How to Engage Employees in Safety through Technology

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This month we will discuss how technology is driving safety and health success. Ironically, when I was researching this topic on the Internet, an obvious artificial intelligence (AI) “chat bot” popped on my screen, and without prompting, spit out “Five Strategies to Enhance Employee Engagement in Workplace Safety.” In further irony, the type of font was ROBOTO font. Go figure. But rather than depend on a robot for advice, we turn to professionals in the field to get real-life information on current trends in technology that companies should be aware of and utilize when appropriate.

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The January 2024 MEP Innovation Conference sponsored by MCAA, NECA and SMACNA included informative sessions on a variety of topics including Using Technologies to Engage Workers in Safety and Health presented by the safety department leaders from sponsoring organizations including Raffi Elchemmas from MCAA and Justin Crandol from SMACNA. During a recent discussion with these two safety professionals, they provided insight into the following topics, issues, advancements, and concerns related to how new technology works to engage employees in safety and health efforts. 

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What is employee engagement? The definition of engagement varies but a National Safety Council definition describes it as “Inclusion of employees in proactive activities that will identify and mitigate safety and health hazards within your organization.”  The key word there is “proactive.” Raffi simplified this for safety, adding that “an engaged worker is a safe worker.” I have covered the movement from the old way (safety programs) to the new way (safety cultures) in prior articles.  But like safety cultures, new technology is not a “one size fits all” method. Each company will have a different approach to new technology depending on how far they have pursued existing technology.  

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Old vs New Ways

Most companies know what motivates their employees. Justin touched on this when he mentioned that new technology allows for companies to engage workers by moving from the old way of paper documents to the much more efficient use of computer files, and the improved ability to access and present safety related information for training and project management purposes. Justin points out that technology can minimize duplicate efforts and Raffi mentioned that access to records on a “24 hour” basis can be important in situations of emergencies and OSHA inspections.  

Training

Our discussion on training included how safety training has been the beneficiary of new technology in numerous ways including virtual reality applications such as virtual welding with the added benefit of keeping workers away from welding fume exposures.  Fall protection virtual reality applications allow workers to be placed in fall protection scenarios without the risk of falling. Gaming-type training tools promote active learning through “competition.”  Raffi and Justin emphasized that new technology promotes better communication through the project process. Communication means that training and technology goes a long way in ensuring how individuals learn, addressing issues such as varied age groups and language barriers.  

The use of technology to track safety and health statistics can help with identifying trends, measuring efforts, and working on needed continuous improvement. This on-going evaluation should include employee input (engagement) to gain the feedback necessary to ensure you have the “latest and greatest” technology and to make positive modifications to the workday.       

Examples of Safety Technology

One on-going safety challenge for company management is that company representatives responsible for safety and health (safety managers and supervisors) can’t be everywhere at one time.  Technology allows for enhanced employee safety performance through increased personal awareness including the use of high-tech safety tools and equipment including fall protection, heat stress prevention and personal protective equipment (PPE). The advancements in these areas over the past ten or so years have been remarkable, and companies should be aware of the benefits these new tools and devices provide. Sensors on ladders, “wearables” to track employee stresses and improved garments during heat stress situations, as well as “helmets” vs hardhats are just a few examples. Justin pointed out that project-wide technology such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) has significant impact on safety, especially when used in conjunction with the principles of Prevention through Design, creating the ability to predict safety and health issues through the entire project process. 

In closing, both Raffi and Justin provided specific points to remember regarding employee engagement and new technology in safety. Raffi summarized that safety is often a tough topic to address but it remains an important topic when it comes to a successful project and technology can help make it a priority.  Justin said that safety should be looked at as another “partner” in the project process and placed at the top of new technology utilization since a successful project works when all partners share the same values.  However, one big challenge to keeping employees engaged in safety is keeping up with new and emerging technologies as it is bound to be a full-time effort in the near future. Companies would do well to “think out of the box” and look for new technology applications on future projects.

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