It’s no secret that large organisations are faced with numerous threats to their people, assets and operations. When an incident occurs, the faster you can react, the more likely it is that you can minimise potential losses. Delayed awareness and slow response times can be costly for production rates, profitability, reputation and the health and safety of employees. Despite waves of automation elsewhere in large enterprises, emergency responses are often still stuck in manual, reactive and often much-delayed process.

Workplace safety for industrial environments and their employees has increasingly gained widespread attention and concern due to increasing production pressures and an ever-increasing international competitiveness, in conjunction with more complex operations. This has the potential to increase health and safety risks of employees if the various risks are not adequately monitored and controlled. This is ever so present within the construction and mining industries where injuries and fatalities are far more common.

Even with the growing use of AI and robotics, things can still go wrong. Although the use of technology is typically thought to increase productivity and IT strategy, it is gaining more traction when it comes to health and safety. And with the pressures being placed on organisations to comply with health and safety laws and standards, the emergence of more sophisticated safety strategies is vital.

In no time is the conversation of mechanisation more crucial. In a recent comment to Bloomberg on mining fatalities having risen in South Africa, Peter Bailey, chairman for health and safety at the National Union of Mineworkers, commented, “Companies are maximizing profits while violating safety procedures.”

Operators in South Africa, are still using labour-intensive mining methods such as hand drilling. This backs up the notion/opinion that companies are maximising profits whilst violating safety procedures. Bloomberg also recently chatted to Patrice Motsepe, executive chairman of African Rainbow Minerals Ltd., about the increase in mining fatalities, who said “In a country where there’s so much unemployment, where all of us are committed to creating jobs, if you look at the mines that have the lowest fatalities, it tends to be the ones that are more mechanized.”

The risk of human error

The majority of risk management systems and safety solutions are heavily reliant on data from the various work areas. The challenge is that the status quo around data generation is paper and people driven. According to Eric Croeser, Director of Partnerships in Mining, “currently, mines rely on people to conduct these assessments and update system logs.”

As competent as these safety systems are, there is always the added risk of human error. No matter the skills and training, there is always a degree of uncertainty implied when it comes to the accuracy of each assessment based on our inability to completely separate our perception of events and outcomes. As humans, our perceptions are naturally biased by common order and, therefore, a 100% assessment cannot be obtained.

Naturally, humans are biased by their own perception of things. Human judgement and decision making are distorted by an array of cognitive, perceptual and motivational biases. This unconscious bias is pervasive within the workplace and it affects a number of business decisions. When it comes to assessing certain risks, we need to understand that it is subjective to our own thinking about risk.

According to Daniel Kahneman, Author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, there is a pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behaviour. Kahneman states that “we’re generally overconfident in our opinions and our impressions and judgments”.  His book outlines the impact of loss aversion and overconfidence on corporate strategies, the challenges of correctly framing risks at work and home, and the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from the stock market to planning the next vacation

Croeser also noted that “within that short interval control, if you’re relying on people you’re not getting the actual data. You’re getting biased opinions and run the risk of having paperwork being filled out without actual assessments being done. You don’t know if the paper-based exercise has been completed. And to what degree it was done accurately.”

Technology: The upside to workplace safety

The workplace health and safety systems are in place to protect the well-being of the workers, as well as the productivity of the company’s machinery. Therefore, it’s important to ensure the sophistication of each process. When it comes to workplace safety within mining and industry, risks are naturally increased as the area is objectively more accident-prone.

So, we know that some change is needed to ensure more accurate assessments of safety risks. We also know that workers dislike change. As humans, we naturally tend to favour what we already know. Therefore, bringing big changes to a workplace can sometimes prove to be quite challenging. However, change is inevitable with industry markets becoming more reliant on technology and companies opening their doors to smart devices.

The Internet of Things is proving to be a game changer by revolutionising safety management. IoT is generating big gains in safety, efficiency and profitability for companies worldwide, including those heavy asset industries.

Adopting technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics is made easier with IoT and the technology also offers managers more control over the time frame between event and response to event.

Using real-time data to ensure accuracy

Automating and integrating processes will open up a new level of safety and transparency in production. Industrial safety technology allows for humans and machines to interact with each other in smart factories without any incidents. Essentially, using near-real-time data to verify and accurately quantify potential safety risks within the factory will allow managers to gain access to real, unfiltered data. These technologies will also reconstruct scenarios so they’re not affected by biases and allow for actual risk-based assessments to be made.

IoT devices offer businesses smarter devices and smarter possibilities. These devices offer something beyond simple data capture. They recognise patterns within that data and assist the worker to make an informed, statistically driven decision. Sensors within this technology will learn your machinery’s ‘normal state’ and detect patterns that deviate from it. First line managers are notified instantaneously so they can respond in a way that will better ensure the safety of the workers.

By tracking things like environmental factors that have bearing on the health and safety of the workers, businesses can assess any and all potential dangers and then create an appropriate response before an event even occurs. By using IoT and smart devices to track the risk of the operations of your mine, you will also be ensuring long-term safety, improving compliance, and assessing risks and then taking proactive action.

The early Bird

Industry safety is all about accurate, near real-time data. Operations need to be tracked 24/7 for businesses to stay on top of the safety of their workers. When it comes to accurately assessing injury and fatality rates, as well as all the near misses and unsafe acts, we need to look to the bottom of the Bird Triangle. With hundreds of unsafe, no-injury incidents being reported, and many more near-misses, for every major injury including fatality and major disability, it can be easy to miss all the times that an event almost occurred.

“The base incidents and near misses or collisions, excessive machine use or damages, PLCs integrated into different systems showing how many times conveyor belts fall out on pull keys – those are the events that are likely caused by someone doing something unsafe. In a digitalised world, you can start exploring the correlation of these events to factors like people position, environmental factors and other input KPIs into the process for more information.”

Companies can track these near misses in near real-time to create and implement more accurate systems of prevention. It also allows managers to stay educated on the behaviours that the workers typically adopt that may prove to be unsafe and, therefore, lead to incident. As a result, more relevant training programs and industry education can be implemented to assist the human side of accident prevention. There is also the possibility that, through IoT, these data points could be integrated into a model that can be used for training in a simulated VR environment. An interactive training environment that emulates the existing control systems, the physical plant design and layout and the operator consoles will optimize the transfer of skills from off-line training environments to the actual work environment as well as maximise team training and communication.

Going digital will also reduce the amount of paperwork and time required to report on any and all incidents, major and minor, within the workplace. “Consider an employer who downgrades performance ratings based on incidents being filed. Would you track them all accurately, even if no-one is injured?”

Using real-time data to gain access to more accurate recordings in the bottom two portions of the triangle ensure that you are able to intervene before, minor and non-injury incidents, and at-risk behaviours occur within the Bird Triangle occur, filling it up to Lost Time Injury/fatality.

Better communication for companies

The aim of IoT integrated technologies, is to connect enterprise sensory data, system data, and employee smart devices together to create a single multi-channel critical communication platform. By collecting data from all pieces of operating machinery and converting that data into meaningful 24/7 information, disruptions in operations are minimised while employees are kept safe and informed. A single multi-channel communication platform will also ensure that all communications and interactions coming in from various channels are tracked, measured and managed accordingly.

Using technology to harness the strengths of high-speed communication is fundamental for improving workplace safety. Critical communication platforms are deployed to warn people in the event of a crisis.

By integrating critical communications with IoT technology, organisations can improve physical security and business continuity as well as minimise the impact of crisis including machinery malfunction, security breaches, physical injury and a mechanical warehouse fire.

Digital technology is providing the answers

With technology advancing daily, it’s vital to stay in tune with the smart devices available within your industry. By using IoT smart devices, you can generate data that will always keep you up to date on what’s happening a job site, in real-time. Then, by combining this data with other other innovative tools like the Cloud, mobile, VR, AR, and automation, companies can help others strengthen safety programs and initiatives.

So, when it comes to supporting the health and safety measures of your company, digitalisation is just what the doctor ordered. The solutions and thinking discussed here don’t just hold true for the health and safety of your workers, but also for operational efficiency. Any employee downtime could result in production and operational downtime for the company. Implementing the IoT technological measures will also reduce the amount of operational downtime a company has when things go wrong. By continuously tracking the operations of the factory and the safety of its workers, improvements can be made and solutions can be implemented without laying impact on the efficiency of production.