For decades, safety has been paramount in almost all organizations. Ever since Paul O’Neill showed at Alcoa that safety isn’t just an HR issue, but a bottom-line issue that can have a massively positive impact on the organization and its employees, few have argued the importance of being safety-first.
Despite that near-universal mindset, many US companies continue to struggle with the impact of safety issues. Every year, workplace injuries and illnesses cost US companies more than $170 billion in productivity and 40 million working days. In the manufacturing industry alone, there were more than 5,000 recorded deaths between 2003 and 2016. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 17% decrease year over year in severe injury and fatalities between 1992 and 2016, many organizations feel there is still significant room for improvement.
This is where technology can make a difference. More than any other indirect cost, making up lost work can have a tremendous impact on your company with some incidents resulting in a 5x offset to the original cost. By leveraging industry 4.0 technologies and implementing smarter plans to retrain employees, onboard new employees, and implement standard work processes, you can have an immediate impact on these costs.
The Technology Transforming Safety
Organizations of all sizes are piloting and implementing new technologies like wearable devices, robotics, 5G enabled sensors and communications tools, and more to track and improve operations. The result is a decrease in safety risk and an increase in employee compliance and productivity. Let’s look at some examples of this technology in action.
- IIoT Scanners and RFID Technology – Protrusion monitoring and navigation support for vehicles are helping to avoid accidents and improve storage checks. RFID is helping monitor entryways and doors that use safety interlock switches.
- Robotic Support for Human Workers – Amazon has famously integrated robotics in its fulfillment centers to support human pickers by reducing walking distance and optimizing operational efficiency. The result is less physical stress on human workers and higher productivity rates.
- Machine Vision – Automated systems can now inspect and analyze objects with the use of carefully calibrated camera arrays. Examples include monitoring for assembly line positioning and safety protocol evaluation.
- Machine Learning – With sensors capturing data at hundreds of points on the floor, organizations are leveraging AI and machine learning to analyze the results and predict where safety incidents are most likely to happen. They can rapidly integrate new safety regulations in these calculations.
- Wearable Devices – Managers can directly monitor vital signs of employees not only for general stress and discomfort but for immediate distress in the case of an accident or illness.
- Connected Worker Technology – Connected worker platforms provide a range of benefits including constant communication through digital andon cord, digital training and eLearning tools, digital checklists to address hidden factory processes and much more.
The cumulative result of these technologies is a data-rich environment with more precise standard work and the tools by which to monitor and enforce it. When workers feel comfortable in the procedures they follow, are fully aware of and in compliance with safety requirements, and supported by technology, they remain safer and become more productive.
Leveraging Technology to Address Safety in Your Organization
The best part of this technological shift is how accessible many of these tools are. A full-scale Industry 4.0 implementation can be tackled in phases, allowing you to start with frontline concerns that directly impact your workers without a significant investment of time to implement.
There are dozens of benefits of even the most foundational investments that can both improve health and safety, and help fund future investments. From digitizing your paper communications to ensure consistency across all parts of your organization to leveraging the collective knowledge of your frontline workers to collaboratively solve problems and identify potential risks, Industry 4.0 technology represents a major shift in how organizations approach safety issues.
To learn more about this next generation of safety technology and how it can be leveraged for your company, download our eBook, Boosting Safety with Industry 4.0.