Moving Safety up the Hierarchy of Controls

By: Doug Matthews, Contributor

Safety is prerequisite to success. Having the right systems and controls in place improves workforce productivity while safeguarding worker health and well-being. But, if you want safety to improve business outcomes and ensure success, it must move up the hierarchy of controls.

Safety and the Hierarchy of Controls

The best means of protecting workers is by controlling occupational hazards. The hierarchy of controls helps determine how to do that—what is the most effective and feasible way to control exposure to risk. This is helpful when talking about how technology implementations can change worker safety, as new tech impacts both efficacy and feasibility. (See chart, “Tech Driven Progress”)

At the top of the hierarchy, the aim is to eliminate or substitute the hazard. This is often difficult. Organizations can’t eliminate the weather. For example, it’s difficult to reduce heat from production processes or air condition an entire steel plant, mine or construction site. ​

The middle are the engineered controls that reduce workers’ exposure to the hazard without asking them to change their behavior. In hot environments, you might increase air flow or use reflective or heat-absorbing shielding or barriers to protect workers from heat-induced incidents.

At the bottom of the hierarchy is PPE and administrative control. Continuing with the heat stress example, PPE can mean wearable garments, or personal or auxiliary cooling systems. Administrative controls include intermittent breaks, mandatory hydration, buddy systems, etc., and the signage, communications, shift meetings and inspection rounds that remind and enforce these controls. These controls require worker action and compliance, along with continued investment, to prove effective. ​

Advanced technology changes the pyramid, putting the goal of hazard elimination within reach through a robust set of engineering controls.

Challenges for Adopting Connected Worker Solutions

Many production environments are rural and remote, without WiFi or even solid cellular coverage. Connected solutions allow more dynamic and virtual engineered controls. (photo courtesy Guardhat)

Connected solutions allow more dynamic and virtual engineered controls—such as restricting areas and workflows by role or certification. It provides data to better make decisions on how and where organizations can substitute or eliminate hazards. ​But there are obstacles that have stalled adoption and rollout, such as:

  • Remote Locations: Many production environments are rural and remote, without WiFi or even solid cellular coverage.​
  • Machine Focused: Most companies are focused on digitizing machine data—which is highly structured and static—and they are better at managing and using that data. People, however, make highly unstructured data, i.e., audio, visual, mobile, biometric, etc., and most companies aren’t good at collecting or leveraging this data yet.​
  • Data Privacy: Workers are nervous about technology and sharing their data, but it’s not insurmountable. In fact, 92% are open to having their data collected, if it improves their performance and well-being or provides other personal benefits. Therefore, deployments must share information on how this data is used for the worker and make sure workers are informed on who sees their data; how it is displayed; and how the data is kept safe. ​
  • Ruggedization: Devices must be tough—able to stand up to weather, heat, cold, harsh environments and, in many cases, even explosive atmospheres. In this case, they must carry an intrinsically safe certification.
  • Digital Readiness: IT complexity is an issue for many production sites and facilities. The more data that needs to be real-time, managed for privacy and security, and the more devices to charge and maintain, the more deployments become a major undertaking.

​While these obstructions are difficult, they are not impossible to overcome. There are already connected solutions being produced that meet or fix the criteria listed above. The initiative now is on organizations to choose the solutions that fit their needs and perform in the environments their workers are exposed to daily.

Digital Operations: IIoT and IIoP

Many companies are well into their digital transformation journeys. But too many organizations build out IIoT without consideration for the people that are the crucial part in these processes. This is starting to change, as more organizations are realizing that IIoT is a game changer for safety and view adopting advanced safety solutions as the right thing to do, both morally and from a business perspective.

However, it is much more than simply hooking up machines, switches and sensors to your network. This is where the concept of Industrial Internet of People, or IIoP, comes into being. The benefits of IIoT and IIoP are incredibly aligned and should be used together to improve and transform how we work. Both make production safer; work best if they include an understanding of where equipment and people are; require a connection between operations and IT; and deliver information to make better decisions.

The key difference is the inclusion and focus on the people aspect, in addition to the machine. No matter the level of automation; people are always going to be the most important part of an organization’s efforts to succeed.

Doug Matthews, Chief Growth Officer, Guardhat

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