Manufacturing organizations continue to pursue new technologies like IoT, AR, VR and AI to promote safety and reduce the risk of incidents.
By Ted Smith, Corvex CEO
While many companies are successfully maintaining strong safety cultures, the importance of safety as part of the overall digital transformation is still somewhat of a back-burner issue. Often this is because technology is viewed as simply more "overhead" than a tool to actually improve productivity. Yet technology has evolved rapidly over the past few years, making it easier to implement digital safety processes that actually empower the worker, rather than impede them.
The best news for health and safety experts is that technology is available that accelerates worker engagement. Gallup reported in 2016 that engaged workers have 70% fewer accidents in the workplace. Technology that may seem disruptive at first actually represents some strong opportunities to involve the workforce even more in their own safety. At the same time, tools like mobile safety apps, IoT, AI and VR are helping drive data practices to prevent more injuries now, and in the future.
Here are the top three technology disruptors health and safety experts need to consider for their safety strategies now, and in the future:
1. Internet of Things
In December 2017, Forbes reported that Bain & Company, a global consulting firm, predicted a $300 billion growth in the Internet of Things (IoT) market between now and 2020, with investors seeing significant ROI and remarkably widespread implementations across multiple industries. Such unprecedented growth will undoubtedly generate equally unprecedented levels of workplace safety and improvements. In fact, IoT is emerging as a major player in precision and efficiency, empowering the worker to more safely and effectively manage large-scale tasks and operations with seamless communication among devices, equipment, and software.
Mobile inspection apps connected via IoT are the gateway to an integrated safety program. Experiences with the Corvex platform demonstrate over and over the fact that handheld devices engage and empower workers not just to report, but to search for ways to prevent safety risks. As safety managers become familiar with monitoring real-time data they too become energized to develop strategies to use this technology to not only prevent injuries that day, but to predict and prevent them in the future.
Reaching the goal of a fully connected workplace is not something that is done in the short-term. Implementing connected safety by choosing the highest reward areas within the factor is the best way to being incorporating an IoT-based safety strategy. The Corvex platform for example can be implemented within as little as two weeks, providing valuable data and gaining momentum due to worker enthusiasm almost immediately.
2. Artificial Intelligence
Manufacturing experts predict that over $6.6 trillion in GDP has been predicted for the global economy by 2030 from the implementation of AI.AI is already integrated into many manufacturing and industrial workplace settings due to the use of robotics. ISO has published Technical Specifications for working with “collaborative robots,” and we can expect more guidance as this field expands.
Where health and safety is concerned however, AI cannot replace human beings. What it can do is help bridge the gaps where safety processes have become static, and improvements in injury rates are no longer occurring.
In many cases safety processes are redundant, highly manual and considered low-value "overhead" by workers, or even the safety manager themselves. Considering the use of AI to incorporate the identification of risk into AI systems may be beneficial to safety by accelerating risk reporting. Tactics incorporating natural language processing (NLP) as part of an overall AI strategy should also be considered to personalize outreach between humans and computers. This could be particularly beneficial as industrial workforces become increasingly multi-generational. AI helps with predictive analysis as well, often in combination with data collected from a connected platform. As EHS Today reports, many industries are already using data from AI systems to help calculate the percentage likelihood of an incident happening. That information can be used to help reduce those incidents in the future.
3. The “Realities” - Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality
Virtual reality (VR) is already in use in industrial settings most often during training. More thorough, dynamic training experiences powered by this new technology has enormous potential to integrate learning with actual job execution. VR can provide a welcome change to traditional classroom training, especially for hands-on topics like equipment operation and hazard identification. In addition, younger workers may become much more engaged through the user of newer technologies that are more visual in nature. VR can fully immerse the student in a scenario for training purposes, providing more in-depth access to the work setting. The ability to use VR to give workers a nearly real experience in a training setting may be invaluable for not only engaging workers, but delivering important information to safety managers on how those workers are responding to that training.
Although many people confuse the two concepts, augmented reality (AR) provides a computer-generated image on a user’s actual view of the real world rather than a completely virtual one. Experts are finding limitless applications of AR for worker safety including many new innovations involving "smart" PPE and other wearables. A tractor manufacturer, for example, is using smart glasses that help users see digitally overlaid components only when they want to by looking up or by issuing a vocal command. This has reduced the risk of workers dropping a tablet and losing time and important inspection information. Smart safety glasses have become popular in nearly every industry but AR is creeping into other aspects of safety as well. Health and safety managers are finding new ways to implement AR to help reduce incidents in the workplace as workers' and managers become more comfortable with this new technology.
As digital transformation continues, technologies like IoT, AI, AR and VR provide an opportunity to improve safety cultures with more highly engaged workers and real-time data. They can also be disruptors, providing a unique opportunity to drive competitive advantage through stronger safety results for forward-looking organizations.