Empowering Safety & Productivity Performance with Big Data

Lohrasp Seify, M.Sc., MCSE, Contributor

Understanding how to transform data into quality insights and drive results is quickly becoming an expectation of professionals across every type of industry. According to a 2019 Deloitte survey[1], 70% of business executives working at companies with a large workforce (500+ employees) expect data analysis to become even more important to organizations over the next three years. In fact, respondents believe that business analytics are nearly as important as risk and reputation management. These business priorities are closely linked to the role of Environmental Health & Safety (EHS), Operations and Industrial Hygiene (IH) managers.

Using “Big Data,” EHS, Operations and IH managers can take a more proactive approach to the safety, productivity and wellbeing of an organization’s workforce. This article reviews relevant scenarios where each manager can analyze past incidents to develop meaningful insights and a recommended action plan for the future.

Safety Managers

At the most basic level, data allows safety managers to pinpoint where safety incidents are taking place. With this information, managers can define danger zones or hot zones. Once defined, a safety manager can better identify the source of the risk. Managers can look at whether a process needs to be changed; a piece of equipment needs to be fixed; or if safety events are tied to a particular individual.

Today, safety managers are using data to spot trends by working backwards from an incident. However, the ultimate goal is to use Big Data to help organizations spot risks and avoid safety incidents before they happen. Wearable, connected safety solutions that generate volumes of data can help make this a possibility.

Currently, Blackline works with EHS managers to integrate their organization’s learning management or training software with its cloud-hosted, connected safety software. This type of integration is capable of helping employees who are not trained for a certain hazard to avoid a potentially harmful situation. If an employee entered an environment that contains a hazard for which they are not trained, their connected safety wearable would send them an alert to leave the area before they entered harm’s way.

Operations Managers

David Michaels, the longest serving administrator in the history of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA),[2] argued in a Harvard Business Review article that “safety management and operational excellence are intimately linked.” He added that incidents are the result of poor production management and that improved operational performance leads to fewer injuries.

Operations managers can improve production performance—and positively impact safety—by analyzing data collected from the field. We have seen operations and scheduling benefit from using data to create a movement pattern analysis. Movement patterns tell operations managers how long workers are spending in a particular area and how much time it takes to travel from one place to another. This helps identify opportunities to drive efficiencies by relocating staging or break areas; more accurately planning movements; and making sure workers are in the right place at the right time.

We have seen operations managers ensure compliance by integrating movement pattern analysis with scheduling software. This monitoring shows that the right people, who are properly trained, are in the right place at the right time.

There is also a correlation between personnel type and safety risks. When the supervisor-to-worker ratio is low in the area for an extended period of time, there is an increased likelihood for a safety event. This information helps operations managers plan to have the right people on the job, in the right locations, to enhance safety and productivity.

There is an inherent “Big Brother” concern when it comes to monitoring and analyzing data for productivity. However, employees are more accepting when managers clearly explain that data is anonymized and aggregated for a specific purpose; and how these practices benefit both the worker and the organization. In fact, it can even help managers provide meaningful, more frequent feedback to employees. Many employees find this information empowering as they want to work for a high-performing company—one that understands and values the connection between workforce safety and productivity.

Industrial Hygienists

Industrial hygienists can analyze data to identify lagging and leading indicators of safety events. For example, IH managers can map gas exposure events to identify trends or clusters of where these events are taking place. By analyzing lagging indicators, such as past gas exposure alerts, IH managers can identify what processes are causing gas leaks and create a solution. This will inform predictions about future exposures and help IH managers develop interventions.

In addition to lagging indicators, Big Data can help IH managers identify leading indicators. These managers can look at data to determine the frequency of preventive equipment maintenance; employee engagement in safety training and processes; and other factors that would help predict safety events before they occur.

Data Integration

Safety, operations and industrial hygiene managers are adopting new software and technology to make sense of Big Data. Based on our work with more than 100 organizations across the globe, and as illustrated by the examples shared in this article, integrating software with other types of programs is the next iteration of this trend. It sharpens the accuracy of predictive analytics and allows organizations to take a more holistic approach to deploying and protecting their workforce.

For example, integrating gas exposure monitoring with Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, such as temperature and pressure sensors on a gas pipe, will help determine conditions in which a process might cause health risks. This helps identify operation thresholds that could increase the probability of gas exposures and cause safety risks for the workers. Automated systems that monitor the SCADA data could proactively warn individuals not to go into an area when thresholds are crossed. This type of integration would be valuable for safety and operations managers, as well as industrial hygienists.

Across every industry, businesses are realizing the power of data. It is a valuable asset and a commodity of the future. They are restructuring their organizations and reshaping their culture. Companies are seeking new skill sets that preserve, leverage and collect data efficiently, ethically and holistically. They know that when they embrace data, they are more likely to exceed their business goals[3]IHW

Lohrasp Seify, M.Sc., MCSE, is a Data Scientist with Blackline Safety.

For Further Reading:

Harvard Business Review, “7 Ways to Improve Operations Without Sacrificing Worker Safety,” March 21, 2018

https://hbr.org/2018/03/7-ways-to-improve-operations-without-sacrificing-worker-safety

[1] Deloitte’s 2019 Becoming an Insight-Driven Organization survey. Retrieved from: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/6308_Becoming-an-insight-driven-organization/figures/6308_Fig2.jpg

[2] David Michaels leaves OSHA after 7 years. Safety & Health Magazine. Retrieved from: https://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/15184-david-michaels-leaves-osha-after-7-years

[3] Deloitte’s 2019 Becoming an Insight-Driven Organization survey. Retrieved from: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/6308_Becoming-an-insight-driven-organization/figures/6308_Fig2.jpg