As safety professionals, we often consider the impacts of internal policies and regulatory changes on the well-being of our workers. OSHA spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year enforcing these policies, and advocacy groups push for changes in the way employers and employees interact.
Still, many of the safety improvements we’ve seen in the last few decades are due more to technological advances than policy changes. Safer tools, robotics and information technology have all contributed to a safer workforce. At the same time, some of these technologies have created new hazards that we must work to avoid.
Given the rapid pace at which technology advances, safety personnel need to understand its risks, rewards and best uses. Following are a few of the greatest impacts technology has had on worker safety.
From faster hand tools to assembly line robots, many machines have enhanced or replaced human labor. In most cases, these machines make work safer. Drones and robots take on dangerous tasks, and hand-operated technology allows workers to complete jobs faster, better and with less risk.
However, greater efficiency comes at a cost. Powerful machines use far more energy in far less time than human workers, and if that energy isn’t harnessed in the right way, it can create disaster. Compare the effects of a chain saw accident to a hand saw, for instance. Greater rewards involve greater risks, and today’s machinery requires thoughtful and developed safety policies for the workers who use it.
Timely, reliable communication saves lives. Walkie-talkies and handheld phones allow workers to communicate hazards before injuries occur, and wearables and other monitoring devices alert nearby personnel when a lone worker has fallen.
Information technology also has streamlined communication between stakeholders and job sites within large organizations. New policies, procedures and hazard notifications can be sent out in seconds, making all personnel aware of the hazards they face.
Of course, information technology and the shift toward digital record-keeping also has its risks. In a paperless environment, a power outage or computer crash can put a halt to communication for hours or days at a time. Electronic systems are also subject to viruses and infiltration, which compromise databases, client confidentiality and worker privacy. Ultimately, the more sophisticated your digital records are, the more robust your network security will need to be.
A lack of proper training is a common cause of accidents. However, paper-based training and record-keeping systems can make it all but impossible to stay up-to-date on individual workers’ training needs. Computer-based training systems eliminate these hassles. With the right training and management software, you can track everyone’s training progress from a central location and send out automatic alerts to employees who are behind. If necessary, you can even send notifications to supervisors that they should exclude an employee from a job until they’ve received the proper safety training.
If you’re up to speed on the latest personal protective equipment, hard hats and harnesses aren’t the only gear keeping your workers safe. A wide array of advanced PPE has become available, including high-tech lenses, flame-retardant clothing and amazingly effective cut-resistant gloves. Similarly, wearable microchip technology can monitor workers’ health problems and vital signs, issuing warnings in unsafe environments.
Leveraging Data for Safety
Last but certainly not least, the ability to collect, organize and synthesize data has had a profound effect on worker safety. With the right incident and investigation software, you keep all of your incident reports in a central repository, and different stakeholders can view and edit the information. With all of your records stored digitally, you can then track trends and identify which hazards are actually causing the greatest harm. Just as retailers use big data to more effectively market to customers, you can use it to create targeted training programs and policy changes that make a lasting difference.
For safety professionals, technology can be used to save time and reduce costs. With the right tools, safety professionals can effectively manage and track their safety initiatives and that of their coworkers or employees. To learn more about ways technology can help a safety manager, download our guide, 9 Ways to Make Your Job as a Safety Manager Easier.