Risks surround us every day of our lives, at home, at work, and in between. However, some activities, like driving a car, are much more dangerous than sitting at the dinner table. In the workplace, more inherent dangers are involved with some professions than others.
It’s common sense that people working in construction or manufacturing are more likely to get seriously injured than someone working in an office. These workers accept the risk of their jobs, and employers carry insurance if something happens.
Industrial hygiene is critical for minimizing workplace risks and preventing illness or injury whenever possible.
Technology has been responsible for improving the safety of workers worldwide in many different ways. Here’s how it’s boosting our global industrial hygiene capabilities.
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What is Industrial Hygiene?
The term “industrial hygiene” describes the processes and practices involved with making the workplace as safe and healthy as possible for workers.
This includes the assessment process to identify and evaluate potential hazards with web design thinking and the prevention process to minimize and control risk factors and put protocols in place for minimizing harm should an accident occur.
Industrial hygiene best practices are different for each industry and each workplace. That’s why it’s essential to tailor solutions based on unique risk factors.
Technology has made that personalization much more realistic for organizations looking to improve their industrial hygiene.
The Consequences of Poor Industrial Hygiene
Poor industrial hygiene can have several consequences relating to employees’ health, safety, and productivity.
It can also lead to added costs for businesses and damage a company’s reputation or ability to continue operations. Some consequences of poor industrial hygiene can include:
- Employee injuries and deaths
- Occupational illnesses due to chemical exposure and other health risks
- Increased absenteeism
- Reduced productivity and morale among workers
- Higher insurance and healthcare costs
- Fines and other regulatory action
- Damage to the company’s reputation
- Toxic work environment/culture
- Higher turnover and lower job satisfaction
- Cost of remediation
- Supply chain issues
- Community impact, through pollution and other issues relating to safety
- Environmental impact
Worker safety is something that employers need to be concerned about not only from an ethical perspective but also from a business perspective.
Healthy employees who feel safe at work are likelier to want to stay loyal to the company and produce their best work. This, ultimately, leads to better revenue for the organization.
Attention to health and safety is also significant from a reputation standpoint. Companies that ignore industrial hygiene often become a blight on the communities where they operate, affecting the overall well-being of those living there. They are also likely to spend much on legal fees and regulatory fines.
Early Technologies Used for Industrial Hygiene
Industrial hygiene has always been a concern for employers, though the technology available for preventing illness and injury has come a long way.
For example, simple ventilation solutions introduced in the 1800s to factories and mines pale compared to today’s state-of-the-art air filtration systems.
However, these systems were revolutionary for their time and helped to protect workers in these harsh environments.
Other technologies introduced into the workplace for worker health and safety have been used gradually.
These have included handwashing stations, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as protective clothing and gas masks, and ergonomic adjustments, such as changing the work table or station height.
As awareness of potential risks evolved in the workplace, so did the technological solutions. These early industrial hygiene solutions laid the groundwork for more advanced technologies that we use today to keep workers safe.
Industrial hygiene started in the early 1900s when the first formal assessments occurred. This was likely due in part to the rapid changes involved with the Industrial Revolution and the working conditions in those workplaces.
Today, standard best practices have been well-established, and policies are in place to protect workers by holding employers to specific safety and environmental protection standards.
The Current Industrial Hygiene Landscape
Today, technology for workplace safety has advanced significantly and offers many options for protecting workers and creating a safe workplace.
Many systems now have automatic safety protocols that are initiated under specific circumstances.
The needs of companies in terms of industrial hygiene are constantly evolving alongside technology and the demands of the market, but today’s solutions are more customizable than ever before.
Using Big Data Analytics to Anticipate Risks
Thanks to the massive computing power available, it’s now possible to analyze massive datasets and mine them for insights.
Big data analytics are used in various industries to help companies improve their operations, better understand their customers’ needs, and save money. Still, these tools can also be used to analyze and optimize industrial hygiene.
Industrial data is being created every single day. By collecting data related to safety in the workplace, companies can find insights that will help them make decisions related to industrial hygiene.
For instance, if there’s a pattern of near-misses or accidents at a specific worksite or time of day, more investigation can allow employers to improve safety in various ways.
Predictive analytics and other data analysis applications can yield various essential insights.
They can help budget and allocate PPE, set worker schedules, and determine where industrial hygiene resources should be spent.
Overall, big data plays a critical role in the assessment phase of industrial hygiene, as it is efficient and highly effective at finding opportunities for improvement.
Artificial Intelligence in Risk Assessment
Artificial intelligence (AI) is getting much attention— for good reason. AI has countless applications in a variety of fields, including industrial hygiene.
Its primary role in this field is in the assessment phase, helping identify workplace improvement opportunities. Risk assessment is critical in every workplace, especially those that pose various dangers to employees.
Risk assessments can be challenging to conduct manually and highly time-consuming. Artificial intelligence does not replace the need for industrial hygiene experts. Still, it does help cut down on the manual analysis required and can often find patterns difficult for humans to spot.
Artificial intelligence can analyze data in a fraction of the time and can provide industrial hygiene experts with the framework they need to provide tailored recommendations.
IoT, Wearables, and Real-time Monitoring
Today, robust sensors, cameras, and other types of monitoring technologies are helping to make workplaces safer worldwide.
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to physical devices connected to the Internet and provides various functions through sensors and other capabilities. IoT devices are often wearable and can provide many different benefits for workers and employees.
In some workplaces, having employees use wearable devices can be an essential safety measure.
These devices contain sensors that collect data and can provide alerts if certain conditions are met. Real-time monitoring can prevent illnesses and injuries or ensure safety compliance.
For example, some wearables can provide alerts when noise levels or hazardous air quality are high and might threaten human health.
Other wearables can detect fatigue, provide location data to prevent workers from getting lost, or automatically call for help in case of a fall.
The number of applications for wearables continues to expand and is helping protect workers in diverse industries.
Robotics and Automation
Although many people are concerned about robots eventually taking their jobs, it’s hard to deny that these machines have many uses that can help prevent injuries and illnesses from occurring in human workers.
Robots can automate tedious, dirty, and dangerous tasks. They can be used for scouting in dangerous areas and have even been used for disarming explosives.
When an area might be too dangerous for a human, a robot can assess the situation and provide more information through sensors and cameras attached to the robot.
In general, robots are used when uniquely human skills are not needed. They can make workplaces more efficient, reduce error, and prevent exposure to certain risks, making them an essential tool in industrial hygiene.
Environmental Monitoring Devices
In workplaces that involve hazardous chemicals or require people to work in fluctuating conditions, such as a mine, it’s essential to minimize risks as much as possible.
Devices that use sensors to monitor these conditions can prevent tragedies and help ensure worker health and safety.
Most people know that canaries were once used for environmental monitoring in mines. When the birds showed signs of distress, the miners would evacuate, as this was a sign of carbon monoxide and other hazardous conditions. Although effective, it was not a foolproof or kind method of monitoring.
Thankfully, we now have much more humane technological options for monitoring the work environment for these hazards.
Early detection of these environmental issues can sometimes mean the difference between life and death for workers.
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Ventilation and Filtration Systems
Air quality can be a significant risk factor in construction sites and factories. Dust, chemicals, and other pollutants can cause short-term and long-term respiratory illness and other health problems.
Today’s technologies that improve air quality are highly advanced and can filter out even microscopic pollutants that affect human health.
Depending on the potential for air quality issues in any workplace, more or less sophisticated systems might be needed to exchange air and filter pollutants.
Chemical Hazard Management
In some job sites, dangerous chemicals must be handled regularly. In addition to providing PPE to workers and ensuring they are fully trained on safe handling, storage, and disposal, technology can track and monitor chemicals to reduce the chances of an accident.
Additionally, communication tools, virtual reality training simulations, and drones can all be used to prepare and respond to hazardous chemical incidents. Companies must have policies and protocols for emergency response supported by technology.
Training and Simulation with VR and AR
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are best known for being used in the video game industry, where they can provide an immersive experience for entertainment purposes by dropping people into a simulation that uses their body movements instead of or in addition to a handheld controller. However, these tools are also widely used for training in various industries.
Training and simulation with VR and AR are great ways to ease workers into potentially risky work safely.
These simulations can help people build skills and muscle memory without the risks of learning directly on the job.
While on-the-job training is still essential, simulations can reduce risks and allow people to practice critical skills before beginning work in a high-stakes environment.
VR and AR training can also be a great way to train people for emergencies. By approximating an emergency scenario, workers can be better prepared for a real emergency.
Technology Helps Automate Safety
Human error is a common cause of workplace accidents and injuries. No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes.
That’s why automation can be crucial in improving industrial hygiene through technology. While technology occasionally fails, it is frequently far more reliable than manual human safety procedures.
Developing these technologies helps people worldwide and makes dangerous jobs a lot safer.
It’s essential for people to feel safe at work and to be able to enjoy their lives outside of work without being compromised by occupational illnesses and injuries.
Although implementing these solutions takes time and money, ensuring a healthy, happy, and productive workforce across industries is well worth the effort.
We now have the technology to prevent much suffering and loss from workplace accidents, and we must use it.