Top 7 Questions About Connected Worker Safety

March 16, 2021

Today we’ll answer the 7 most essential questions surrounding Connected Worker Safety.

And we’ll tell you how to successfully convince your team to bring in a Connected Worker Safety Program.

So whether you're a newly minted Certified Safety Professional (CSP) or a grizzled industrial hygiene veteran, we know you will get a lot of valuable information.

  1. What is a Connected Worker?
  2. What is Connected Safety?
  3. What are the Advantages of Connected Safety?
  4. What technology makes up a Connected Safety Program?
  5. How does a connected worker safety program help reduce risk?
  6. How can I convince my company to implement a connected worker technology?
  7. What are some pitfalls of an implemented Connected Safety program?

What is a Connected Worker?

Before we jump into the idea around connected safety, first let’s understand the connected worker definition.

In short:

A connected worker is one that is integrated into their environments by one or more connective technologies.

This can be challenging to understand but when we look at the digital transformation that is occurring in our own lives it becomes a little easier to get it. That thing you carry in your pocket all day? The first thing you look at when you wake up and the last thing you see before you go to sleep? That’s connecting you. When thinking about how much data we process just flipping through our phones, it becomes easy to contemplate how much connectivity there actually is. Then taking it a step further, at work when we put on our new heart rate monitor or our augmented reality glasses, this is connecting us. This is the connected worker in its simplest form. If you want more, check out this article on different types of connected workers

What is Connected Safety?

Connected Safety exists within the domain of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which is itself enabled by a much larger movement that’s known as the digital transformation. It’s designed for the connected worker, environment and equipment to help organizations drive improvements in workplace safety and compliance by leveraging technological advantages not historically seen. Bringing together all aspects of a safety program allows safety managers to make informed decisions about their teams, processes and places. 

Connected worker safety diagram

source: firehud.co

As technologies have become better, smaller and faster, interconnected components like intelligent wearables, smart PPE and proximity beacons have launched a wave of opportunities for safety and health professionals to connect their workforce with their work environment. The rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has enabled these new digital technologies to equip the connected workforce with the right information at the right time for better, faster, more informed decisions in their work environment. 

What are the Advantages of Connected Safety?

As any safety manager or industrial hygienist can tell you, preventing hazards, tracking regulatory compliance and gathering historical data from incidents can demand a tremendous amount of time-consuming tasks. For example, think about the time needed just to implement these five factors for workplace prevention: sequence of events, frequency of incidents, severity of injury, interaction of circumstances, and contributing factors. Having a centralized system can greatly reduce operational choke points and increase organization-wide safety efficiency. 

Real-time monitoring

Looking over an entire fleet of vehicles or teams is now routine. If you want to know how a project team is doing at building X in Arizona with hundreds of workers, you can now quickly view and have a solid understanding of the conditions on the ground.

Centralized data capture and reporting

Now instead of waiting for an hourly (or even daily!) report, safety managers can access data at their fingertips in real-time. In many cases after an incident has occurred, a comprehensive investigation must take place. Historically, this process may have involved a painstaking amount of paperwork from a variety of sources. Now with a heavily Connected Safety Program, large chunks of data can be accessed in a few, short clicks.

Simplified decision making

There will always be a certain amount of training needed to fully understand a given situation. However, now with the greater abundance of data, you can let the algorithms and models do some of the heavy lifting, enabling a greater audience to make calls on safe versus unsafe conditions.

Some of the greatest features allow organizations to monitor and increase workplace productivity, safety and efficiency. The greater inflow of data now enables organizations to collect data, track activities, and provide more specialized experiences depending on program, hazard, employee job or any number of variables. 

What technology makes up a Connected Safety Program?

So what makes up a Connected Safety Program? Generally speaking, a Connected Safety Program has 3 main components:

  • Hardware
  • Connectivity
  • Software
IoT network

source: firehud.co

Hardware

Hardware is an integral part of any Connected Safety Program. The hardware component is typically the piece of technology that you want to use to control, track or sense the environment with. The hardware component is also where all the sensors acquire real-world signals such as temperature, pressure, motion or light. 

The hardware of a program can also be where a fair amount of the computing capabilities reside. Synthesizing disparate data sources on the arm of an individual allows for increased safety awareness and lower data transfer rates to user interfaces. This idea of computations being completed within the hardware component of a Connected Safety Program is typically referred to as edge computing. 

Hardware can come in all shapes and sizes. Some simple wearable technologies used for identification or security will have a dramatically different set of hardware sensors and computing powers than say an industrial gas sensor or a sensor used for predictive maintenance based on vibration patterns on a robot arm.

Additional hardware components might also include gateways, routers or other traditional information technology components to support worker connectivity.

Connectivity

The connectivity of any Connected Safety Program are the veins in which the data flows. Some solutions may require deep IT infrastructure to transmit the high volume of data needed. Others require virtually no organization infrastructure at all. 

How the hardware connects to the environment and the software. Broadly broken into:

Internal network connectivity.

Modern sensors and devices can use a variety of ways to get connected. Wired connectivity via ethernet is becoming increasingly rare and typical data transfer technologies like LORAWAN, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have begun to dominate the connectivity scene. Navigating the technical requirements for an individual use case can sometimes be a challenge.

External network connectivity

Every program deployment can be different but generally speaking the connectivity of a solution will either reside in an on premise server or in the cloud.

Both solutions have pros and cons. Some of the main advantages of cloud based Connected Safety Solutions are:

  1. Increased Availability. More availability in case of downtime because cloud servers have built-in redundancy, ability to connect and view dashboard anywhere
  2. Improved Analytics. The cloud combines devices, gateways, protocols and devices with a data store that can be analyzed efficiently. Many companies implement these systems to provide improved and efficient data analysis that can help in the development of their services and products. In addition, these systems also help in forming an accurate strategy that can provide the foundation for an ideal business model.

Software

The ultimate piece of the Connected Safety Program that safety managers or industrial hygienists are most concerned about is the user interface. Although there are a variety of software programs to make a solution work, what matters most is, how do I get information to enact some type of change? Here are the top 5 things to look for in a Connected Safety Program software solution:

  1. Clarity: Clarity of information is the most important part of a software solution. In fact, the whole purpose is to make the job of an industrial hygienist or safety professional better. If people can’t see information in an impactful way they can’t make a change.
  2. Conciseness:  Is the right level of detail available? The balance between too much information and too little must be struck. A solution that is both clear and concise saves valuable time when making decisions. For historical tracking and reporting on incidents, getting the right level of information can save hours of work. For those solutions that provide real-time feedback being concise might be even more important.
  3. Efficiency: If designed correctly, a good connected safety software solution should enable the safety team to perform their jobs more quickly and with less effort. After years of experience, grizzled safety veterans understand the important things to keep an eye out for and shortening the time of diagnosis to intervention of an incident allows that safety veteran to enact that experience even quicker.
  4. Intuitiveness: Occupational Health and Safety as an effort has been around a number of years. The best software embraces the standardization, policies and best practices that a safety team feels comfortable with. 
  5. Flexibility: Although very few safety programs are the same today as they were years ago, many software solutions are intended to stay around for the long haul. A solution that is forgiven in the short term (mistakes will be made, "how do we get that data back?") and flexible for the long run will make everyone at the organization happy.

How does a connected worker safety program help reduce risk?

Connected safety solutions are not a one size fits all type of approach. 

Imagine a world where all data is known. When all information is known, the ability to enact the right action plan is much easier. However, we all know this is not the case and a connected industrial workforce is not a panacea. But what a connected worker safety program can do is provide additional insights to enact changes that make a workplace safer.

Here’s the deal. Connected worker safety:

  1. Provides an understanding of situational information more quickly
  2. Enables resource allocation and intervention at a lower level of impact

Knowing a lot more information to make a decision, wouldn’t that be great? Of course! And the same is true for a variety of organizations: an aluminum smelting plant, a first responders scene or a chemical factory. Having a Connected Safety Program allows for greater interaction between the worker and the overall operational systems within the organization. 

But the data flow isn’t just one way! 

Receiving real-time readings of the atmosphere is fantastic but being able to alert a worker when they’re entering an unsafe zone adds another layer of safety that managers need. It ultimately comes down to the ability of an organization to have a larger (as well as more granular) view of real-time insights and to empower decision makers to keep their workers safe.

How can I convince my company to implement a connected worker technology?

Here’s 8 steps to help bring connected worker technology to your organization. 

  1. Identify a specific area of improvement.

  2. Look for a way to be laser-focused on bringing a positive impact to your organization. If a major hazard to your organization is the possibility of unknown gas, look toward a solution to connect the areas or your organization where toxic gases could be present. Solutions like this one by Industrial Scientific or this one by Blackline Safety can be a great place to start. 

  3. Present a solid business case to stakeholders

  4. If the thought of a "Business Case" makes your head start to hurt, think of it more as a collection of rocksolid reasons to enact a change. Your organization might already have a standard template, but it most likely will include some qualitative background, some quantitative assumptions and forecasting (“If we spend x to implement y, we’ll save z.”). But if you need a place to start, look into the business case for safety management systems. Once there is buy-in from the stakeholders involved and most notably the leadership team, then the battle to enact change begins to get a little easier. However, there still needs to be a...

  5. Plan for the change

  6. How many "great ideas" have fallen flat simple because there wasn’t an ounce of planning? We could all probably do a quick survey involving "cool tools" we bought or used in our personal life once or twice and then started to collect dust. Planning for a shift in culture — and there will be a shift in culture — around integrating a connected work program will ensure a greater adoptability, greater adaptability (yep, problems will arise) and overall greater success. Almost certainly, planning should include an evaluation plan that can...

  7. Use data for evaluation

  8. This step is typically simple on the surface, but it can get fairly sticky when organizations need to allocate resources. Understanding what variables the project team must focus on to make an impact is crucial. Using a safety KPI scorecard is a fantastic way to measure the change in how a connected technology is making an impact. 

  9. Communicate, communicate, communicate

  10. A communication plan is a large task unto itself. During any large program or project shift, resistance is naturally going to occur. However, a large part of that resistance is really a fear of the unknown. If your project has traction, leadership has bought in, and it’s funded, one item that is absolutely crucial to keep momentum is keeping people informed.

    Communication channels and mediums will greatly depend on where the recipient sits and at what level of the project their involvement is needed. Having said this, never underestimate the "heads up email" or the "drive-by-desk conversation" to add another layer of comfortability.

  11. Monitor and manage resistance, dependencies, and budgeting risks

  12. After you’ve selected your project target area, you’ve gained organization buy-in and planned for a new system, rollout bumps (or project risks) will undoubtedly show up along the way. Having a well-informed, agile team to help identify potential pockets of adoption resistance, impacting dependencies and keeping track of the almighty dollar will do well to ensure implementation success. 

  13. Celebrate success, review, revise and continuously improve

  14. Celebrating a successful program deployment is one of the best things about a project. You and the team took an idea, then cultivated, grew and implemented it. That’s no small feat! But the project really must continue to live on. A major factor in the continued success of a project is to make sure that it’s stable enough to continue. This includes the ability for it to be further reviewed, scrutinized, tweaked as well as continuously improved and evaluated against your organization's larger incident reduction strategy

What are some pitfalls of an implemented Connected Safety program?

Implementing a successful Connected Safety Program is not easy even after a program is set in place. Here are the top 3 pitfalls of an implemented connected worker safety program:

  1. Disregarding alerts

  2. “Alert fatigue” or improper threshold developments can often lead to a distrust of the system. A newly introduced Connected Safety Program is especially susceptible as processes and procedures are finely tuned to this new inflow of data. 

    For example, let’s say your team just implemented a new physiological monitoring system  to determine work/rest cycles. If a typical work/rest cycle requires an individual to sit out activities if their heart rate goes above a certain threshold when checking, there’s a realistic chance that they were actually performing work at a much higher threshold just prior to the manual check-in period. This new real-time data can lead to alerts that are actually too frequent when tracked by a real-time monitoring and alerting system. The solution here is properly explaining that the old thresholds will likely need to adjust to the new system.

  3. Improper or insufficient response to alertings

  4. Everything from a technical standpoint has been laid out. Your IT team has done a fantastic job integrating everything and your team is ready to try out their shiny new toy. But enacting the right response to a new system can be a challenge. 

    As they say, ‘You can lead a horse to water…’ Having the right information at your fingertips is really only half the battle, it’s what a team does with the information that unlocks the power. Having updated training procedures and response protocols can greatly impact response time to an alert. Reviewing reporting abilities can greatly accelerate incident investigations. 

    Understanding the vast amounts of data that a connected worker platform provides can be daunting in its own right, but for team members improperly trained, an early warning signal is more likely to be missed. 

  5. Not sticking with it 

  6. Sticking with a new change can be a challenge. A newly deployed technology solution is likely to have a few stumbling blocks out of the gate. Problems ranging from technical glitches to operational shortcomings can be devastating to a project team that is not built to last. With proper leadership and organization-wide buyin, the problems that arise will be smaller in size and the team will be more equipped to overcome. Typically the longer a solution stays in place, the longer a solution stays in place.

Thanks for reading our article! For questions or feedback please feel free to email blog@firehud.co.


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