For many years, the practice of health & safety has involved heavily manual processes with a focus on paper-driven methods and compliance at the expense of innovation.
However, that appears to be slowly changing as businesses recognise the benefits that digital technology can bring to a range of health & safety-related activities, from increasing engagement with training to automating repetitive tasks.
While some technologies, such as mobile apps, are easy to understand and implement, others are more daunting. This article looks at the full spectrum of technologies that have the potential to transform the way businesses approach health & safety.
Undoubtedly at the more complex end of the spectrum, Industry 4.0 is the name of a suite of technologies that introduce the concept of cyber-physical systems - essentially networked integration of physical plant and machinery, sensors and computer software.
The technologies in question include smart sensors, wearable devices, mobile devices, advanced algorithms, data analytics, the industrial Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud computing.
Currently, Industry 4.0 technologies are most commonly used for optimising operations and improving production efficiency. However, as the following examples illustrate, there are significant opportunities for exploiting these technologies to support health & safety efforts:
Overall, global spending on Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, software and services rose in 2020 to $12 billion, up 50% from 2019*. AR and VR have come a long way in recent years, evolving from a niche technology to a growing trend across multiple industries.
Before discussing how these closely related technologies can be used in health & safety applications, it is worth explaining the difference between them, as they are often confused. VR uses an entirely computer-simulated 360-degree view that allows users to manipulate the environment around them. In contrast, in AR, computer-generated content is overlaid on a real view of the environment. VR can take the user anywhere, whereas AR can bring anything to them.
VR is more established than AR, and forward-looking organisations are using it in a training context to bridge the gap between classroom learning and real-world application, improving training effectiveness and reducing the risk associated with dangerous activities. For example, learners can drive a forklift with a physical steering wheel or master the use of a soldering iron without risking an accident.
Although AR is not currently as popular as VR, it is anticipated that learning and training is one of the critical areas for using AR in the near future as more smartphones become ‘AR-ready’.
Here are some examples of how AR could be used in a health & safety context:
Various health & safety apps have sprung up in recent years, from all-encompassing apps that promise to integrate compliance and HSE management systems in one solution to apps specifically designed to support the safety of remote workers.
Here are some of the functions that can be carried out using an app-based approach:
Next-generation digital technologies aren’t yet the norm in health & safety, but it is only a matter of time before they are. Digitalisation has the power to revolutionise the way health & safety functions and to make workplaces safer and more efficient in the process.
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