The idea of achieving total workplace safety is in the process of transitioning from a worthy goal to strenuously aim for, to becoming a standard that all organizations will be expected to meet. This trend also is putting pressure on safety professionals to maximize the value of safety technology, a trend highlighted in EHS Today’s 2023 Guide to Safety Technology report.
In a recent survey of 485 safety professionals, those polled revealed in detail how they are evaluating and applying the most up-to-date safety tech while obtaining the maximum value from what it can produce. A common approach is to thoughtfully research and carefully apply new technology. Topics range from simple personal protective equipment (PPE), such as safety glasses, to highly sophisticated computer programs designed to manage every aspect of safety.
The report points out that today’s investment in safety equipment must lead to measurable improvements or be supported by evidence that it really can produce results when it comes to creating and maintaining a safe workplace.
As the old saying goes, these professionals intend to find themselves “on the leading edge, not the bleeding edge” of the high-tech revolution. To achieve this goal, their investments must lead to measurable improvements in safety in order to reach the ultimate goal of eliminating incidents of all kinds.
That goal is not just some futuristic prediction. For years now, government policymakers already have fully embraced the zero-based approach when it comes to highway safety. Having originated in Sweden in the 1990s, this approach was initiated in the United Sates in the form of the Road to Zero Coalition, which was organized by the National Safety Council (NSC) with the stated goal of eliminating motor vehicle fatalities and injuries no later than 2050.
The Department of Transportation has bought into this ambitious concept, as have many state, municipal and even small suburban and county governments that are designing “complete roads” that include bike lanes and traffic-calming designs with the aim of significantly reducing vehicle speeds and reckless maneuvering.
It expanded to become the announced philosophy of Jennifer Homendy, who President Joe Biden appointed to be chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). She confidently proclaimed just as her agency’s investigation of the East Palestine, Ohio, fiery train derailment had gotten underway that “I can tell you this much: This was 100% preventable. We call things accidents. There is no accident. Every single event that we investigate is preventable.”
Under the Biden administration, federal agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) have initiated new and stricter compliance efforts, along with increased penalties, that require the close attention of employers.
It is only a matter of time before these efforts expand into other areas of safety enforcement and management. The stakes have never been higher—and they are climbing.
“For safety professionals who are responsible for making purchasing decisions regarding safety equipment and technology, the need to embrace solutions to make a real difference has never been greater,” the report states. “Today’s investment in safety equipment must lead to measurable improvements or be supported by evidence that it really can work to maintain a safe workplace environment.”
The Need for C-Suite Support
The upshot is that safety professionals must educate themselves thoroughly about the full range of products and services they need to deploy in support of achieving this goal. They also must be sufficiently knowledgeable to be equally expert at selling these products to C-suite executives as they are at choosing and implementing them in their operations.
“It looks like technology vendors need to do more work to educate their customers and prospects, and safety management professionals have a lot of work to do to educate their upper management,” the report concludes.
Of course, computers have long been deployed to help safety management in regard to training, supervision and exception reporting, but what the surveyed professionals are looking for is optimization of these systems to support continuous improvement. In fact, 79% of respondents said they are using or plan to use tech for training purposes.
When it comes to managing the safety process, 52% said they currently use or are planning to use specialized software to track, manage, analyze and report data about their facilities’ safety performance. On the other hand, 20% said they are not planning to do that, and 29% said they still don’t know whether they will or won’t.
One revelation that came out of the survey was just how difficult it has been to sell safety improvements to top-level management in the wake of the economic turmoil created by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the resulting budget constraints that followed the pandemic have limited any positive effect on budgets.
Among the survey respondents, 15% reported an increase in spending on safety in their organizations amounting to more than 5% more than their previous budget. Another 13% of respondents said that their budget boost was in the 3-5% range, and 20% saw only a 1-5% bump. Unfortunately, 48% said they saw no change in their budgets at all, and about 5% experienced budget reductions of between 1-5%.
As a result, it is hardly surprising that 51% of the respondents hold that budgetary restrictions are the biggest barriers to the adoption of safety technology at their organizations. In addition, 55% of them said they have no dedicated tech budget for EHS activities, a rather startling statistic. Another 32% said their safety tech budget was less than $500,000, and 7% said their budget was in the $500,000-$999,999 range. Only 6% had safety tech budgets of more than $1 million a year.
What's more, 36% cited lack of understanding of the technology’s capabilities as their organization’s biggest barrier to adoption, and 33% said they were not staffed to implement and use the technology they wanted to acquire. About 30% cited the lack of ROI data or a business case to be made, while others (26%) blamed restrictions on their operations to the lack of adequate senior management support.
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