We Should All Be Losing Sleep Over Worker Safety

This post originally appeared here in Forbes Technology Council by Guardhat CEO Saikat Dey.

If you knew you were responsible for the life of another human being, could you sleep at night? I lost sleep when I ran one of the region’s largest steelmakers with a workforce of more than 2,500. On each shift, my team might face noxious chemicals, heat and noise exposure, injuries from heavy machinery, falls, etc. It felt like sending soldiers into battle. In some industries, workers can face even greater threats.

In 2019, 5,333 workers died on the job — 15 people every day. What if one of those people was in my crew? I’ve had those conversations with next of kin. Workers comp can’t compensate for the death of a spouse or the agony of a child growing up without a parent.

These risks kept me up at night because a vast majority of workplace deaths and injuries — more than 85% — are preventable. Think of the financial, emotional and societal burden that could be avoided if we could prevent these deaths.

Safety interventions and improvements have decreased fatalities and injuries significantly since the 1970s, when we lost 38 workers a day and injured many more. However, in the last 10 years, we’ve plateaued, and in some areas, started moving in the wrong direction.

Yet, there is reason to be hopeful for the future of industrial worker safety. Every once in a while, macro forces converge and complement one another to create a watershed moment, a time for a paradigm shift in how things are done. We are in such a time because of a confluence of three major forces:

  1. A dramatic improvement in tech combined with a reduction in cost.
  2. A growing shortage of industrial workers.
  3. Enormous investments in digital transformation.

Combined, these factors create an opportunity for an exponential positive shift in workplace safety.

Advances in IoT are bringing technology “to life.”

Until recently, technology has been largely “two-dimensional,” limited to the virtual world and reliant on human input to “sense” the world around it. AI-powered diagnosis tools required physicians to input data about the patient, symptoms, etc. Now, with cheaper, easy-to-deploy sensors, these tools have cameras, temperature and chemical sensors that pick up information to make a diagnosis without human input.

In industrial environments, the advancement of IoT means we move from reactive, post-incident response to real-time and even predictive intervention and prevention. Workers can be equipped with tools that can directly sense threats. Making the industrial sector safer and sexier via cutting-edge technology is critical to attracting new workforce entrants. This data will also help extend gains in digital transformation efforts.

Now, companies have the ability, need and incentive to do more to equip our workers with the tools they need to be safe and productive. But this isn’t a call for charity. At the end of the day, any organization needs to make investments that boost the bottom line. Investing in safety makes dollars and sense. Those who do increase profitability, win talent wars and attract capital.

Globally, work-related deaths and injuries cost nearly $3 trillion. Improvements in safety yield dramatic cost savings. Pittsburgh-based aluminum manufacturer Alcoa reported that during a period of intense focus and investment in safety, EPS skyrocketed from $0.20 to $1.41 with 15% YoY increases in sales.

From the worker’s perspective, they take on significant risks of harm and even death, but their rewards — salary, benefits, job security, etc. — don’t measure up. Organizations that mitigate risk for workers will stand out as top employers and attract the best talent.

Plus, how well you care for your workforce affects who will invest in you and how much. ESG assets are projected to reach $53 trillion by 2025, one-third of Global AUM. If you want access to those funds, you need to do more than “greenwashing.” You need to protect workers.

Industrial workers are missing the connectivity desk-based workers have. They need to stay in touch with their co-workers for assistance and collaboration in their daily work and for help in an emergency. They need technology that can sense threats and trigger preventative action before an incident occurs.

To start, you must:

Build resolve. Taking better care of your workforce is the right thing to do, as a human, as a business leader and as a fiduciary to your stakeholders. Some of the ROI of new safety tech investments are immediate, some are long term and, some — like saving lives — are immeasurable. You need to commit to doing what’s right even though it’s also new. Even though an influx of real-time safety data will uncover risks you didn’t realize existed. Even though it will require change from the shop floor to the top floor. It must be done.

Build upon your existing tech investments. Buying new tech can be a pain and daunting for the end-user and corporate funder alike. Start by looking at the tech you have and ask how you might make it smarter. Do you have field devices — like gas detectors, temperature gauges, etc. — that you can leverage in a unified safety system? Start there. Extract additional value. Think about how the data and larger system can work for you first. Then determine if you need new hardware.

Solve your most critical needs first. Yes, the goal is zero incidents paired with operational excellence, but fix your biggest problems first. Are most of your safety incidents in worker-machine interactions? Deploy cutting-edge IoT safety tech there first. A single-use case can display the power of collecting safety information and responding in real-time that will power a larger deployment

In every organization I have worked in, safety has been our top priority. Right now, we can put meaning behind these words and capitalize on trends to dramatically improve the lives of our workforce. The companies that lead stand to gain substantially. Centering your workers and their safety and efficacy can be your legacy. Leaders who lag will find it hard to sleep soundly.

About Guardhat

Guardhat is pioneering end-to-end connected worker safety solutions for industrial workers. We offer cutting-edge, wearable technology; a proprietary connected worker platform – unrivaled in its ability to ingest, manage and analyze unstructured data; easy to deploy monitoring and reporting software; and a growing system of partner integrations.

Guardhat enables companies to monitor worker location, health, and work environment to shorten reaction time and help proactively solve safety challenges. We hold 15 patents in real-time location systems, wearable solution design, and connected worker software. If you are interested in our connected safety solutions – including situational awareness, environmental and biometric monitoring, multi-modal communication, RTLS, Covid-19, and other advanced technology solutions – contact us to arrange a demo.


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