In the world of EHS management, 2019 is expected to continue many of the trends from the past few years—especially when it comes to the use of technology in safety and data management. The increased adoption of technology has many strengths, with the caveat that tech also needs to be implemented wisely to avoid pitfalls such as data breaches, software incompatibilities, and human resources issues such as lack of training.
The great thing about having more networked EHS management software is that it allows the components of an EHS management plan to seamlessly connect like never before. For instance, the increased use of mobile tech simplifies and streamlines record-keeping, which enhances the amount and quality of data available. This, in turn, enables better predictive and trend analysis, helping prevent incidents from happening. This kind of data circulation will only become more commonplace, which will require more robust data management and security protocols. Considering this rapid pace of development, the expansion of mobile tech should be complemented by increased attention to data management safety. Read on to find out how this trend will continue, and what other changes to expect in 2019.
It’s no surprise that there has been a steady rise in the use of mobile technology in EHS management for the past several years. The widespread availability and use of mobile tech in EHS mean that safety management and data management are now literally at your fingertips. This suite of products notably includes IoT and cloud-based services, but the adoption of this trend is not limited to commercial products. There are many useful and creative ways to integrate consumer-facing tech into business environments. For instance, a voice assistant can be used to record and playback important safety messages. Of course, mobile tech is not appropriate in every scenario, and increased adoption of every new technology should be followed up by appropriate safety protocols. Implementing data-driven workflows can also help strike a balance between convenience and safety. Mobile devices can be used to record and track important metrics, but it is important to also specify circumstances where their use is distracting and dangerous (for instance, while operating a vehicle).
We expect that budgets for safety management technology will only increase in the next five years. This includes both familiar and novel platforms, such as virtual reality (VR) and wearables, exoskeletons, smart glasses, smart personal protective equipment (PPE), self-driving vehicle technology, and much more. Here are a few of our favorite products revolutionizing the safety management process.
Safety glasses, a longtime staple of workplace protective equipment, are getting a smart makeover. Smart glasses bring safety rules and regulations to the exact time and place they are needed, instead of being tucked away in a filing cabinet. Employees can keep important rules top of mind and access them on demand, which improves efficiency and prevents injury.
For workers who routinely lift heavy loads, exoskeletons are a fascinating new technology that helps prevent shoulder and back injuries.
Smart personal protective equipment (PPE) often includes sensors that track data about a person’s location, movement, and biometric information such as vital signs. These metrics can then send an alert that something is wrong with enough time to address the issue.
And finally, autonomous vehicle tech is in the full swing of development and testing. The hope is that self-driving vehicles will lead to fewer injuries and fatalities in transportation and logistics. However, the regulatory framework for this technology is still being mapped out
The adoption of more complex technologies, such as VR and smart devices, brings the need for revamped training and development. As tech becomes more intricate and integrated, training must keep pace with progress. There needs to be a balance between prioritizing progress in safety management technology and investing in quality training to optimize the adoption and safety of a platform.
Ever more technology and higher technology budgets in the safety management space are already transforming how data is produced and used. The availability of more data collection points results in more efficient data collection, which in turn enables the kinds of data processing and predictive analytics that help prevent accidents, near-misses, or incidents from occurring.
The increased quantity of available data means that companies will have to be vigilant about how data is stored, managed, and used. When it comes to data security, most people think of preventing large breaches and preventing a scenario where sensitive information gets into the wrong hands. However, guarding against large-scale data theft requires attention to the minute details of data management—the internal process of storing and governing access to data at every scale. There is also increased fear of breaches that don’t target individual companies but rather a critical infrastructure, such as water systems or electricity grids. There are more than a few recent examples of how breaches can entirely handicap an organization, placing many people at risk. These vulnerabilities are often the most critical and exploitable, data security management should involve a tight collaboration between an organization’s IT and EHS departments.
In 2016, OSHA adopted a recordkeeping and reporting rule meant to improve tracking of workplace injuries. In 2017, the agency announced a delay in implementation to allow further review of the rule and accept feedback on the rule. The final version of the rule was issued on January 25th, 2019, and goes into effect one month later, on February 25th, 2019. According to OSHA’s website, the rule will apply to “establishments with 250 or more employees that are currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records, and establishments with 20-249 employees that are classified in certain industries.” The rule is expected to improve data regarding the frequency of injury and illness per industry. It also includes an anti-retaliation provision, which affirms the right of employees to report incidents without fear of retaliation, and clarifies employer obligations. Employers must submit the requisite information electronically via Form 300A, which is due on an annual basis on March 2nd of the year following the reporting year.
The acronym Employee Health and Safety stand for both physical and mental wellbeing. There have been many conscious efforts to emphasize the important relationship between mental and physical wellness. We see this happening at every level of EHS management, often in response to the increased visibility of certain issues. For instance, as workplace bullying becomes more visible, OSHA has issued a requirement that employers have a clear anti-bullying policy. We predict that the trend towards a more holistic approach to EHS will continue. This approach stresses that managing physical hazards is just one part of the puzzle piece of safety management. While that part of EHS management is indispensable, there can always be more attention to the less visible but impactful aspects of EHS management: wellness, combating and managing external stressors, addressing occupational hazards through proactive policies, and addressing mental health. Many employers may find tech a useful tool in developing proactive wellness policies. For instance, the increase in wearables and fitness trackers can help employees be more aware of their physical and mental health metrics. This approach improves employees’ physical health and work satisfaction, but it also has an impact on productivity. It’s clear that a successful EHS policy makes health and wellness part of the dynamic, rather than an afterthought.
There has been a lot of (not unjustified) anxiety about robots replacing human workers. However, often missing from the conversation is that robot technology can play a vital role in improving worker safety. For instance, in work environments that are extremely hazardous regardless of strict adherence to safety rules, a robot can be a welcome substitute to perform high-risk roles. Of course, more robots in the workplace means increased attention to robot safety, to prevent things like this from happening. Somewhat surprisingly, OSHA does not have regulations in place that specifically deal with robot safety, but that does not mean that employers are not liable for injuries caused by robot accidents. Many of these accountability steps are instead covered under various OSHA rules. Both OSHA and the Robotics Industries Association offer technical and safety resources for the safe handling of robotic technology.
ISO 45001, which was finalized in March 2018, is the most recent consensus on an international safety management standard. This edition retains some facets of the previous version (OHSAS 18001) and adds onto it by emphasizing employee involvement and participation. It recommends including employees at all organizational levels in health and safety management. Workers should be trained both on best safety practices as well as the proper reporting of data and metrics through safety management software. Most importantly, ISO 45001 is a system, rather than simply a standard. Unlike a standard, a system implies integrating all of the distinct chain links within a safety management strategy: leadership, contractor safety, data security, processes and workflows, and many more—rather than simply tracking compliance. OHSAS 18001 will not officially terminate until 2021, so there is plenty of time to adapt and ensure compliance with the new framework.