The biggest industry-specific safety challenges, even today

The industrial safety products market is expected to touch US$ 5.2 billion in 2024, growing at a CAGR of 8.4%, as the conversation around worker safety, justifiably, increases in pitch and volume. The industrial setting involves several crucial safety points owing to the use of production systems utilizing heavy machinery, sensitive materials, chemicals, etc. Proactively identifying threats emerging out of these and having the right safety precautions in place has now become the most logical thing to do.

You would assume that workplace safety in an industrial environment is a given, but this is far from reality. While industry has established safety norms and regulations, this landscape continues to remain challenging. Innovation in this space is rare and the hotbeds of technology-driven transformation seem to have ignored workers’ safety as a domain.

In order to lend some insights and to get a conversation started on safety-oriented innovation, we have created a list of the safety challenges that our industrial clients have to navigate even today.

1. Manufacturing

Despite having safety measures in place, the manufacturing industry still has to battle challenges that come from exposing employees to incorrectly installed machine guards, electrical and mechanical hazards emerging from improperly installed equipment, unlocked electrical panels, etc., and poor machine maintenance. Also, there are occasional cases of insufficient employee vigilance (employees taking shortcuts or ignoring safety rules out of convenience, careless attitudes, or overwork and fatigue).

Workers don’t have to be surrounded by combustible material to declare the work environment unsafe. The manufacturing environment in itself cannot be called 100% safe, given the very nature of the business and its necessary operations. However, without a safety focus, manufacturing companies are looking at heavy OSHA fines, expensive property damage, recovery costs, worker compensation, and damage to company reputation. Incidents in the workplace also impact employee morale and productivity which all have an impact on the company’s bottom line.

2. Mining

It’s hard to ignore the difficulty of fortifying the mining worksites. These environments can be unstable and harsh, and the deeper miners go the more unstable the environment is and the higher the risk. Safety strategies in these environments have to include an engineering framework that can eliminate or reduce the occurrence of disasters. Any cogent strategy designed to protect the workforce must improve chances of escape, rescue, and survival. That will likely mean additional investment for the company, but nothing is more important than sending dedicated workers back home to their families at end of the shift.

Mining also needs continuous monitoring of conditions, especially through leveraging remote means. Mining companies thus need to be hyper-vigilant and maintain continuous monitoring—whether it is by monitoring the air for adverse particles or by observing machine placement. Mining companies have to gain access to data to ensure proper mine layouts, mine design, and rigorous PPE and procedures.

In the near future, mining will be carried out under more adverse conditions. Mines are expected to be dug deeper, with thinner seams, and in harsher environmental conditions. Owing to this, mining will need more remote management and automation and greater insights into the workforce at an individual level

3. Forestry and Logging

The forestry and logging industry showed an astounding rate of 136 injuries per 100,000 workers in 2016. This is the highest rate of injury for any occupation in the United States.

Forestry and logging work involve unnatural and uncomfortable working postures and immense exposure to noise and vibration. Uneven terrain, dense tree population, climatic extremes increase the risk. Falling trees and branches, chainsaw “kickbacks”, and tree hang-ups pose serious risks to the workers. Challenging terrains and other site factors such as the steepness of slopes, low visibility conditions, unsafe distances between yarded trees and logs, nature of soil increase the risks of forestry accidents. Repetitive strain injuries that occur due to whole-body vibrations while operating heavy machinery are still prevalent through vibration dampers and job rotation has alleviated the challenge a bit.

Log landings and reloading terminals are other high-risk areas owing to the sheer number of operations conducted in these spaces. Logs in unsecured piles, inefficient space for vehicle maneuvering, inadequate tools and machine maintenance, inadequately trained personnel, etc. make this environment dangerous.

However, given this environment, organizations are still struggling to get information at an individual level from their employees. The absence of real-time data from these sites is still impeding the industry from being proactive in preventing accidents and incidents. With the right data, analysis, and monitoring systems, along with proper implementation, these accidents are preventable.

4. Construction

The construction industry shows some grim statistics:

  • 900: The number of construction workers killed in 2015 (the most recent year for which this data is available) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Construction-related fatalities accounted for 21.4 percent of all worker fatalities in 2015
  • Nearly two-thirds of construction fatalities were a result of the “Focus Four” hazards: caught-in or caught-between incidents, electrocution, falls, or struck-by incidents.
  • Of the 82,760 accident injuries involving days of work missed in 2016, 26,010 of them involved 31 days or more away from work, which works out to nearly a third of all accident injuries requiring days away from work. That’s a massive amount of lost productivity due to injuries and illnesses.

One of the many challenges facing construction safety is that the safety measures are based on outdated data; and historical behavior and practices. Workforces and workplaces change from year to year, and they should do so taking into account the safety impact of any measure.

The predictive maintenance of machines is emerging as imperative to improve safety levels as well as to reduce downtime. Then there is the inconspicuous risk associated with working in confined spaces that manifest in the form of oxygen deficit, combustible or toxic environments, etc. These spaces have to be continuously monitored and tested before entry to ensure proper calibration records.

Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) processes also have to be implemented to ensure that workers can safeguard themselves from unexpected energization or startup of machinery and equipment or the release of hazardous energy during maintenance of these confined spaces.

5. The way forward

The silver lining is that many industries are waking up to their responsibility to implement robust safety and security measures for their workforce. Research shows that productivity levels of workers increase phenomenally in the presence of robust safety programs. One key motivator is to achieve compliance; but at Guardhat, we have been heartened by the other voices talking of the moral responsibility as well to ensure workers’ safety. Finally, it has become commonplace that workplace safety is not seen only for its fiduciary impact.

But what is also clear is that these industries need greater visibility and more real-time data at an individual level to deliver real impact. There are specific nuances applicable in each of these industries. The challenges that workers face are different across industries, across companies within an industry, and even across worksites operated by the same company. In this light, safety solutions have to emerge from well-considered use-cases; and not merely from the power of the latest ‘it’ technology.

Safety measures must address all the challenges that workers encounter. Safety solutions must factor in their technological capabilities. It is also essential to ensure that technology itself assists in bringing about a shift in worker behavior and attitude towards safety. Without that, these solutions will remain sub-optimal and under-utilized.

This demands real-time situational awareness that can only be achieved through the advanced connectivity of workers and assets. Managers need a complete and critical field of vision to see things their workers face, things that are their current blind spot. Safety managers and executives must gain a holistic view of the work environment of front-line workers. Unimportant numbers will do little to make workplaces safer; companies need actionable intelligence based on advanced data analytics about frontline workers. This will enable myriad industries to transform from owning a reactive safety strategy to a proactive one.

There are approximately 13 million industrial workers in the US who every day put themselves in harm’s way in one way or the other. All across the country, they enter their factories, mines, docks, and job sites to bring necessary products and commodities to society. And each year, 4,000 deaths and three million injuries: numbers that are abysmal and wholly unacceptable considering the technological progress being made in the world. With advanced safety technology, it is now possible to effectively mitigate the risks and challenges still plaguing industries and improve workplace safety.

After all, saving a single worker’s life is worth it.


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