Digital Disruption Helps Bring Safer Workplaces

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When is change worth it? When it can help save lives? Potentially millions of lives? You’d think so… but when it comes to humans, we’re often reluctant to change our behavior, even when the writing’s on the wall.

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Workplace safety is a powerful example. Although fatality rates in the US have been reduced by 66% since 1970, still 13 workers die every day in an accident. Globally, more than 6,400 people die every day from an occupational accident or disease, amounting to a staggering 2.30 million deaths each year.

According to Tim Maroushek of 3M’s Personal Safety Division: “Progress is being made, but we’re not there yet.”

“Part of the problem lies with employers not investing in the right equipment,” he explains, “but even when they do have the best safety equipment for a given hazard, if it’s not used properly, workers are not going to be properly protected.” Among the examples he cites are the use of equipment past its expiry date, someone taking off earmuffs in a high-noise environment, or people forgetting to clean or properly store equipment at the end of a shift.

With the aim of understanding how to help employers take workplace health and safety to the next level, a core development team of 3M experts began an in-depth insights-gathering process with companies in segments ranging from oil and gas to mining and hazardous chemicals. The process, which spanned exploratory interviews, to the prioritization of needs identified by customers, right through to screening ideas for new products and technologies, took several months.

Power of Real-Time Data

3M’s Michelle Ebert, of the customer insights team, who led some of the research process, says: “A key finding was that prevention is better than reaction. Safety managers are looking to develop proactive safety programs, rather than reacting after injuries or poor audit results. They want to get people home healthy and safe to their families, and they want to empower them to take charge of their own well-being.”

Factory visits had shown, however, that many health and safety professionals were still working from paper records. “When the facts are in boxes, it’s harder to turn the spotlight on potential risks,” says Tim.

Well-versed in digital technologies and safety management systems, Tim and the team saw an opportunity to leverage the power of connectivity and big data. “To be proactive, safety professionals need to see the big picture to spot dangerous trends, as well as hone in fast on individual worker activities, work environments, and safety equipment.”

3M Connected Safety

3M Connected Safety

One of the first solutions developed under the new banner of 3M™ Connected Safety was RFID (radio frequency identification) tags to attach to equipment and an easy-to-use mobile app to provide health and safety professionals with real-time access to people and products across multiple locations.

Tim explains: “All DBI-SALA Harnesses (fall protection equipment), for example, are manufactured with an RFID tag already attached. This tag is linked to our database and provides the inspector with a fully populated set of information right from the factory.”

Inspectors then have the ability to keep track of the condition of the equipment, who’s using it, where it’s located and when the next inspection is due via photos and checklists on the mobile app. And health and safety professionals can use the interactive system to quickly review the status of their PPE inventory and see reports to help them maintain compliance with various regulatory inspection requirements.

What’s Next?

So what’s next? In the short-term, according to Tim: “We’re focused on developing the fundamentals of our digital platform which will allow us to provide a more complete experience to our personal protective equipment users.”

And in the long-term? As technology expert Jim Gibson said in a recent webinar for the National Safety Council: “We’re in an era of unprecedented technological change. There are at least 8 new technologies from the Internet of Things to Virtual Reality that are already impacting our world in all kinds of ways that we don’t even suspect yet.

“Workplace safety experts are key not only in helping to identify the risks inherent in these new technologies, but also in leveraging them to drive step changes in safety at work.”

Tim Maroushek agrees. “What it really comes down to is that managers want to know their workers are safe, and workers want to know they’re safe. We’re on a journey to provide the real-time information that can help give both employers and their workers much greater confidence that the workers are properly protected from workplace hazards.”

For more information on how Connected Safety connects people, places and information for safer workplaces, click here.

This article was originally published in the 3M (P)articles blog on June 07, 2016.