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Health and safety in the workplace: the impact of technology

Employers around the world have a duty of care to their employees and are obliged to follow strict health and safety laws to ensure this is the case, especially for more risky industries in rapidly expanding or developing countries. 

Health and safety in the workplace: the impact of technology

Construction, agriculture, oil and gas, and mining are generally considered to be the most hazardous industries. According to the International Labour Organisation, well over 100,000 people are killed in construction each year around the world, and 170,000 in agriculture. But even in an office environment, there can be dangers. Not least of these is stress, which can have a major impact on wellbeing, and sitting at a desk over long periods can seriously affect posture and musculoskeletal health.

It’s no wonder then that occupational health and safety is high on the world’s agenda. There are always initiatives to improve worker safety, and like in many aspects of our lives, technology is playing its part in improving the situation.

Mobile technology and applications for health and safety

Smartphone apps for the health and safety industry have numerous applications.

  • Site inspections and incidence reporting – a number of apps exist in this space. iAuditor is an inspection app that allows users to build checklists, conduct inspections and file reports on the move and in real time, while velocities is an app that helps to identify and record environmental risks.
  • Personal safety management – the Safety Compass helps workers themselves avoid dangers within the workplace through the use of augmented reality. The app identifies a worker’s physical location and sends information on nearby hazards to their phone in real time. The phone’s camera and GPS system combine to identify information and adapt to the viewer’s field of vision.
  • Manual lifting - the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the US has developed a mobile app designed for workers lifting heavy objects. The tool aims to reduce the incidence of lower back injuries by calculating a risk index of manual lifting tasks, raising workers’ awareness about their personal risk and helping them make informed decisions about the potential hazards to their musculoskeletal health. The app can also guide workers to use better lifting techniques and be used to collect manual lifting data.

However, apps haven’t just been developed for the more risky industries and environments.

  • Stretching and mindfulness - The Ergonomics app encourages people to stretch in the workplace and provides technique guides, games and challenges to encourage regular participation. In addition, the Headspace app for work helps employees take time out in the office with the aim of improving their mental health, through audio guidance on visualisation skills and focus on the breath.

Wearable technology to improve personal health in the workplace

In the future, we are likely to see the widespread use of wearables that can monitor blood alcohol and stress or alertness metrics, enabling managers to identify workers at potential risk. In fact, personal protection equipment (PPE) - such as worksite clothing - is developing fast with monitoring sensors that collect and record real-time biometric, location and movement data. Protective glasses have now tremendous scope to integrate with AI and other technology to improve how workers visualise and assess their environments. 

A global study in 2018 by Verdantix found that 22% of Environment, Health and Safety professionals expect their organisations to use vital signs monitoring wearables in 2019. 44% anticipate the use of wearable sensors to track environmental conditions and 43% plan to use location tracking wearables.

Health and safety around the world are of significant concern as serious injuries and fatalities continue in high risk professions. Stress and low-level musculoskeletal issues are a less obvious concern in seemingly safe office environments. Technology, as in many aspects of our lives is playing a part to make working environments safer. From apps that allow for real-time inspections and incidence recording to wearable technology that monitors workers for signs of fatigue and stress, we are seeing developments that should help to saves lives and improve the health of employees.