Dec 18, 2018 | Blog

The evolution of the H&S professional: is the future of Health and Safety tech-centric?

by Duncan Davies

The role of a Health and Safety professional has changed over the decades. Like many business functions, such as Marketing and HR, technology is changing the face of the day-to-day; giving Health and Safety professionals more visibility and control than ever before.

The days of paper processes and logbooks for the entire Health and Safety process are, thankfully, on their way out. In their place, we’re seeing more cloud-based, multi-device platforms available, that can make a Health and Safety pro’s job a whole lot easier to manage. But, surprisingly, not everyone is on board just yet.

To get an expert view on the evolution of the Health and Safety professional, we spoke to Richard ByrneGroup Health and Safety Director at Travis Perkins plc.

Richard is a vocal advocate for technology adoption in the Health and Safety function, so we couldn’t think of anyone better to share their views on the future of the Health and Safety function, with regards to technology.

Over to you, Richard!

I remember being given a laptop in one of my first roles in Health and Safety, around 20 years ago. A heavy, grey lump of a thing with voice recognition that didn’t work and a lengthy wait to even get it started up. It was more of a hindrance to the job than a help.  

Fast forward to today, I could never have anticipated how technology would have impacted my job. In a good way.

Overseeing a Group with over 2,000 branches and 28,000 employees, nothing can be left to chance. This means proactively managing risk, sharing visibility of Health and Safety matters with all the right people at the right time, and building a culture of accountability when it comes to their own, and their colleagues’ health and safety.

At Travis Perkins, we’ve found that technology is intrinsic to building that culture and after adopting Notify, we’ve found that near-miss reports have increased four-fold, versus our previous off-the-shelf solution.  

Technology has made us more efficient, able to interrogate data and identify trends, risks and solutions, as well as helping us put Health and Safety literally in the hands of every one of our colleagues, thanks to their incident reporting app.

Using the app has empowered our workforce to report incidents and near-misses in a way that is second nature to most people, as it takes as little time as ordering a takeaway from their smartphone device. For us as a Health and Safety function, this ‘on the ground’ visibility is crucial in helping us maintain and honour the principles of one of our Cornerstones of Keeping People Safe.

And it doesn’t stop at incident reporting. We’ve found that technology has helped with eLearning, for example, making it more engaging for colleagues to learn about Health and Safety throughout the organisation. Apps like game-based learning platform, Kahoot, have been a welcome change to more traditional “paper-to-pen” training methods; again making the most of a device that the average person spends 24 hours per week on – their smartphone.

For me, using health and safety technology helps me make the case to drive business change, showing things such as accident frequency rates to highlight where our issues may be, so we can act on them right away.  

From a business point of view, better management of risk through technology can also result in fewer sick days due to workplace incidents, and helps staff to realise how seriously we take this as an organisation; both of which have positive commercial benefits.

Another benefit of technology, and not just in the reporting/management tool sense, is that technology can allow for better collaboration and less time spent “on the road”. For example utilising Google Docs and Hangouts within our function has been a huge benefit to myself and my team, allowing us frequent contact with divisional managers and multiple sites, without extensive travel. This helps reduce the cost to the business.

Any forward-thinking Health and Safety professional should be able to make a business case, so having all of the data at your disposal to do a good job is of crucial importance to making that case.

Technology isn’t something to be feared by Health and Safety practitioners. The crux of the job will always remain the same, but the media we use to transmit and receive information regarding H&S will continue to adapt over time.

For example, the most recent Apple iWatch has the ability to know when the wearer has fallen. It can send an alert to a control desk or contact emergency services on behalf of the wearer. This could be a huge leap for industries and companies where lone workers form part of the business. The tech part isn’t replacing the human, it’s just making the process more efficient.

Naturally, there are some slight negatives to using technology, but only in that the rate of change is now so fast that many may struggle to keep up with it.  

We’ve found, luckily, that using Notify has alleviated this problem and allowed us to completely configure the tool to fit what we need, plus the ongoing relationship we have with the team has enabled us to share intelligence that informs the future roadmap for the platform.

So is the future of Health and Safety tech-centric? I’d have to say it is.

As practitioners we can embrace the change, look to the future and be more effective as a result, or we can reject technology for as long as possible, to the detriment of visibility, accountability and engagement.

I know which I’d rather choose!

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Richard Byrne for sharing his insight and views on Technology in Health and Safety with us. Should you wish to discuss your needs ahead of the New Year, get in touch for a demo and 14-day free trial of Notify.

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