Assessing EHS Needs: Making the Case for Technology in the Workplace

Assessing EHS Needs: Making the Case for Technology in the Workplace

Modernizing safety protocols involves integrating technology into EHS management.

Imagine it’s a typical warm summer day. Your project is moving along, but as each week passes, setbacks pull the project off the pace to completion. As the pressure to meet project milestones builds, your team has to streamline processes to keep up with the project plan. Soon the typical water, rest and shade protocol becomes insufficient, and you are tasked with creating and implementing an actual heat stress management policy. You know people are getting too hot but you don’t have the data to prove it. 

The Rising Importance of EHS in Modern Workplaces

The rising importance of environmental health and safety (EHS) comes from a collective understanding that a safe workplace is not a luxury but a necessity. This understanding is compounded by the dynamic nature of modern workplaces, which encompass diverse environments, novel materials and advanced machinery.

Ethical considerations, such as corporate social responsibility (CSR), have also significantly influenced EHS’s growing focus. Companies now recognize that ensuring employee health and safety reflects positively on their brand and is crucial to employee retention and satisfaction. 

Recent Trends and Statistics 

Statistically, the urgency for robust EHS measures is evident. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 5,500 workers died on the job in 2022. BLS also reports that private industry employers reported almost 3 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2022. 

Heat-related illnesses are particularly a growing concern and are often underestimated. The increasing frequency of extreme weather conditions due to climate change exacerbates this issue, making it more critical than ever for businesses to adopt comprehensive EHS strategies that are both proactive and reactive. Each work environment presents its unique set of challenges.

With the undeniable significance of EHS now in focus, all organizations must identify their specific EHS needs. 

Identifying EHS Needs in Your Workplace

A distinct set of risks characterizes each work environment, such as the dangers of operating heavy machinery or exposure to chemicals. Similarly, in the healthcare sector, workers are exposed to biohazards, ergonomic risks and emotional stress. 

Conducting a thorough risk assessment involves identifying these hazards and understanding the frequency and severity of potential incidents. This holistic approach ensures that all aspects of worker safety are considered, from physical hazards to ergonomic and psychological risks. 

Assessing Your Current EHS Practices

Evaluating your current EHS practices is crucial. This involves reviewing accident reports, examining workplace processes and engaging with employees to understand their safety concerns.

Some questions could be: 

  • Are safety drills conducted regularly?
  • Is there a clear protocol for reporting hazards?
  • How effectively are safety training and educational programs being implemented?

These questions help identify areas where your current safety measures are falling short. Additionally, benchmarking against industry best practices can provide insight into areas for improvement and innovation in your EHS strategies. After assessing current EHS practices, the next step is to explore how modern solutions, like technology, can elevate EHS strategies to new heights. 

How Technology Enhances EHS

Technology integration into EHS has revolutionized its management, shifting the focus towards more predictive and preventive strategies.

Some types of technological advancements are reshaping EHS management, offering promising solutions to enhance workplace safety and efficiency, including the following: 

  • Virtual reality (VR) training simulations. VR training simulations immerse employees in realistic scenarios to practice safety procedures without real-world risks. These simulations improve learning retention and decision-making skills, preparing workers to respond effectively to emergencies. 
  • Predictive maintenance systems. Predictive maintenance predicts equipment failures using data analytics, reducing the risk of unexpected breakdowns. By proactively identifying issues, organizations can minimize downtime and maintenance costs, ensuring reliable operations and safer work environments. 
  • Internet of Things (IoT) sensors. IoT sensors monitor environmental conditions and employee health in real time. From air quality to physiological indicators, these sensors provide valuable insights to mitigate risks and enhance worker well-being. Wearable IoT devices can detect signs of ergonomic or heat stress, promoting proactive health management. By looking at physiological signs, sensors monitor workers’ vital signs, such as heart rate and core body temperature, alerting them to potential health risks like heat stress or musculoskeletal (MSD) injuries.
  • Drones. Drones represent another leap in technology for EHS. They are instrumental in hard-to-reach or hazardous areas, providing real-time surveillance without exposing human workers to risk. 

Benefits of EHS Technologies

The advantages of adopting these technologies are numerous. Real-time connectivity, data and alerting allow for immediate response to potential hazards, drastically reducing emergency response time. 

Predictive analytics are crucial in risk assessment, identifying potential safety breaches before they result in accidents or injuries. This enhances workplace safety and boosts employee morale, as workers feel more secure knowing that proactive measures are in place to protect their health and well-being. 

Furthermore, these technologies allow for better compliance with regulatory requirements, enabling easy access to accurate data that demonstrates adherence to safety standards. However, companies will never achieve these benefits without first focusing on properly integrating EHS technology into their workflows. 

Integrating EHS Technology Solutions

The first step is establishing a clear EHS technology integration strategy and identifying specific safety goals. Are you looking to reduce workplace accidents, improve emergency response or ensure regulatory compliance? 

After setting these goals, evaluate how to utilize technology to achieve them. This may involve a gap analysis to identify the areas technology can impact most. It’s also important to consider the long-term vision of your EHS strategy and how the chosen technology will adapt to future changes and advancements. 

Choosing the Right Technology

Selecting the right technology requires careful consideration of several factors: 

  • Ease-of-use. If a technology is too complex or unintuitive, the workforce may not adopt it effectively. 
  • Scalability. The technology should be able to grow with your business and adapt to changing needs. This also includes new potential features by the vendor to grow to other parts of your business. 
  • Integration. The new technology should seamlessly integrate with existing systems to ensure a smooth transition and avoid data silos.
  • Cost-effectiveness. Affordability and ROI are always vital considerations for any business.
  • Data Security. Look for technologies that offer robust cybersecurity and privacy features, which are especially important in today’s digital age. 

Implementation and Training

The success of any new technology depends heavily on its implementation and the training provided to the users. A phased implementation approach can be effective, starting with a pilot program to test the technology in a controlled environment. Many vendors understand the challenge of implementing new technology and offer free trials. During the pilot, it is best practice to gather all stakeholders from across the organization such as in IT, Legal and Procurement to ensure a smooth rollout. Feedback from this phase can guide the full-scale rollout.

Training is equally important. Employees should know how to use the new technology and understand its importance in their daily work. Continuous training and support are essential to ensure long-term adoption and effectiveness.

As workplaces evolve and safety concerns become increasingly complex, the integration of technology into EHS strategies has become more critical than ever. By embracing emerging technologies, organizations can proactively address safety challenges, enhance employee well-being and achieve operational excellence. With a commitment to continuous improvement and a focus on leveraging cutting-edge solutions, businesses can create safer, healthier and more productive work environments for their employees, ultimately driving long-term success and sustainability.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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