OHS goes high-tech

By Luke Anear*
Friday, 01 July, 2011

Safety professionals as well as business operators across different industry sectors and geographies are increasingly realising the significance of technology in workplace safety.

Lack of technology use has several flaws including: delayed or lack of incident reporting, duplication of paperwork that stifles business development, very little collaboration between peers and industries regarding best practices, and a huge gap between the legislators and the workers on the ground.

Information needs to flow faster, and in an easy-to-implement format. OHS training needs to be provided in real time, and the Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) should include photos, videos and information at fingertips. SWMS, part of any OHS system, provide employees and contractors with a precise guide for how to operate plant and equipment safely.

SafetyCulture’s customers used SWMS in a Microsoft Word format on their computers. However, with the recent launch of SafetyCulture mobile, they can access WMS on their iPad. The customers can photograph their worksite, or record a video of a worker and insert it straight into the safety document. A WMS can be updated in real time from any place that has a 3G or Wi-Fi connection. A worker can add geo-stamped photos or videos to the report and make it available to appropriate staff instantly.

A major component of a good SWMS is consultation. This has a two-fold purpose, firstly, it enables the selection of practical controls that are more likely to be used, and secondly it allows workers to be involved in decisions relating to their health and safety. Getting input from workers for the OHS content helps to increase safety awareness and understanding which has been shown to change high-risk behaviours and, ultimately, worker attitudes to safety.

Workplace safety, like any other industry, is expected to strongly benefit from new technologies, as iPads and tablet computers make their way in the world of tradies. iPads are currently being used for many workplace activities, such as detailed asbestos inspections, where users can select from a drop-down list of the type of asbestos they have found, photograph it and set an action list that is compiled into a site report. Mobile tablets are used for asset management, ensuring maintenance records are being kept up to date, equipment is serviced regularly and spare parts are ordered and replaced in a timely manner.

Similarly, lock-out tagging can be tracked from the palm of your hand. With radio-frequency identifications (RFIDs) installed in the lockout and inspection tags, assets can be scanned and tracked in near real time as they are used. Companies such as Scafftag offer a range of RFID tracking tags for equipment on site. Workers don’t need to make assumptions about when equipment was serviced or repaired, creating a safer workplace.

A potential merger of different technologies provides the ability to share employee data. A site manager should be able to view a list of the high-risk activities on his job site, view the latest readings from the on-site laser levels and update his project management deadlines all from the palm of his hand as he goes about his day to day activities throughout the work site.

The use of technology at workplaces will hopefully work towards eliminating the health and safety awareness gap that currently prevails across all industries and, ultimately, assist in reducing the number of fatalities and serious injuries at work.

*Luke Anear is the founder and CEO of SafetyCulture, a company which assists employers with their occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements. Anear has managed 3500 workers compensation matters as a practice manager for Lee Kelly & Associates, Sydney.

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