Old School versus the New Generation -- Technology Transforms Safety

Old School versus the New Generation -- Technology Transforms Safety

My teenage kids think I worked in the dark ages when I started my career in the early 1990s, and when I look back on how technology has changed the work environment, I have to agree. How did we function?

I started my safety career working with OSHA as a compliance officer in the early 1990s and everything was manual!  We took pictures with black-and-white film and handwrote reports. I did not even know what a computer mouse was and I had never heard of email before I left OSHA in 1995. How did I complete the paperwork for a citation when I worked with OSHA?  

On a typical inspection, I would observe 10 or more non-compliance issues. For each observation, I would have to follow a regimented protocol to capture all appropriate information. Here is an overview of the process I followed between 1992 and 1995 when I observed a potential OSHA violation:    

Take a picture – I worked with OSHA before computers and smartphones dominated our culture. Our protocol was to make sure we had film in our camera at all times so that we could capture non-compliance issues.  

When we observed a potential violation, we would place a cardboard number near the violation (out of harms' way) and take picture. The number helped us track the violations. I had to carry extra film, note cards with numbers and my antiquated camera everywhere I went. I hauled all of my gear around in a camouflage belt with multiple pockets.  

Collect information – We had a two-sided worksheet that we filled out manually for every observation. We would fill out the majority of the front side of the worksheet in the field. We collected measurements, documented details, asked questions, wrote a brief description, assessed the risk, determined the exposure and verified the employer's knowledge for each violation.  

Complete the worksheet – Once we left the site, we would write the report with proposed penalties based on the information we collected. The paperwork (two-sided worksheet) for each citation took approximately 20 to 30 minutes to complete. That does not include the time it took in the field to capture information manually and take pictures.

 Turn in our film – We did not have digital cameras. A designated person developed all of the film.  

The process was important because the compliance officer's goal was to build a case for each citation. The primary reason for the pictures and the information was not to share with people and raise safety awareness. The goal was to ensure that you could prove the citation was valid. The end result was the employer corrected a hazard and the environment was safer.
Regardless of the purpose of the process, it took a long time.Think about how this worked: A compliance officer had to do everything manually. It took five to 10 minutes to take pictures and handwrite all of the information in the field.  

And I did not have neat handwriting! I typically would have to rewrite the information to complete the report in a legible fashion. That would take approximately 20 to 30 minutes per citation. The total time to complete the paperwork for each citation could take 45 to 60 minutes.  

That's how an "old school" compliance officer had to do his or her job before technology dominated the workforce. What if I had the capability to do that job electronically in the field? Think about the time I could have saved.

Technology and Transformation

I would like to contrast this "old school" process with the capabilities of today's world. Think about this: When I worked with OSHA, cameras needed film, few people used them and it took days to develop the pictures. You could not easily use the images in training or safety communications.  
Today, if I ask a room full of people, "Who has a camera?", typically 100 percent of the people in the room can pull out their smartphone and take a picture on the spot. They don't have to carry film. They don't have to have anything developed. All they have to do is snap the picture and press "send." Everyone has immediate access to the picture.  

The "old school" way took days and the process was extraordinarily cumbersome. Today, everything can be recorded and communicated in seconds opposed to days. What an incredible benefit!

Leveraging Technology

How can safety professionals leverage the technology? Why not blend two universal injury-prevention strategies together – employee involvement and safety awareness?
Consider this: If the majority of your workforce carries a smartphone, use them as a conduit for hazard identification, correction and communications. Why not record what people see, communicate the risk and build a real-time corrective-action process that makes an immediate positive impact on safety? Engage your workforce and leverage technology's accessibility.  

There are innovative safety apps on the market that can help you identify and communicate hazards. One such app is called the "DL Safety Alert" app for Androids and iPhones (in the interest of full disclosure, I developed this app). The app will allow a user to take a picture of a hazard and type details into a template. The one-page templates capture information similar to the OSHA worksheets that I once completed manually.  

You can record the risk and exposure in the field in real time so you can communicate to the appropriate people. The app will create safety alerts, observations or notifications that you can communicate to your workforce.

The potential for employee involvement and heightened safety awareness is greater than ever before in our history. The transformation from "old school" to the "new generation" requires us to recalibrate the way we process information and align with current technology. With innovative techniques, safety professionals can ride the technology wave and make a powerful impact on their safety cultures.  

If everyone has a camera, everyone has the capability to communicate safety. Why not take advantage of our natural societal resources and fascinations and create a more safety-conscious environment?    

David G. Lynn, CSP, is a vice president of Signature Services, a division of Life & Safety Consultants. He also is a former OSHA compliance officer, professional speaker, published author, corporate EHS director and improvement strategist with 20 years of experience. David has co-authored the books "22 Ways that Will Make You a Champion for Safety," "Principle to Practice" and "Strategic Safety Plan." For more information, go to http://www.lifeandsafety.com or http://www.david-lynn.com.

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