Smart devices are becoming a bigger part of our everyday lives. Fitness trackers and voice assistants are pretty mainstream and having a completely “connected” home are just on the horizon, thanks to internet-enabled appliances and remote security monitoring. One of the typical outcomes is that consumer-facing innovations often become adapted for commercial use. The area of EHS technology, in particular, has been keeping pace with new developments in everything from wearables to artificial intelligence (AI).
As with any new technology, there is always a learning curve. Today’s brilliant technical solution may end up being tomorrow’s cyber vulnerability or ethical disaster. In the spirit of EHS management, the adoption of new EHS technology should be done with concern for the security and integrity of the process. In other words, an implementation should be designed to minimize the risk of misuse or unintended consequences.
What kind of EHS technology is becoming more prevalent and how is it being used? One of the best known and widely used technologies is wearable tech. The Apple Watch and similar devices work by logging data on the user’s fitness and health. In a similar way, wearable tech can be used in an EHS setting to log incidents directly from the device. This means that incidents are logged in real-time, minimizing risk for error in later reporting. Smart glasses are another option that provides a similar advantage and often even lets the user make a video recording of the incident. Some devices can even be programmed to learn and respond to a worker’s gestures, which may indicate different kinds of danger or distress.
Aside from incident reporting, wearables can also be used as personal and environmental monitoring devices. In the first case, the wearable device can be set up to measure an employee’s vital signs and send out an alert that he or she is under too much exertion. This serves as a reliable preventive measure that alerts the worker and supervisor(s) that something is amiss. Without the device, the employee may not notice the first signs of over-exertion until much later. Environmental monitoring, on the other hand, can alert the user if it senses harmful or toxic environmental stimuli, such as chemicals, gases, or even excessive noise levels.
The reporting function of EHS management relies on the protocol, and for many professionals that means closely following a series of required steps. Not only is this often a lengthy process, but the number of tasks and requirements to follow can open the door to human error. A virtual assistant can be an invaluable resource, helping speed along the reporting process while increasing accuracy. Although virtual assistants have yet to become mainstream in EHS management, reducing the potential for minor mistakes while improving efficiency seems to be a win-win situation.
The term internet of things often comes up in reference to internet-connected smart devices. Essentially, anything that is online, whether it is a TV or a toaster, is part of the IoT. This connectedness certainly has its pros and cons, and it’s already beginning to shape EHS technology in meaningful ways. In EHS management, this works through the networking of physical and mobile devices, buildings, sensors, and other connected devices, in a way that enables these devices and entities to connect to one another and exchange data. For example, data on emissions monitoring may be collected by one node in the network and shared with other relevant receptors. Such an interconnected system involves the collection of data on one end and the connection, or “plugging in” of this data across a network in order to yield conclusions about the issue being monitored.
Beacons are devices placed on equipment that have the ability to broadcast information to nearby mobile devices, allowing mobile devices to perform some kind of action. The technology is becoming more widespread, with iBeacon by Apple the most widely used protocol. Sensors are similar to beacons, but rather than broadcasting information, they have the ability to detect changes in the surrounding environment. Beacons and sensors complement each other and have a wide variety of uses both within and outside of EHS management. In terms of EHS technology, these devices may alert an employee if they are not wearing the proper safety equipment, send out warnings about hazards, or alert employees about malfunctioning equipment.
Although they sound similar, virtual and augmented reality are in fact different ways of using the technology of virtual enhancement for practical ends. Here’s how they differ: augmented reality is an enhanced version of reality, whereas virtual reality is a simulation or reproduction of reality. Augmented reality includes technologies like smart equipment—for instance, safety goggles or helmets that detect information about the environment or provide real-time instructions to the user. Virtual reality is most commonly used for developing training programs. These video game-like exercises expose workers to a simulation of a particular environment, giving them adequate preparation for a scenario they will be facing in real life. Allowing the trainee to be fully immersed in the scenario has proven beneficial by reducing the risk of unpleasant surprises, incidents, and injuries later on.
AI is one of those technologies that has reached a certain threshold of development: it’s clear that it will continue to play an increasing role in the future, but it has also faced many practical setbacks. Think of the self-driving vehicle accidents or the Twitter bot experiment that took an unfortunate turn. The role of AI in EHS management hasn’t been completely mapped out yet, but the goals are straightforward: increase regulatory compliance while reducing costs. Towards these goals, AI may assist with the tracking of near-miss incidents by linking a large database of regulatory codes with a company’s monitoring database. While humans definitely have the upper hand when it comes to skills like intuition, we have a harder time registering cases where an incident was narrowly avoided. That’s where artificial intelligence can come in handy. Harnessing the ability of AI to register even slight near-misses can translate into actual cost savings. Even before AI, companies were able to reduce losses up to 90 percent simply by investigating near-misses. Clearly, there would be a major advantage in successfully implementing AI into EHS technology.
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And as always, keep safe out there.
By Donesafe at donesafe.com