Innovation and health and safety in the workplace
The modern workplace is increasingly driven by innovation and technology and there is a keen focus on how both can help to streamline and improve working patterns and processes.
Here we consider some situations where we have identified innovation that has influenced health and safety in both the workplace and in the enforcement of health and safety law.
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health recently commissioned an independent study from the University of Nottingham into the use of virtual environment health and safety training. The virtual environments created for the study utilised not only audio-visual systems but also engaged other senses by using heat and smell. The study used infrared heaters to provide a heat source in a building fire evacuation scenario and a diffuser to provide a smell of fuel in an engine disassembly task with a fuel leak. The hardware for the simulator had a combined cost of £2,765 which is perhaps considerably cheaper than many would expect.
The study concluded that virtual environment training motivated responses consistent with those shown in real life (as opposed to other forms of training that failed to motivate such responses). It also found that individuals responded with a greater degree of urgency when compared with audio-visual training responses. It further suggested that the level of engagement from participants and the overall attitude to health and safety in the workplace was improved when virtual environment training was used as opposed to traditional power-point methods, and that it appeared to motivate a greater willingness in participants to undertake future training.
This innovative approach to health and safety training allows employers to generate real- life scenarios that in turn will help them predict, analyse and improve the responses of their employees when faced with emergency situations, and may help organisations to prepare an effective crisis management plan.
In our experience, the use of laser-scanning for incident investigation following a workplace incident is becoming more and more commonplace, with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) having used it on multiple occasions. Laser-scanning improves both the speed and accuracy with which experts can capture and analyse data from the scene of an accident.
This innovation means that experts can undertake site investigations far more quickly than previously possible and, where sites have been substantially altered as a result of an incident, use remaining data points to digitally recreate them. It seems inevitable that this will become even more commonplace over time to assist both the investigation procedure and, where appropriate, the court processes that may follow.
It does appear that the health and safety sector is utilising advancements in technology and innovation within the workplace to support other safety measures. There is no doubt that such developments will enable employers to model, predict and test human reaction to emergency situations more accurately, and therefore prepare a more informed plan to manage a crisis.
Further, the increased use of laser scanning by the authorities post-incident enables more accurate information and data to be passed to the various experts for comment. In our experience however, the HSE are not always willing to share that data until several months after an incident, and sometimes not until court proceedings are commenced. Therefore, where appropriate, companies may wish to consider engaging a third party to capture their own scan data (where access to the site is permitted and this can be safely facilitated) so that they do not have to rely on the data captured by the HSE which might not be shared.