How Technology Is Improving Safety in the Workplace
(Guest post by Rae Steinbach)
Technology has been affecting the way we work for over a century and a half. The proliferation and adoption of digital technologies has sustained this trend. More and more employees are now working remotely or using a large range of technologies to complete their daily tasks. As with all these technological changes, both positive and negative effects of technology use on the safety of workplaces is becoming apparent.
The rise of sedentary work has enabled people of all abilities to join the workforce. However, the downside of sitting at a desk for eight hours a day are also well documented. Some studies find that sedentary work is also linked to higher rates of depression and presenteeism, or turning up for work when sick. The latter tends to cause a reduction in productivity and fall in employee morale. This a worrisome trend requiring employers’ attention.
For more hands-on work conditions, negative impact can be similarly felt when the organisation does not emphasise on safety. As one work injury lawyer in Philadelphia explains, if an employee is hurt on the job, the company can be responsible for paying up to 500 weeks of compensation to the injured party. Beyond that, a noticeable decline in productivity and retention rates can also be felt. That’s why leveraging new technology to increase safety in the workplace is more important than ever.
Ergonomic Office Spaces
There are some common risks to be aware of when working in a sedentary role, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain and eye strain. To combat these, various apps, adjustable office furniture, and office furniture accessories are causing a major transformation in offices around the world to create safer workplaces for employees.
Traditional desks and chairs are being replaced with adjustable height desks that encourage standing and accommodate workers of all abilities. Chairs that allow office workers to meet the ideal sit/stand ratio of 1:3 are becoming more common.
Also, a range of apps that can be used on smartphones or other devices to remind employees to take appropriate breaks for stretching muscles and exercising eyes are being utilized by office workers and employers who are looking to increase workplace wellbeing. Doing so also increases productivity and renews focus on tasks that need completing throughout the day.
Changes in Manufacturing Present a Double Edged Sword for Safety
Manufacturing industries have seen vast changes in recent years as they work to meet increasing consumer demand for higher quality and cheaper products. Production lines are responding by implementing flexible processes and replacing some robots with smaller and more versatile models called cobots.
These machines can safely work alongside human staff and allow for quick changes to production lines. However, this poses a potential risk as initial assessments of workplace dangers such as traditional robots and materials become outdated, or new policies are created to work in tandem with older safety practices.
As assembly lines change to become faster and more flexible, worker training and safety measures will need to be updated as well. These policies should be consistently reviewed to ensure employees and their work environments remain safe under all conditions. Avoiding situations such as the 2015 incident in a Volkswagen plant where a worker was killed by a caged-off robot requires to put a number of safeguards in place that address both old and new technologies.
Wearable Technology to Improve Workplace Safety
While manufactures and other employers grapple with the challenge of safely implementing new technologies to their workplaces, some technology developers are creating items that address specific risks in construction and other high-risk industries.
Wearable technologies are now infiltrating a number of areas. For example, high-visibility vests for construction workers can include inflatable collars and tech that monitor the wearer’s vital signs, making mining and construction less dangerous. As companies record this information, it becomes easy to identify data out of the ordinary. This can alert site managers to potential problems in the area.
Portable smart devices that provide in-situ training or enable crews to stay in touch and record on-site hazards are allowing employers to collect valuable information and standardize safety practices across multinational corporations. This increase in communication lets all employees be aware of what’s going on, even on large job sites. It alerts teams quick and easy about potentially hazardous conditions in other areas.
Workplace sensors that monitor air quality, machinery operations, and temperatures are allowing for better data collection. They can also set off real-time alarms that alert supervisors and workers in the event of a system failure, or to the presence of dangerous levels of chemicals in the air.
All of this combines to create a safer workplace. These technologies provide data that allows employers to spot trends and previously unforeseen risks, empowering them to take the necessary actions to mitigate dangers and create robust safety policies before an incident occurs.
Furthermore, safety management systems are enabling the collection and analysis of this information to be easier than ever; in some cases, the process is even automated. This results in standardized safety practices for multinational corporations, a practice endorsed by the World Health Organisation and others.
As technology continues to develop and penetrate industries of all kinds, businesses, regulatory bodies, and legislators will be required to evaluate the risks and benefits they bring to their companies and employees. It’s essential to ensure advancements are put to their best use and that conditions remain safe for all.
About the Author:
“Rae is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined International Relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to NYC to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. Rae is passionate about travel, food, and writing, of course.”