With the rapid development of data driven technologies in the 21st century, there is now more quantifiable workplace safety information in the form of data than ever, according to EHS Today.
In the past, workplace accidents involving injuries and fatalities were almost always associated with human error due to the lack of data and sophisticated analysis methods needed to identify root causes and causation analyses that were "subjective in nature," per EHS Today. With the abundance of data available today, safety managers and other professionals can now more accurately identify causes and trends to in turn, implement proactive safety measures.
How safety professionals use data and analytics
In one recent study, environment, health and safety managers stated that the most important reasons for using data and analytics to improve safety include the ability to predict workplace injuries, improve compliance and monitor and track safety culture. Using Environmental, Health and Safety software and other tools, organizations can gauge safety-related data metrics and key performance indicators. These tools can garner metrics like the number of reportable incidents, audit findings and lost-time injuries, as well as traditionally non-quantified aspects of safety culture, such as the numbers of senior leadership safety visits, for example.
While similar at face-value, safety culture and performance are both separate in terms of the conclusions that can be drawn from their associated metrics. Based on the information in these two datasets, organizations should be able to mine other data to create their own respective safety climates divided into three focus areas: employee engagement, management commitment and overall safety management systems. "By putting these together, you can model and determine the leading indicators impacting workplace safety at your organization," Paz writes.
"[Safety managers] need to become better at what they took that job for: To develop culture, keep people safe, and develop an appropriate environment and the appropriate type of organization to reduce incidents," Bowers Management Analytics founder Keith Bowers told Safety and Health Magazine.
While some of the safety metrics used today have been used in the profession since it first became widely used in the late 19th century and turn of the 20th century, today's safety professionals now have other 21st-century "internet of things" tools at their disposal. IoT technologies include wireless interactive sensors, touch-screen tablets and wearable devices that can yield even further information that can be used in developing an organization's safety "climate."
How to implement 21st century EHS workplace measures
Some data metrics have already been used by safety professionals in the many years since the role was first devised in the early 1900s in response to changing laws that held workplaces (mainly factories using then-high-tech machinery with dangerous moving parts) liable for any workers' injuries or fatalities, according to Safe Work in the 21st Century, published by the Institute of Medicine's Committee to Assess Training Needs for Occupational Safety and Health Personnel in the U.S. in 2000. Even in 1996, the specified role and duties of a safety professional by the then-American Society of Safety Engineers (the word "engineers" was officially replaced with "professionals" in 2018) were still very similar to that of those working in the profession today:
- Anticipate, identify and evaluate hazardous conditions and practices:
As a first step that a safety professional follows to carry out the job to the best of his or her abilities, this involves the creation of safety-related data collection methods and recording of information. With the technological limitations at the time, certain regularly recorded quantifiable metrics were available (such as the number of accidents within a year), although physical surveys were one important tool used — as they are today in digital form.
- Research and develop appropriate hazard controls:
Once sufficient information has been gathered related to workplace hazards, safety professionals can then begin planning the integration of hazard controls into daily operations. These controls can be engineered to reduce or completely eliminate any accidents, exposures or other hazards. With regard to adherence to policies and standards, organizations can implement new environmental or health-related procedures and codes for operations, procurement and contracting, for example.
- Implement, monitor and adjust new workplace changes:
When new safety controls are rolled out, organizations should always make sure that their employees are provided sufficient time and resources to be trained. Training can include directional assistance in hazard recognition and control, media communication guidelines and management practices. With the use of new technology to garner important metrics, EHS work is an ongoing process; therefore, new controls should continuously be monitored and adjusted as new information is made available on a regular basis. Safety professionals can make recommendations by using data to conduct cost-benefit and risk analyses. According to Basic Safe, 21st century safety professionals must be aware of the risks associated with the use of new internet-connected technologies such as cyber attacks and power outages, which can have major safety implications.
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