This blog was written by Jacob Krzystowczyk, Winner of the 2016 3M New Occupational Health and Safety Professional Essay Award contest. Jacob is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and Safety Professional with extensive experience in a broad range of workplaces in the Chemical Industry. Currently, he is a Corporate Industrial Hygienist at The Albemarle Corporation. Jacob will travel to Atlanta, GA, June 26-29, 2016 for Safety 2016.
This essay was prepared or accomplished by the author in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the 3M or the 3M Personal Safety Division.
If you’d like more information on our Occupational Health & Safety New Professional Essay Award program, visit the 3M New Professional Award Page.
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Electronic data collection is a critical and ever changing process required for determining working conditions. The transition from a paper based workplace to a digital workplace is constantly occurring everywhere. The change from paper reports, personnel files, inspections, batch records, and most mail to their respective electronic versions is a revolution across industry. Companies have realized the gains from this transition which include: increased speed, lower costs, conservation of resources, improved communication and clarity, and a “green” company image. These benefits all affect worker health and safety. A Pharmaceutical Operator who works in a facility with electronic, typed batch records can help avoid hazardous mischarges or unsafe operating conditions using effective communication. Auditors who use electronic inspection forms on tablets for safety showers can instantly upload the results of inspections via wireless network and dramatically reduce the time needed to begin the repair process. The improvement of communication due to improved technology is not restricted to those currently working in plants.
Employee Medical Records and their retention can be a difficult requirement for a company to meet if it has not embraced the benefits of technology. Occupational Health and Record programs such as MedGate® or OHM® provide the ability to effortlessly catalogue and store employee medical records. The “employment plus 30 year rule” can easily be achieved with these types of software. The required documentation for audiometric testing, worker pre-employment and post-employment physicals, injury information, and exposure records are all easy to retain and access with electronic medical records.
These types of records are not limited to medical professionals. Industrial Hygienists create medical records for employees every time an exposure monitoring sample is collected. It is crucial for a company to be able to record, enter, analyze, and attach this information to the medical records of employees. The ability to link these documents electronically allows employers to instantly identify similar exposure groups and schedule employees for medical surveillance if required. Industrial Hygienists also create large amounts of non-medical data every time a single employee exposure monitoring sample is collected. Information such as sample time, flow rates, calibration data, equipment serial numbers, worker information, and workplace descriptions must all be recorded. These types of data have traditionally been recorded via paper sampling sheets. These sheets are fine for field notes. However the long-term storage of this information should be on an electronic database. Regulatory agencies, internal and external auditors, and workers themselves may all demand this information. The benefit of electronic databases becomes apparent given the need for near instantaneous retrieval of this information in many situations. Even the current methods of evaluating and recording employee exposure have technological limitations.
In the future, it is conceivable that in addition to standard Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) of hardhats, protective clothing, safety glasses, and cut resistant gloves, employees will be outfitted with personal electronic exposure monitors. These devices will go much further towards worker health and safety than the currently available portable Photoionization Detectors (PIDs), Flammable Gas Meters, Oxygen Meters, and Hazardous Gas and Vapor Meters, colloquially known as “LEL Meters.” These new electronic monitors can give instantaneous readings on employee exposure in real time and data log exposure levels throughout the work day to help identify high risk tasks and problem areas. Personal exposure monitors that have more functionality than a simple alarm are beginning to enter the market. In the next ten to twenty years, it is conceivable that “Smart Clothing” will become one of the tools available for Worker Safety and Health. Smart Clothing, having fibers interwoven with sensors and wireless antennae, has the potential to immediately warn the worker of chemical splashes, hazardous concentrations, when a garment must be laundered, and when the garment has exceeded its operational life. These real time indicators will all help to determine worker health.
However, all real time indicators of worker health and safety are reactive. It is better to never place a worker into a hazardous situation or set them up for failure. Properly conducted Hazard Assessments can identify problems for worker health and safety and develop solutions to these problems. The identification and resolution of a hazard before a worker is exposed to it is the most important step of the Health and Safety process. Technology can be instrumental at this step. Integrated Exposure Modeling, based on real world collected Industrial Hygiene and Safety data, can determine the risks to workers long before they are ever exposed to them. Through the use of Risk Projection Matrices, Interactive PPE Matrices, and Exposure Models, this “heading them off at the pass” approach to worker health hazards can be accomplished.
While some employers may see increased technology as cost prohibitive, technology has the potential to improve worker health and decrease costs. The benefits are synergistic. It is almost always more cost effective to prevent an injury or exposure than it is to treat it. While cost is important for employers, the physical and mental health of workers is essential for a happy and healthy workforce. Technology will be a critical tool to achieve this. Employers must embrace technology for the future of worker health and safety. It is the right thing to do.