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The changing face of health & safety

27 October 2017

Matthew Elson, CEO of SHE Software examines how new advances in technology could have the potential to transform the approach to workplace safety,

The workforce is changing fast. Workers are more mobile, dispersed and international. Millennials, with very different expectations about their work experience and career, already make up over 25% of the workforce. Organisations increasingly have responsibility for a large cadre of contractors, agency workers, part timers and remote workers.

Meanwhile, there is no let up in the budgetary pressure to do more with less. As a result, the role of the health and safety professional can sometimes seem overwhelming, focused on firefighting today’s issues and not on what will make a difference tomorrow.

Fortunately, new developments in health and safety technology have the potential to transform the approach to workplace safety, from one that is rules-driven, compliance-led and policed by managers and experts, to one that embeds a proactive and predictive culture where safety is part of the way everyone works.

Anywhere, anytime

Health and safety doesn’t happen behind desks. So why are so many of our health and safety processes still desk based? In the consumer world, we are used to having simple and intuitive apps on our mobile devices that help us, on the move, to do anything from send a text to book a cinema ticket to check the latest blog posts. Apps can understand our aims, preferences and context (location, time of day, etc.) and present relevant information and functionality to us.

The good news is that this functionality is coming to health and safety, in the form of simple to use mobile apps that present information about the local environment (nearby reported hazards for example) or advise on precautions (skid hazards due to forecast cold weather).

Already, organisations are changing safety culture by empowering employees to make a difference. Every employee can use an app to report an incident or near miss, access a risk assessment or record a safe or unsafe act. Safety messages can be pushed out and acknowledgement received. By making the experience interactive and showing that everybody has a role to play, safety becomes part of “the way we do things”. Upcoming releases will be transformative for health and safety culture, further enhancing existing functionality by mimicking that found in the consumer world.

Speaking your language

The Office for National Statistics reports that, since 1997, the number of non-UK nationals working in the UK has increased from 928,000 to 3.56 million. Working across languages can be a barrier and poor communication increases workplace risk. The good news is that multilingual functionality closes gaps in communication by providing safety information in an employee's native language.

Through innovative design, data can be collected locally in local language forms, but reported consistently and globally. Work processes can be seamless, for example, allowing the central team to review and approve locally generated content such as incident investigations or risk assessments. Multilingual capability is indispensable if you have employees for whom English is not their first language and who would otherwise be excluded from your safety culture.

Providing intelligence

Most organisations are effective in recording and investigating incidents, managing risks and keeping appropriate records. Some organisations are effective in applying lessons learnt from incidents, near misses (less commonly) and audits and subsequently putting preventative measures in place. But all of this activity is in some way reactive and backward looking. Very few organisations are systematic at interrogating their data, identifying trends, tracking leading indicators (such as safe and unsafe observations) and predicting where preventative measures will be most effective.

The problem is that lots of relevant data is not captured; if it is captured, it is not accessibly and systematically stored; and even if it is stored, most organisations do not have the tools to make effective use of it. This “wasted data” is a ticking time bomb given the financial, reputational and legal repercussions of a health and safety breach.

Health and safety Business Intelligence (BI) tools eliminate lots of manual reporting processes and provide a live picture rather than just a weekly or monthly snapshot. The freed up time can be put to better use learning from the safety data available, benchmarking, identifying trends and taking preventative action. Relying on data-driven insights, rather than individual stakeholder opinions, reduces the potential for human error and uncovers the unexpected.

So next time you are stuck behind your desk with mounds of paperwork, manipulating reports and wondering just what you have to do create a stronger and more proactive safety culture, remind yourself that it does not have to be that way. Change is coming and early adopters amongst your peers may already be taking advantage of it.