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Blake Kos
By
February 24, 2017

A Perspective into the Future of EH&S Tools And Technology

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An article, titled “The EHS State of the Nation 2017” by Dave Johnson, was recently published in Industrial Safety and Hygiene News, which highlighted survey results from EHS professionals regarding the immediate future of the EHS field. After reading this informative article, and in conjunction with personal interests of mine, I’m going to imbue what I believe to be the probable future of tools and technology for employee health and safety in EHS Departments in the next 5 – 10 years.

 

To start out, let’s look at the facts gathered by Dave related to EHS field demographics. From an age perspective, almost two-thirds (64 percent) of the professionals are between the ages of 50 – 69 years old. And, of those professionals, 44 percent embody EHS work experience between 21 - 30+ years, while almost one-third (31 percent) have ten years or less of EHS work experience. As the numbers indicate, the EHS field is slowly but surely getting younger. In response, national organizations such as ASSE, AIHA and the National Safety Council are investing time and money to market the profession to millennials and high school students.

 

 

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However, according to a 2010 NIOSH survey, employers planned to hire at least 25,000 EHS professionals in the next five years, but only 12,000 new graduates were expected from academic programs. Therefore, the 2010 survey predicted that the gap was likely to be filled by professionals currently in the workforce or by professionals without EHS training or experience. To confirm that this is still a reality seven years later, Dave’s survey respondents mentioned ‘aging workforce’ as second in the medium to high impact on organizations (cited by 33 percent high impact by respondents and 36 percent moderate impact by other respondents).

 

In addition to the demographic information highlighted in the article, Dave compiled the respondent’s citation of their top hazards that EHS professionals confront in the workplace:

 

 

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Based off of these hazards, the respondents indicated the top five challenges facing professionals in 2017 are:

 

  1. Employee behavioral reliability / consistent safe behaviors (cited by 52 percent of respondents)
  2. Putting safety on equal footing with production (52 percent of respondents)
  3. Safety training of employees (50 percent)
  4. Getting senior leadership “buy in” for safety and health (47 percent)
  5. OSHA compliance (42 percent)

 

As expected, employee behavior is at the top, despite the plethora of workshops, lectures, webinars, videos, podcasts, blogs, published articles, greater emphasis in the industry on promoting a culture of safety, leadership decision-making, and system and process design. Additional challenges to organizations identified were: ‘contractor safety oversight’ (25 percent high impact; 37 percent moderate impact) and ‘temporary worker safety’ (24 percent high impact; 30 percent moderate impact).

 

The respondent’s goals in addressing some of these challenges for 2017 included the following (in rank order):

 

  1. Build / maintain a safety culture (cited as a high priority by 56 percent)
  2. Reduce serious injuries and fatalities (a high priority for 56 percent)
  3. Lower OSHA recordable incident rate (high priority for 53 percent)
  4. Lower workers’ compensation cost (high priority for 43 percent)

 

Based off of the facts stated above regarding changing demographics to a younger, less-experienced, temporary and contractor-based workforce, the top challenges and hazards faced by professionals, and EHS department’s top goals in addressing these challenges and hazards, I will highlight below the tools and technology that I believe will be become integral for the EHS field to address current and future risks.

 

Lately there has been lots of buzz around the promises of virtual reality, but in my opinion, along with others, I believe that it is augmented reality that will be most useful for the future workforce, especially in the EHS industry. Don’t get me wrong, virtual reality is a piece of the necessary technology and toolbox mix for EHS departments; there are many examples of organizations, such as the military, that use virtual reality devices like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive to provide near-real life training for its workforce.

 

The advantages of virtual reality include, but are not limited to, increased frequency and easier deployment of training scenarios for their workers to be “in” a situation, make mistakes and practice successes, without real-life consequences. Basically, I see virtual reality-based training as a way to impart a young, less-experienced worker more experience in a shorter timeframe in order to fill that knowledge gap soon to be gone with the soon-to-be retiring workforce.

 

Although, unlike virtual reality where the individual is completely immersed in a virtual world with visual, audio and sometimes physical feedback, augmented reality mixes the virtual reality world with the real world. Keep in mind, augmented reality is not a new technology, Google developed and sold their augmented reality eyeglasses, Google Glasses, in 2014, but ended that venture because of legal action over privacy and safety.

Let’s fast forward to Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2016, when a company called Daqri, that creates hardware and software for the future of the workplace out of Los Angeles, CA, unveiled their flagship augmented reality product, the Daqri Smart Helmet.

 

In contrast to the consumer market’s initial disappointment in augmented reality in 2014, Daqri believes that they have found the most appropriate application for this technology, industrial enterprises, such as Oil & Gas, Utilities, Manufacturing and Construction.  They hold such a strong belief because in these types of companies there are lots of different processes and equipment that require regular retention of information over long spans of time, and continuous monitoring and upkeep.

 

Moreover, industrial enterprises, as opposed to the consumer market, are not as concerned with price and design, rather these types of businesses are more interested in operational risk reduction and increased productivity of its employees that translate into a quantifiable gain.

 

With its 3-D depth sensing, high quality still and video capture, 360-degree cameras, a carbon-fiber-enforced helmet and shatter-proof glasses/display (replacement of current PPE), the Daqri Smart Helmet continuously takes input from the external world and data pulled in from integrations with work systems and work process data to understand what it’s (the wearer) seeing at all times and display what’s most relevant to the wearer as he or she interacts in the workplace.

 

Based off my experience in the EHS space, I believe this tool will assist the younger, tech-savvy, low-experienced workers of the future in on-site knowledge transfer, step-by-step work instructions and data visualization in the field where the information in needed for effective decision-making.

 

According to Matt Kammerait, VP of Innovation at Daqri, the helmet is a “visual and inertial navigation system [that] combines all of the sensors on the helmet to have a robust understanding of the world around an employee and know where to place that content and know where that next critical step is so it can guide you to that quickly and efficiently.”

 

Another major technology that has been available and applied in various facets of people’s day-to-day lives, from a consumer perspective, is wearables, such as the FitBit. These devices are worn by an individual and track specific types of data for increased awareness for the wearer to gradually change undesirable behavior.

Given the massive popularity of wearables in the consumer wellness market, several companies, including Redpoint Positioning and Human Condition Safety, identified a similar need for awareness and behavior change in the health and safety space of industrial-based companies. And, if we revisit the survey results of Dave’s article, they’re on to something because employee behavioral reliability / consistent safe behaviors is the top challenge that EHS professionals face.

 

A recent survey reported by Accenture said that nearly two-thirds of insurers expect wearable technologies to have a significant impact in the workplace within the next two years. I believe the reason for such an assertion by Accenture is due to wearables ability, via GPS, to know where the worker is in relation to equipment and hazards, and in conjunction with an artificial intelligence and cloud computing software platform.

 

The tie in of wearables and software allows supervisors to obtain real-time visibility into the movement of individual field operation workers and the capacity to dynamically create geo-fencing of physical hazards with precision up to 8 inches. An employee donned with a wearable safety vest can receive visual and audible feedback immediately based off of pre-determined safety concerns like improper ergonomics and proximity to hazards; thus, future EHS departments can mitigate against a certain risk, ensure notification of his or her supervisor of any near miss incident without relying on the employee to self-report, and change the employee’s future behavior. Therefore, this data-driven approach can significantly reduce injuries, increase worker safety, reduce worker compensation costs, and ultimately, saves lives.

 

As Peter Raymond, CEO of Human Condition Safety, notes, “detect[ing] the exact moment that an employee loses their balance, trips and falls, carries too much weight” prevents injury and change behavior.

 

So far EHS tools and technology have been able to digitize the capturing of information in the field, but until now, have not been able to take a step towards taking that digital information and assist employees in the field as they work. The tools mentioned in this blog like the Daqri Smart Helmet provide the less-experienced and/or temporary workforce on-site knowledge transfer, step-by-step safe work instructions and data visualization in context to what they are doing at that moment, while the wearables by Human Condition Safety and Redpoint Positioning have the ability to change unsafe employee behavior in the field.

 

Ultimately, these tools allow organizations to get ahead of the incidents, injuries and risks through real-time accessibility, instead of reacting to incidents and managing the incident collection and reporting process. Albeit these tools are expensive, the benefits of reducing the cost of risks and improving the quality of someone’s work experience far outweigh those costs, especially when all the tangible and intangible considerations are put into the equation. Therefore, I believe full utilization of virtual reality for training purposes, augmented reality helmets for access to information in the field and wearables for the changing of unsafe behaviors can be game changer for the EHS departments of the future.  

 

Sources:

Stoikes, J. (2016, February 19). Investing in Worker Safety Through Wearable Technology. Http://www.forconstructionpros.com. Retrieved February 2, 2017, fromhttp://www.forconstructionpros.com/article/12160886/investing-in-worker-safety-through-wearable-technology

Rubenstone, J. (2015, November 18). Q4 Tech Report: Wearable Technology in Construction. Http://www.enr.com. Retrieved February 2, 2017, from http://www.enr.com/articles/37987-q4-tech-report-wearable-technology-in-construction#Building a Safer Safety Vest

Johnson, D. (2017, January 12). The EHS State of the Nation 2017. Http://www.ishn.com. Retrieved February 2, 2017, from http://www.ishn.com/articles/105644-the-ehs-state-of-the-nation-2017

TechCrunch. (2016, January 9). Daqri's Smart Helmet Hands On. Viewed February 2, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47H6ul0W1-E

Daqri. (2016, November 15). DAQRI Smart Helmet Case Study: Mortenson and Autodesk. Viewed February 2, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9t6Osl1LbcRedpoint Positioning. (2015, September 21). Redpoint & Skanska deploy Indoor GPS for Construction Safety. Viewed February 2, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vi0WEQQmzP

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