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How ‘Digital’ is changing the game for health and safety

We are continuing to make leaps and bounds by improving health and safety in the workplace supported by advances in digital that are truly changing the game. But perhaps the biggest impact of digitisation can be seen in how it can revolutionise engagement – which ultimately underpins the success and effectiveness of any health and safety program.

The first wave of Aurecon’s Our Digital Futures market research – The Digital Landscape – identified areas of focus for organisations to stay ahead of the digital curve. For organisational health and safety, there are many opportunities to create efficiencies and make better decisions. In this article, Paul Cook, Global Head of Health and Safety at Aurecon, examines how digital is being used to identify trends in incident data, improving processes and reducing risk to improve health and safety performance overall.

Health and safety has come a long way since the creation of the Mines Act and the Factory Acts of the early 19th century that were introduced to improve conditions for workers who desperately needed it. Spare a thought for workers such as 16 year old Harry McShane who lost an arm and broke his leg when he was pulled into machinery in 1908 – and didn’t receive any compensation. Progress on H&S in workplaces continued to benefit millions over the next century, with varying results – most will be familiar with iconic photos of men talking, working and eating lunch as they dangle dangerously over various ledges whilst constructing some of the world’s most famous buildings.

Fast forward to today and we are continuing to utilise advances in digital to improve health and safety in the workplace. Digital ways of working are improving how organisations identify the critical areas to focus on, how messages are communicated and how the information is understood, accepted and demonstrated through changed behaviours.

While traditional paper-based or face-to-face methods are still valid approaches to achieve these outcomes, many leaders are now also looking to ‘digital’ as a viable alternative as it can enact change on a level we’ve not witnessed before.

Those who have started to embrace ‘digital’ as a fundamental part of their health and safety strategy are seeing it remove roadblocks and excuses (by having information at people’s fingertips); and driving a positive change in culture by bringing health and safety to the forefront of people’s minds and actions.

At Aurecon, when strategic digital leadership was combined with technologies such as data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality we realised a raft of new possibilities. Aside from the expected outcomes – such as quick solutions to paper forms, reducing paperwork and enabling safety on the go through access to real time data – digital ways of working also enabled a two-way exchange which led to a proactive culture change that enhances safety practices.

We have customised our solution to allow us to gather our own data and analyse disparate sources of information to a level not possible with more traditional ways of working. We can correlate incidents: when they happen, who is involved and so on, which informs better decision making and ultimately leads to positive – and long lasting – changes in the way people act.

Turning the invisible, visible – without the real-life risk

Underlying the success of digital approaches to health and safety initiatives is the ability to make things easier for people, and turn the invisible, visible – but without the real-life risk. 

Construction sites can be overwhelming, noisy and intimidating. In Aurecon’s award-winning safety campaign My Lifesaving Rules, digital solutions were used to analyse the highest risks our people may face on sites, followed by immersion within these environments via 360 degree video so that our people are given the opportunity to experience these situations, safely.

Similarly, our Virtual Reality ‘game’ which transports the user around a construction site (with a gamified score, timing and feedback built in) allows our people to play with risk and see a simulated, realistic, consequence of what can happen when things go wrong, or procedures aren’t followed.

Using these technologies in this way is simple for the user and achieves a visceral emotional reaction. This creates a stronger memory and promotes better retention and recall than words on a piece of paper or a chalk and talk induction.

Navigating the complex digital landscape

But despite the many benefits, there are still some not yet on the digital curve. According to recent research, some organisations are unsure how to navigate the complex digital landscape, or how to realise value from embracing digitisation.

For health and safety, adopting ‘digital’ means an inevitable move away from the more traditional, paper-based ways of working, which may be holding some organisations back from diving head first into the digital river. But as the workforce continues to evolve, so must the way we approach how we engage people around health and safety, and this includes embracing modern tools and having clear leadership for how and why they are used.

But we must tread carefully and be mindful of the risks and limitations. Of utmost importance in the health and safety world is upholding regulations and standards. Any digital enhancement, or replacement, of more traditional approaches needs to be developed with regulations and good practice in mind.

We must not let ourselves get carried away with the creativity that ‘digital’ enables at the expense of compliance.

There is a risk if we wander away from the basics. Things will be omitted that should be included and things included which shouldn’t be there – which could have dire consequences in the health and safety context. Striving for a balance between creativity and compliance is critical.

Also key is making it simple for the masses, or people just won’t come to the table. You cannot make the barrier to entry too high from a technical perspective, your solutions can’t be so difficult that you have to be a professional gamer to use them. If they are too complex this is likely to lead to a lack of uptake and deter people from engaging.

There should also be some forethought given to the equipment and storage required to support your activity – it’s one thing to make a 360-degree video, but does everyone have Oculus headsets? How easy is it to transport large files around the organisation? Do you have the bandwidth?

Diving in

When it comes to embracing ‘digital’ in health and safety, there is a lot to consider. Digital can inform you along the way more seamlessly that paper-based systems and controls can be presented – in much more interactive ways which stick in people’s minds.

The benefits are there for the taking, for your organisation and more importantly for the health and safety of your people now and into the future. What it requires is starting small, failing fast (if you have to) and learning from there. I wonder what people will think when they look back at our workplaces in the years to come?

The first wave of Our Digital Futures was released in July 2019. The results of Our Digital Futures research provide key insights into the issues – and opportunities – that digitisation creates. The research will be released over three waves as The Digital Landscape, The Future of Digital and Your Digital Strategy.

To learn more and read the full report for the first wave, visit ‘Our Digital Futures’ at Aurecon.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse as 'Digital': a game changer for health and safety by Paul Cook.

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