Technology that makes people and workplaces safer

Today’s technology rules and many of us couldn’t be happier about it. 

It’s completely imbedded within our personal lives thanks to ever-present Internet connectivity and slick mobile devices that feed to all of us not just every bit of information we might desire, but it’s also the dominant driving force behind much of our personal and professional interactions and activities.  

That’s hardly groundbreaking news. As far back as 2011, the importance of information technology was abundantly clear. Research conducted back then by network equipment maker Cisco Systems, for example, revealed almost half of 3,000 18- to 30-year-olds surveyed from 14 different countries considered the Internet “an ‘integral part of their lives,’ – one as important as food, water and even air – that they could not live without.” 

Seven years later, we’re all hooked. Technology is everywhere, essential to our modern lives and for the vast majority, it’s how we want and like it. The truth about technology and much of business these days is that we often have better technology in our personal lives than we do in our business lives. It wasn’t always the case. Go back some 20 years or so and the exact opposite was true. Technology innovation sprang from what was being developed for business which then gradually made its way to consumers. Nowadays, as individuals in our private lives, we’re eating up portable devices and apps that make us smarter and more productive consumers, not to mention being ever and always connected.   

Which leads us to today’s reality of high-tech safety innovation that’s continually making its way into the workplace, and the notion that a lot of workers who could benefit from these, particularly as it relates to health and safety. 

For example, tablets and smart phones have virtually endless applications in workplace safety. Workers can use these to access chemical hazard information and specific safety procedures, or to report hazards and make suggestions. Devices can enhance security for lone workers, or summon assistance in the event of an accident or medical emergency. There are apps that can be used to check noise levels or calculate the heat index, assess the ergonomics of certain job tasks and optimize workers’ lifting practices, or coach workers in ladder safety. 

E-learning, which if your understanding of it involves workers sitting in cubicles at computers watching videos and taking multiple-choice quizzes, then it’s time for an upgrade. Today’s e-learning uses virtual reality simulations to give workers a real-world interactive experience. Not only can these tools be used to provide general-purpose safety training, such as new worker orientation, they can also be used to provide cost-effective task-specific training. 

The use of robots has existed in the workplace for a while. For repetitive tasks and dangerous working situations, their use seems obvious. Robots tend to replace human workers in physically demanding or repetitive jobs. But there is skepticism and perhaps even cynicism in the robotics discussion as workers might asked to “teach” the robots that could conceivably replace them.  

Drone technology seems more worker-friendly perhaps as operators are asked to acquire a new skill set (operating the drone and any tools it carries) that they will use alongside their existing skill set (for example, inspecting smokestacks or repairing communication towers). Workers are much more likely to see them as a technological complement to their jobs, rather than a threat. This reduces the acceptance curve for implementing drones to improve safety, particularly in situations where: 

  • Work is done at height for jobs that normally require workers to put themselves at risk of a fall. 
  • Work is done underground, say in mining operations, where for example a drone can improve disaster response by giving responders a full picture of conditions before they enter a mine. 
  • Work done in other hazardous places where it may not be safe for workers to enter a hazardous area, so send in a drone to inspect without putting workers at risk. 

 

While technology is imbedded in our everyday lives, workers sometimes resist its introduction in the workplace. By understanding the factors that affect whether workers oppose or embrace a new technology, it’s possible to generate that same early-adopter enthusiasm and channel it into wholehearted participation in high-tech workplace safety innovation. 

Check out the Intelex Insight Report, entitled More Than a Gadget: Technology, Safety, and Worker Participation to get the lowdown on key technologies that can help improve worker health and safety, and how to go about enlisting support for something they already seem to love.  

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