Emerging technologies are improving employee health, safety and happiness
A key purpose of technology is to make our lives better. Technological developments save us time, relieve us of our chores, and make it possible for us to do things that we otherwise couldn’t dream of. Along with removing some of the drudgery of life, part of the promise of technology is to improve our safety. Machines can now replace humans in many dangerous or unpleasant jobs, as well as improving the working lives of the average employee. This is good news for businesses, who have the legal obligation to ensure their workers are safe.
D/SRUPTION takes a look at five of the ways technology is improving workplaces right now.
1) Bionic suits
They might not be quite like those you’ve seen in a superhero movie, but bionic suits are now being used to protect employees in industries which involve physical labour. Car manufacturer Ford recently partnered with US technology company Ekso Bionics to trial exoskeleton vests with its workers on the factory floor. Originally designed to help spinal injury and stroke patients relearn to stand and walk, the exovests support their wearer in moving and lifting their arms. Offering 15lbs of lifting assistance on each arm, the vest reduces strain on workers’ bodies, helping them to work more comfortably for longer, and avoid injury.
2) VR training
If there’s one way to improve safety in the workplace, it is making sure that all employees are properly trained. Workers in potentially dangerous industries such as construction and manufacturing need to be aware of the risks they could face and trained accordingly. The immersive environment of Virtual Reality is the perfect way to do this. US VR solutions company 360immersive provides simulations for the training and education industries. Immersing employees in the potential hazards of their workplace through VR translates into an increased awareness of the risks in real life. VR’s potential to better protect employees and make safety training more effective is an ideal solution for business.
Wearable technologies are the ideal solution to monitoring employee safety in the workplace. North Star Bluescope Steel – a steel producer for the global construction industry – began working with IBM’s Watson in 2016 to develop wearable safety technology. Watson’s Internet of Things (IoT) technology gathers and analyses data collected from sensors in workers’ helmets and wristbands, providing real time information on physical wellbeing. This technology, part of the IBM Employee Wellness and Safety Solution, alerts employees and their managers if safety is compromised, or safety procedures are not being followed. This helps workers to avoid serious injury but also conditions such as dehydration and fatigue.
Drones make it easy to survey large sites such as construction projects and industrial works from the air. Where sites have structures that are hard to reach, drones can be used in place of employees using ladders, scaffolding or abseiling to inspect certain areas. Drone footage can be analysed to monitor where and how employees are working, in order to improve their safety. Software provided by drones suppliers such as Skycatch make it possible to turn drone data into maps and 3D models for analysis.
5) Monitoring health and happiness
Improving the safety of the workplace isn’t just about avoiding accidents in heavy industry. It is also a matter of maximising the health and happiness of employees. Mental health problems at work cost the UK economy an estimated £35bn in 2016 – a result of the reduced productivity of employees, sick days, and employees leaving their posts due to illness. In 2015, Japanese company Hitachi began distributing wearable sensors to its employees to monitor their happiness level. This tracking technology makes it possible to objectively analyse the management policies and workplace environments of an organisation to see how they impact the individual.
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