An Exciting Future Ahead!
The impact of technology on our day-to-day lives has been staggering over the last few decades. Do you remember when music was recorded on compact discs, and finding a location required the use of paper maps and (gasp) asking for directions? Innovation has introduced many new tools to make our lives easier, and these same advancements are being applied to the workplace as well. Which is why we have created this article – to highlight some of the top technology trends impacting workplace safety.
It’s a very exciting time to be in the safety industry with several emerging technologies already having a significant impact on how we work. And the pace at which new ideas are being brought to market means there will be many more options in the not-too-distant future. Exciting times!
We’ve compiled a list of 5 top technologies that have already been developed and will have a significant impact on employee safety as they are further refined and enhanced.
1) Digital Interfaces
While this isn’t new in and of itself – computers have been changing how we operate since the 1980’s – the variety of both hardware and software solutions has seen staggering growth over the years. The use of photos and videos, the ability to collect digital signatures, timestamps and geolocation tags from mobile devices, and the ease at which we can now collect and view data are just a few examples of how safety officials have access to information that was previously only dreamed of.
Transitioning to a digital workflow brings many advantages. Outdated paper forms and the slow and inefficient reporting that comes with them are being replaced by digital forms filled out onsite with mobile devices, along with secure cloud storage of information and instant reporting capabilities. What’s more, this digital platform will allow for easier integration with all the exciting new technologies coming soon.
2) Wearable Technology
Safety technology is not limited to computers and mobile devices – it can also be worn by your employees to make them more productive while keeping them safe. This field continues to grow quickly and is predicted to see very strong growth in the coming years. Here are 3 examples that have already been developed and are available commercially:
If you are a fan of sci-fi entertainment such as Iron Man, The Expanse, or just about any movie focused on space, you’ve likely seen something similar. An Exoskeleton is a mechanical device you wear to help increase your strength or prevent injury from repetitive tasks such as lifting heavy items.
Despite the fact this technology is still in its infancy, we can expect to see a lot more of it as science continues to develop. It is currently very expensive and has some limitations to its useability, but if the entertainment industry is any guide, expect big things from exoskeletons soon. Here’s an example of one company that has already developed a commercially available exoskeleton – Sarcos’ Guardian XO.
Location tracking devices
Devices worn by employees to help track their location and allow them to easily ask for assistance are also available now. These are especially useful for employees who are working alone but are also helpful in the event of an emergency when employees do not make it to the muster point. Location tracking devices can identify people in need of assistance and reduce the number of emergency responders required to search for them. This technology can be offered in the form of an actual device, as an app for existing mobile users, or as a combination of both. Check out this application developed by Staysafe.
Vital Sign Monitors
Wearable sensors that can monitor vital signs in dangerous environments can mitigate or prevent serious injury. Access to heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen saturation levels can help identify dangerous situations, allowing for intervention or early medical response before the situation deteriorates. There are many varieties of wearables, with new technology being introduced constantly. One new(er) entrant into the wearables market combines monitoring technology with textiles – t-shirts that track your vitals. There are currently several commercially available options, such as Hexoskin and VitalJacket – shirts for men and women that can capture cardiac and respiratory data.
Future predictions on technology could soon see data being collected by wearable tech and sent to safety management software in real time, where it can be accessed by managers, supervisors or artificial assistants to better identify trends and prevent injuries.
Drones receive plenty of hype and are often purchased for entertainment. The aerial views they offer provide stunning new perspectives we aren’t used to seeing. And this change in perspective has led to a surge in their value to the safety industry, for two main reasons:
- Drones can take pictures and videos from any height and angle
- Drones can inspect areas that are unsafe to access by foot or vehicle.
This means that drones allow site inspections without risking the safety of anyone, and they can detect hazards that are often hidden from sight. They are especially useful when you need to confirm a suspected danger, when surveying a new project site, or when a dangerous incident has recently occurred. It’s even possible to program flight paths and have drones carry out automatic inspections. Examples of drone usage would include inspecting bridge girders and supports in hard to reach areas, or surveying the inside of locations that may not be safe for humans due to air quality or structural concerns. In these cases, human lives are not placed at risk unnecessarily thanks to the use of technology.
Not to mention that when accidents do occur, drones can assist with search and rescue missions – they are not limited by obstacles such as building debris or ground instability the way that humans are. Combine this with advancements in scanning technology that can be added to the drone, and it’s easy to see why drone usage is expected to continue its growth.
4) Artificial Intelligence (AI)
When artificial intelligence is mentioned, we tend to think about human-like robots and supercomputers such as HAL 9000 from Space Odyssey: 2001, or Agent Smith from The Matrix – Hollywood is fond of reminding us of the dangers of AI. However, the everyday applications of AI are very different from what we see on the big screen and are already providing great value on a day-to-day basis.
You see AI at work everywhere. Every time you open Google Maps, use face recognition to unlock your phone, interact with a chatbot on a website, or perform a search in Google, you are dealing with some sort of AI. Credit card companies use AI to analyze millions of purchases and identify fraudulent behaviour, and of course, social media giants like Facebook and Twitter rely on AI for many functions. AI is all around us.
One of the most useful functions of AI is the ability to analyze very large amounts of data in an instant, providing factual evidence from calculations and analysis it would take humans many hours or days to compute. As more and more devices are used to collect more and more information, the use of AI to interpret and analyze trends will become even more valuable.
AI can also be used to manage safety programs, ensuring that everyone gets the right information when they need it. When applied correctly, AI can help workers respond to hazards more efficiently by predicting trends and recognizing warning signs. Even safety training can benefit from AI – analyzing training gaps across entire organizations can help identify deficiencies and help ensure training is being delivered to the right people at the right time.
Software is constantly adapting, and the use of AI will continue to grow, becoming intertwined in the fabric of all our safety software. Soon, it will be common to have some sort of AI working alongside our safety programs.
5) Virtual Reality
We may think about video games when virtual reality is mentioned, but it has also become a powerful business tool. The value of virtual reality comes from simulating environments, and this has become very useful for safety training. For example, when construction or mining companies purchase new types of trucks, operators can train with a VR simulator before using them.
There are examples of companies using VR to walk inside an oil pipeline to inspect it for leaks or deterioration (after first using drone and aerial equipment to scan the pipeline). Imagine the savings in averted disasters! Pilots in training have been using simulators for years to teach them how to fly without stepping foot inside an airplane. VR now brings this same level of training to nearly everyone.
Undoubtedly, the biggest benefit to incorporating VR into your safety program is that employees can learn while remaining 100% safe. This provides a huge advantage in both the reduction of injuries as well as the prevention of damage to equipment. Obviously, this can (and will) be applied to many training situations, as VR offers a much more immersive experience than a traditional classroom. Watch for this technology to grow quickly.
Technology can offer an exciting view into how our lives could be improved while at the same time causing anxiety over how to keep pace and incorporate these changes into our existing workflow. Looking back over the past few decades, it’s hard to argue with the benefits that technology has brought while also creating a new host of challenges. But the overall result has seen an increase in efficiency, communication, and access to information which has made decision-making easier and more accurate.
From a safety perspective, there are some incredibly exciting technologies that are being developed, and the advancements in science will undoubtedly lead to improvements in overall worker health and wellness. The way that employees are trained, the ability to reduce the physical toll from repetitive tasks, and the reduced exposure to riskier situations will allow us all to function better and more effectively. Most importantly, it should allow us all to make it home safely to our families. Possibly in a flying car.