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Technology: A positive change

31 January 2017

How technology has become a ‘good virus’, underpinning powerful improvements in health and safety culture by Matthew Elson, CEO of SHE Software.

Many of us are passionate about managing safety effectively and promoting secure and healthy workplaces. Some though, although perhaps not readers of this article, still consider safety management a necessary chore and bureaucratic burden.

It does not have to be like that and it is increasingly technology that is bringing positive change to the promotion of safe working. While technology cannot be the answer to every health & safety issue, in one particular area it presents a significant opportunity: culture.

We all know that there are, for every fatality and for every injury, many near misses and risky behaviours. But how do you identify and influence those behaviours?

Part of the answer is of course creating a positive safety culture – one where acting safely becomes an intuitive part of, and not just an adjunct to, the job. One where safety is everybody’s responsibility and not just left to the experts.

The good news is that technology is fast becoming an enabler that encourages people to do the right thing. Gone are the days when corporate IT systems acted as a barrier. We have undergone a technological and cultural transformation in the consumer world. With cloud based systems employing mobile, easy-to-use consumer-style technologies, this consumer world is now entering the workplace. Today, technology is becoming a kind of benign, or ‘good’ virus: with the right support it quickly propagates through an organisation because it simply and robustly supports best practice.

Just consider the following ways in which technology can overcome barriers to establishing a strong safety culture.

“It won’t happen to me”

Technology can present risks and explain procedures and mitigating measures in a timely manner – for example by using geotagging to explain the hazards in a given location. Those risks can be presented in more compelling ways using photo and video. Moreover, smart reporting, increasingly powered by intelligent tools that interrogate large datasets, can provide convincing information on cause and effect – the link between small risks taken and serious incidents resulting.

“What I do or say won’t make any difference”

The solution – make it easy to comment and provide reward and feedback. A very simple app can report safe and unsafe acts. The key is, at the “back end”, to raise alerts and make it very easy to respond with feedback – and indeed to intervene quickly if required. One organisation has increased by a factor of 20 the reporting of unsafe acts while halving accidents. Again, borrowing from the consumer world, adding a “gaming” element with rewards for valuable contributions can provide additional motivation.

With these elements in place, each person is empowered to make an organisation safer. From reporting risky behaviour to identifying new risks and sharing mitigation measures, technology is the health and safety practitioner’s go-to solution.

Technology then has the power to democratise responsibility for health & safety, spreading positive behaviour and driving continuous improvement in managing workplace risk. The key is to learn from the consumer world – to be adopted, a solution must be intuitive, easy to use, a good fit with working norms.  Backed up behind the scenes though with a “corporate strength” backbone to provide robust evidence of compliance.

Real-time interactions using highly configurable systems are becoming a cornerstone for promoting health and safety culture. If boards of directors can readily and quickly see the value of EH&S in hard figures, and frontline staff know that their contribution to safety is making a difference. then this is a positive virus indeed!