Federal law requires employers to maintain a safe workplace. Moreover, keeping a safe and healthy work environment makes good business sense. On-the-job accidents can cause serious injuries to employees. This can disrupt the entire workforce, harm morale and reduce productivity. Fortunately, new technology is available to help employers reduce accidents and improve the health of their workers.
One category of technology employers can use consists of mobile gadgets like laptops, smartphones, tablets, and hand-held monitoring devices. These can be used to conduct inspections, report accidents, measure air quality, and perform various other functions. Some devices can be used "as is" while others require apps.
Insurers, vendors, and various government organizations offer safety apps for smartphones. For instance, NIOSH (a division of the CDC) offers a variety of apps for workplace safety. One app measures sound, while others provide instructions on ladder safety, heat safety, or proper lifting. NIOSH also offers a Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards.
Internet of Things
Like insurtech, workplace safety technology includes the Internet of Things (IoT). The term IoT refers to ordinary equipment or machines that are connected to the internet. An example of IoT is a "smart" ventilation system in a commercial building. There are two broad categories of IoT that can improve workplace safety: devices connected to machines and wearable technology.
Each year, many workers are injured by malfunctioning equipment. Such injuries can be avoided if equipment is kept in good repair. One way to ensure equipment is working properly is through the use of internet-connected sensors. These devices can be installed on machinery, such as manufacturing or processing equipment, to monitor its operation.
The sensors can measure variables like temperature, humidity, noise, and vibration. If a sensor detects a problem with a piece of equipment, it sends a notification to the employer in real time via the Internet. This enables the employer to adjust or repair the equipment promptly.
Wearable technology is a broad category that can be divided into two basic types:
- Devices used to monitor workers
- Devices used to monitor the environment (workplace)
Some wearables contain sensors that monitor a worker's heart rate, skin temperature, blood oxygen level, and other vital signs. Such gadgets can be a valuable tool for workers in dangerous occupations like mining or oil and gas drilling. Devices can be attached to a hard hat, tool belt, watch band, safety glasses, or a piece of clothing and may trigger an alert if the worker's health is at risk.
Wearables are also useful for monitoring the well-being of employees who work alone in remote areas. Some devices can track the worker's movements and alert the employer if the individual slips and falls. Some monitoring gadgets have text messaging capability and/or an alarm the worker can use to ask for help.
Wearable technology can also be used to monitor environmental conditions. For example, individuals who work in areas where harmful gases may accumulate can wear personal gas monitors. These devices alert workers when gases like carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulfide are present. Wearables can also monitor the workplace for excessive heat or cold, dust and other particulates, and the presence of moving objects like forklifts.
Health and Safety Software
Another type of technology that employers can utilize is environmental, health and safety (EHS) management software. This software platform can help employers reduce risks, improve workplace safety, and comply with environmental regulations. It can be used by many types of businesses, both large and small, across a broad range of industries. EHS management software can help companies minimize waste and reduce their carbon footprint.
It can be purchased from a vendor and used "off-the-shelf" or customized to the buyer’s needs. EHS management software platforms vary, but many help businesses do the following:
- Analyze risks and create plans for risk reduction
- Record and evaluate workplace accidents and prevent future accidents
- Collect, analyze, and verify data
- Monitor the health and safety of the workplace (including ergonomics) and the health status of workers
- Comply with state and federal laws, including OSHA rules and environmental regulations
Virtual and Augmented Reality
Virtual reality and augmented reality are related technologies that are used for training workers. Virtual reality is the use of technology to simulate an artificial environment. It replaces the actual physical environment with a computer-generated one. A worker using this technology will feel like they’ve gone to a different place. Augmented reality is the use of technology to enhance existing reality. It combines the real world with enhancements generated by computer software. The worker experiences the real world and the enhancements simultaneously.
Virtual and augmented realities are particularly useful for training workers in hazardous occupations. They enable workers to experience job-related risks without actually encountering them. Workers can learn from their mistakes without having to endure real-world consequences. These technologies can be cost-effective since they don’t require human instructors.
Drones are another type of technology that employers can use to improve workplace safety. These small unmanned aircrafts are fast, inexpensive, and easy to use. They can travel almost anywhere so they are particularly useful for inspecting areas that are difficult or impossible for humans to access safely. Examples are rooftops, grain silos, high-rise construction sites, and disaster zones.