Digital Transformation Improves Safety
Updated: Jul 8
A safety incident is just the tip of the iceberg. What lies below the surface? “I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows.” — Ernest HemingwayIcebergs and Pyramids We are all familiar with the safety pyramid with first aid cases at the bottom of the pyramid being more numerous than OSHA recordables. As you progress up the pyramid in terms of severity you come to recordable injuries and some of those being lost time accidents which are the least frequent and the next smaller segment up towards the top. And then, at the apex of the pyramid, the worst of all incidents is a fatality, whose frequency in almost all cases is zero depending on the industry. We all have that image of the pyramid in mind, having seen it so many times in slide presentations. Switching metaphors to an iceberg, we can imagine there are near misses below the surface that never resulted in even the most minor first aid case. And diving even deeper, a few more fathoms below near misses, we come to at-risk behaviors that may or may not result in either a near miss or land on the injury pyramid. And it is a matter of chance what the end result of any given at-risk action will be. In fall protection situations, not tying off may result in nothing, a near miss, an injury, or worst case, a fatality if the fall lands the person on a sharp piercing object. Everyone wants to take luck out of their safety results. That requires a deep dive.
Measuring At Risk Actions Accidents and injuries are caused by either at-risk conditions or at-risk actions. Over the past three decades many companies have used behavioral observation processes in their facilities to keep track of at-risk actions. The concept is to establish an employee-owned and managed system whereby observations are made utilizing a site-specific critical behavior inventory list. Observation events are performed at the consent of the observed person, performed by one of their peers, a trained observer. Anonymous data from repeated observations over time is collected and keyed into a database for analysis later. If the data shows a trend upwards in lack of use of hand protection, for instance, it is a sure sign that a hand injury will be happening in the near future. A study of glove inventory and deployment and ease availability can be completed. Weaknesses are noted and corrective measures are taken. These preventive actions mitigate the risk of hand injuries. Over the long haul, the entire organization shifts from being reactive after an injury occurs to being predictive and proactive. This is a more cost efficient approach and it saves lives. Below is an example of the impact of implementing such a system at a plant in the process industries.
At-Risk Behavior Data Gathering Started in 1994Measuring At Risk Conditions In a similar fashion, at-risk conditions can be observed and documented. When the safety-related data and observations from inspections, rounds and reading, and checklists are collected and made accessible for analysis, trends can be noted and systemic risks can be identified and mitigated.
Digital Transformation The pencil and paper system that spawned the results displayed in the above chart from more than two decades ago, has given way to electronic data collection. Unfortunately, in many organizations there are still inspection sheets, checklists, rounds and readings sheets that remain on paper. The Digital Transformation Technology that has been used in recent years to address the problems having the biggest financial impacts is also available to work below the surface of the iceberg, whether it be safety, reliability, or operations. There are huge undiscovered financial impacts there as well and people are already deployed out there seeing the data and information in their assigned job roles.
The “lights out” factory of the future is an ideal some envision, but even if it were to be achieved, asset owners will still want human eyes on the property walking around seeing, hearing and smelling things. Today, people in the field have the opportunity, if the tools were given to them, via available user-friendly and intuitive technology, to easily record information that installed instruments and IIoT devices are not picking up. It is done right now to a large degree with paper and clipboards and that paper ends up piled up on a desk and then stuffed into a file cabinet. It can be otherwise captured at the point of action and immediately uploaded to a secure database and made visible to those with access rights. Having done that, the switch can be turned on to engage Data Analytics, AI, and Machine Learning, with data that has been heretofore invisible, below the surface of the iceberg, which when leveraged will allow leadership to make quicker and higher quality decisions — to improve safety, environmental compliance, reliability and operations efficiency. Yes the power of Digital Transformation can be extended to commission digital armed forces, who are in the field every day, for the gathering of eye opening information waiting to be harvested for continuous improvement.
“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” — Mark Twain