires in ultra-deep mining situations, or fires that occur as a result of new technology
- Mobile equipment position and location monitoring devices to facilitate traffic control and prevent vehicular collisions
- Proximity detection devices and cameras on equipment to reduce risks associated with mobile and other equipment
While the introduction of safety-related technologies is generally positive, there is still insufficient research on some of the safety technologies for the mining sector. It is imperative that you conduct appropriate, thorough study and risk assessments to ensure you and your colleagues haven’t introduced any new uncontrolled as a result of new technologies that have entered the work environment.
Management of change
Change can play a significant role in improving performance and processes. Change, which can be initiated either internally or by external industry trends, can also introduce new hazards unless highly knowledgeable people (such as equipment specialists, management system specialists, engineers, and assigned operations and maintenance personnel) review it. In an effective change management process, experts work collectively to justify the need to make the change in the first place. They then verify that the change reduces or eliminates the current risk and does not introduce other risks.
Change can also be more hazardous when you don’t communicate it clearly to those who need to know, such as operators and maintenance people. Communication is critical to preventing hazards that arise out of ‘not knowing’. Effective communication includes notifying and involving personnel and updating written documents, such as:
- operating procedures
- training modules
- maintenance plans.
The key elements of an effective management of change process include:
- leadership support
- worker involvement
- organisational support
- training for participants
- clear procedure