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Solving the million dollar question through the means of technology

09 March 2018

Ten years ago, when the Apple App Store made its debut, the digital world changed forever. Now, with approximately 197 billion mobile app downloads in 2017, and predictions that this number could increase to 352 billion by 2021, Jim Struthers, global sales manager at Casella, asks: how can the health and safety industry truly benefit from the digital age 

Workplace safety is treated as an issue that requires daily attention to keep risks to a minimum, regularly monitoring and evaluating processes. Hard hats, steel toe cap boots and the risk assessment process all help to embed a familiarity in the process with individuals. Despite this, millennial attitudes towards health and safety continue to challenge employers, with 27% of millennials not following safety procedures, even though 56% have read the relevant health and safety guidance.  

It can be even harder to advocate the benefits of workplace health programmes to this demographic as they don’t understand the core principles behind it. The question “What does occupational hygiene actually mean?” is one we have probably all answered too many times. Occupational hygiene is often treated differently in the workplace too. Monitoring workers and identifying exposures that could lead to any health issues is largely still done with technology developed decades ago. This responsibility could fall to an external occupational hygienist or trained health and safety manager. Individuals take measurements, garner an understanding of the workers' day to day procedures and ultimately look to reduce the levels of workplace exposure. Some of the workforce are monitored, some of the time. This can be for many reasons such as budget or time constraints. 

How can we close the gap between the understanding and everyday application of occupational hygiene? Through embracing technology.  

Monitor more workers for more of the time 

Explaining the technicalities of occupational hygiene through outlining the range of substances a worker can be exposed to, the levels where exposure is above regulatory limits and the history of the legislation is a time consuming process that doesn’t guarantee an engaged worker at the end of it. However, incorporating sensor technology and putting such equipment on all workers will simultaneously measure a multitude of exposures and ensure the individual understands the meaning behind the work through the alarms within the device. It could be the tool that will really change behaviours. 

Software will ensure more data than ever can be collected. Managers will be able to review operations, predict exposure, offer training, and incentivise individuals who are wearing PPE at the right time. Real-time decisions can be made and worker disruption will be a minimum. When trying to advocate new processes health and safety professionals can be met with challenges at boardroom level, and perceived ROI against any new practices. However, incorporating new software and sensor technology can also bring a host of benefits to the bottom line. Healthier workforces will be more productive and efficient, reducing absenteeism. Reduced claims and litigation will further reduce the overall cost to businesses. 

ISO45001 is due to be published in March as the new international standard for occupational safety and health. The International Organization for Standardization calls it “the first global standard of its kind”, giving organisations “a universally accepted framework for improving employee health and safety, reducing workplace risks and creating healthier, safer working conditions”.  This standard should help to make the benefits of occupational hygiene stick, but taking the time to implement modernised monitoring solutions will further embed an understanding throughout your workforce and give you data you need. Most people wouldn’t leave their house without their smartphone as they are so reliant on the information it provides: schedules, nutrition, steps, plus so much more.  

By nature, millennials are more likely to share data and use technologies and integrating such monitoring solutions will not only change their approach to health and safety, it could also positively influence colleagues around them. Such practices also allows employers to understand quickly what needs to change to reduce that exposure. Monitoring all of the workers all of the time with equipment that will resonate with them should not be a pipe dream; it should be happening now.