How technology is transforming health and safety in the workplace

Mark Littlejohns explains how employers' new tech can make it easier for employers to adhere to health and safety legislation, including working from heights and lone workers

Remote control drones  

Drones access dangerous areas, significantly reducing the risk to employees, which is an excellent way of demonstrating how technology is creating solutions to common health and safety issues. Drone technology is particularly useful in undertaking work or accessing areas that are remote, difficult to get to, or involve working at height. The latter not only keeps employees safe but also ensures compliance with the Working at Height Regulations which place a duty on the employer to eliminate the need for working at height if reasonably practicable to do so.

Artificial intelligence 

In 2017, the UK government launched funding to implement artificial intelligence to support safer working practices. One of the outcomes of this was a solution powered by artificial intelligence, which continuously monitors and reacts to specific dangers in real time, whether that’s only opening doors if clothing or equipment requirements are met or alerting security to an individual based on a predetermined profile. Certain equipment requires minimum standards of PPE and will not operate until it has been recognised to ensure an employee is wearing the correct equipment. 

Check-in technology 

The introduction of various check-in and desk booking technology has been a game-changer for many employers and helps quickly identify who is on site. This technology has been particularly valuable since the Covid-19 pandemic, with many workers asked to work from home. Using this service, employers can easily track who is in the office or working from home. If desk booking has been used, this can even help with track and trace efforts to identify who may have come into close contact with someone who’s tested positive for Covid-19 along with ensuring they are providing the correct level of fire warden and first aid cover.

Lone worker apps and wearable panic alarms 

The risks associated with lone working are well documented and employers have embraced technology to help reduce these risks. Lone worker apps which can be added to employees’ smartphones help provide fast GPS services, welfare checks, and panic alarms. Some other employers may choose to introduce wearable panic alarms for those in high-risk situations but whatever the technology used these devices give real time information on location and status of employees along with providing a first response when in a dangerous environment. 

Autonomous vehicles 

Around 95 per cent of crashes are caused by human error. The introduction of driverless vehicles is probably one for the future but is another example of how technology can help to reduce accidents in the workplace. Vehicles of the future will have multiple sensors, cameras fitted and will be closely linked to their location using GPS, all of which is designed to monitor the driving operations, detect the correct route and make changes as needed should any serious hazards be identified.

What this means for organisations

Technology is changing rapidly and should be embraced to keep the workplace a safer and healthier place for all. Organisations need to consider the use of technology when deciding upon what is ‘reasonably practicable’ and include it in their thoughts when undertaking risk assessments and developing safe working procedures. However, although new technology may bring a safer way of undertaking work it should be considered alongside existing work practices and introduced through appropriate consultation with workers.

It is also important that the introduction of any new working practice does not create additional hazards unless these have also been assessed and suitably controlled.

Mark Littlejohns is head of safety, health, environment and fire at Capital People