Workplace safety is becoming an increasing concern for employers—especially now that new tech is making it more possible to prevent injuries and illnesses. In 2013, there were 4,585 onsite worker deaths in the United States—more than 12 every day—but hopefully, with a better understanding of those injuries and more tools to prevent and respond to them, we can collectively reduce that number in 2018 and beyond.
So what are the major tech trends improving workplace safety?
Tech Trends to Watch
These are some of the most important tech trends related to workplace safety to watch:
- Signage. Old-school signage in the workplace is simple; you might have a sticker for hazardous materials, descriptive text for a high-risk area, or OSHA-related posters hanging on the walls. But modern technology is advancing, with digital “smart” signage that can adapt to different conditions. Digitally programmable signage can change with changing conditions, and provide more eye-catching alerts for employees.
- Advanced training. New tech is also making training easier and more efficient. Online environments give employees the chance to interact with other people on the job, and detailed simulations can give them a risk-free trial run of their workplace environment. Better trained workers will adhere to safety standards more consistently, and will have more experience they can use to avoid injuries altogether.
- Wearables. Wearable technology has been a huge breakthrough for workplace safety already, and across many different applications. For example, work boots enabled with RFID technology can help supervisors keep track of worker movements throughout the day. Smartwatches and other wearable tech can give workers immediate feedback about changing environmental conditions, such as increases in temperature or exposure to different chemicals. Wearables can also be used as a way to live video chat with people from down the hall or across the globe.
- AI surveillance. Artificial intelligence (AI) enhanced surveillance systems are another field of development. Smarter, more detailed cameras and more intuitive search engines make it easier for supervisors to keep an eye on their workers—and review footage in the wake of an accident to determine exactly what went wrong.
- Better materials. We’re also seeing the emergence of higher-quality materials for protective equipment. Materials used for personal protective equipment (PPEs) like visors are becoming more durable, and less permeable by chemical compounds and other threats. In general, the materials used to make uniforms and equipment is becoming stronger and lighter weight, making it simultaneously more protective and less cumbersome.
- Better furniture and devices. Better devices give workers access to information, and the ability to review that information more quickly; for example, a handheld tablet in a factory can give an employee live feedback about current conditions. Better-designed furniture, too, can help maintain employees’ physical form, and prevent the advancement of gradually emerging injuries, like those related to repetitive movements or long-term poor posture.
- Augmented reality. In the mid to distant future, wearable goggles may be embedded with augmented reality (AR) technology, which can blend the physical world with digitally rendered information to give employees a better view on what’s going on in their surroundings. This could include live feedback, such as temperature and navigational readings, as well as on-screen instructions guiding workers in best practices in dangerous environments.
Cost and Change
The two biggest limiting factors in adopting these technologies is their cost, and organizational resistance to change. Even if it means preventing workplace injuries—or even workplace deaths—companies may not be willing to invest thousands of dollars in a new, possibly unproven technology. They may also be reluctant to upgrade older systems that they’ve already gotten used to. Fortunately, these technologies will likely get cheaper as they get more advanced and more available—but resistance to change is an even bigger obstacle to face.