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14 September 2022
Protecting people at work is challenging. Ben Henderson looks at how EHS technology drives workplace safety
WORKPLACE SAFETY will always be an inherently challenging issue for organisations, not least for those operating in safety-critical sectors. Issues impacting worker health and wellbeing will be ever-present, differing regional regulatory contexts, operational considerations, human actions or decisions and unpredictable situations, not to mention the unprecedented factors of working through a pandemic and emerging into an endemic mindset.
The road to workplace safety, littered with bumps and turns that can throw businesses off course, is therefore never going to be a smooth or straight one. The facts reflect this: In the UK alone, 441,000 workers sustained a non-fatal injury in 2020/21, according to self-reports from the Labour Force Survey1, equating to more than 1,200 incidents each day nationally.
Thankfully, the number of workplace injuries is falling in the UK. In 2000/01, there were 4,000 self-reported workplace non-fatal injuries per 100,000 workers; this number now sits around 1,500 per 100,000 – a 62.5 per cent decrease2. Of course, part of the reason for this is the country’s move away from its traditional industries coupled with tighter regulatory focus on safer industries – but since the turn of the millennium, there have also been key advances in technology and the use of specialist software in reporting, tracking, and managing workplace health and safety risks.
Despite such developments however, our recent research report – which surveyed more than 700 environment, health and safety (EHS) professionals internationally – found that 62 per cent are using technology that is not specifically designed for health and safety purposes. Of these respondents, the majority were using off-the-shelf ‘solutions’ such as Excel or SharePoint. It is therefore unsurprising that 42 per cent said their current EHS technologies are more of a hindrance than a help to on-location workers.
This presents a key challenge and opportunity for EHS professionals looking to improve workplace safety in their organisation. From our experience working alongside EHS practitioners, we know that employee engagement continues to be one of the main barriers to improving workplace safety. One of the most valuable ways to improve buy-in is to make it easy for employees to engage in the process. This in turn, will create a virtuous circle: when employees are on board with EHS, this inevitably results in fewer workplace incidents and makes workplaces safer.
Of paramount importance however is that companies have the right EHS technology in place for their needs and goals.
Our research highlighted the leading role that specialist EHS software has in helping protect people in the workplace: almost nine out of 10 respondents believe that implementing technologies and applications specifically designed for monitoring, managing and reporting health and safety would resolve the majority of their organisation’s health and safety issues.
It is important that businesses and those in the ‘C’ Suite do not see investing in workplace safety as an unnecessary cost and understand the return on investment. In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive places the cost of workplace injuries and illnesses at £16.2 billion annually3. Although the majority of these costs are borne by the individual, it is estimated over £3 billion of this total is borne by employers.
Alcoa – exemplifying workplace safety investment
The link between investing in workplace safety is exemplified by aluminium producer Alcoa. From 1987 to 2000, Alcoa was led by CEO, Paul O’Neill, who wanted to make Alcoa “the safest company in America” with his direct commitment to “put safety over profits”. O’Neill’s relentless focus on combining workplace safety with technology allowed the company to track injuries in real time – a move that eventually saw the company’s worker injury rate fall to 1/20th of the then US average. It was not just workplace safety that improved under O’Neill’s tenure: Alcoa’s market value climbed from $3 billion to $27 billion. In his own words, O’Neill credited the development of a safety-data system for being a catalyst for dramatic improvements in the company’s safety record.
The road to workplace safety is always going to be challenging, but making the right investment and in the right technology will help remove the barriers to getting employee buy-in for EHS initiatives, improving business performance and demonstrating return on investment in the long run.
Ben Henderson is head of product solution consulting, EMEA Intelex Technologies. For more information, visit www.intelex.com