Technology and health and safety in the workplace: an aid not a replacement

As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, that of artificial intelligence and automation, companies are increasingly implementing advanced technological solutions within the workplace, which is changing the dynamics of managing health and safety.

Technological advancement has been rapid over the last couple of decades with the internet, smart phones, tablets and lifestyle products such as fitness monitors and smart lighting systems, becoming part of our daily life. Beyond that, innovative technology is now impacting on how businesses approach the duty of care owed to employees and members of the public to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that they are not at risk of a workplace injury.

Application in the workplace

Advancements in technology are enabling employers from a number of industries to deploy innovative solutions across various processes and procedures, reducing the risk of injury to their employees and members of the public. Examples of advances which are currently being utilised include:

Examples of uses of innovation and their benefits

Drones

  • Inspection of roofs, negating the need to work at height.
  • Collection of data from areas which are dangerous because of adverse temperatures or otherwise difficult for employees to access.
  • Transportation of defibrillators to patients on large sites or locations that are difficult to reach, thereby reducing response times.

Wearable technology

Smart phone ‘apps’ and wrist wear with sensors enable employers to monitor a worker’s working environment and their exposure to potential health hazards, including fatal substances such as gas or other risks such as excessive noise and levels of vibration which can be detrimental to a workers health over a long period of time.

Employers with lone workers have utilised wearable technology that require workers to depress a button to confirm their position on a regular basis (if a worker forgets to check in they are reminded audibly and/or by their device vibrating), failing which an alert is sent to the office to contact the worker concerned.

Safety equipment software

Through the use of video cameras, Cisco and Cortexica Vision have developed AI-Safe, which when placed above operational exits and entrances, detect workers and ensure that they are wearing the right Personal Protective Equipment. Any worker who is not compliant will have their access restricted and their manager alerted. 

Underwater camera systems

Underwater camera systems have been introduced as an additional aid for lifeguards to assist in identifying swimmers in difficulties by issuing an audible alert and highlighting a swimmer on a monitor, if they have been stationary for a period of time.

Comment

Since the Definitive Sentencing Guideline for Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food and Hygiene Offences came into force in February 2016, businesses are more concerned than ever with ensuring that they comply with health and safety legislation to avoid substantial penalties and many are turning to innovative advanced technological solutions.

There is no doubt that such innovative solutions assist to ensure the health and safety of employees further than ever before. Implementation of technology designed to increase the safety of employees also increases the likelihood of a potential defence or mitigation if a business is subject to an investigation by a regulatory authority or indeed a prosecution. Companies will of course have to consider what, if any, additional foreseeable risks, these new technologies might pose and how those risks may need to be controlled.

It also poses a further question as to who is responsible if the technology goes wrong, the operator, employer, data collector or the developer of the software. Ethical questions also arise, particularly in relation to data collection and privacy where the technology monitors employees and/or the general public and collects data.

As technology continues to develop, there will no doubt be considerations for the regulatory authorities including the HSE as to their approach in their investigation and relevant parties to pursue following an incident. In the meantime, businesses may wish to proceed with caution with a view to avoiding any over-reliance on new technological devices and innovations now at our disposal. Technology should be regarded as a useful additional aid to oversee health and safety within the work place, rather than a replacement for a trained, competent workforce with suitable and sufficiently documented systems of work.

Read other items in Health, Safety and Environment Brief - December 2018

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