In our modern world, technological marvels are being presented at a tremendous pace and confidently confirm innovations CAN be done. When it comes to developing and implementing technology for the health and safety field, the most important question to ask is this: SHOULD it be done? As with adoption of any new program, consideration of the resulting information and how it will be used should be paramount before moving forward.
In a previous article, Benefits of a Digital EHS System were presented. When considering adoption of any safety and health technology, these potential pitfalls should be seriously weighed and factored into the decision to proceed:
- Privacy concerns
- Interpersonal communication
- Data without purpose
- Obligation to act
- Human interaction
“It’s crucial that we begin this process of delivering of real, human experiences [with technology]. Otherwise, we may not face a world in which machines replicate humanity, but where humanity replicates machines. Now that is a scary thought“
[Privacy Concerns] Today, technology makes it possible to document everything a person says, does and even feels (biometrically, not necessarily emotionally). For this reason, most users are quite skeptical about how their privacy can be ensured or how their personal data will be used. Security of the data is certainly necessary, like HR and medical files. However, proper training with those viewing and using the data must occur to ensure infringement of rights does not occur. It can be threatening to workers if data is handled insensitively or misused. Doing so could potentially cause irreparable damage to trust.
[Interpersonal communication] Texting, emails, and social media have largely replaced face-to-face communications. Unfortunately, interpersonal communication is critical to building relationships. In fact, many experts have begun to stress the importance of technology’s ability to deliver the ‘human experience’.1 Technology should exist as a tool or mechanism to facilitate or encourage more conversations, not less.
[Data without Purpose] As technology gains in efficiencies, the resultant data yield will grow exponentially. In fact, as systems move from active (e.g. someone must manually gather data) to passive (e.g. a wearable or RFID can provide non-stop streaming data), the output could become overwhelming. What will be done with the data? How will it be sifted through and analyzed? ‘Start with the end in mind’ ensures that these are the first questions answered before moving forward.
[Obligation to act] Once data starts to come in and you are made aware, an obligation to act is now presented. Take for example the ability to measure alertness and fatigue using camera solutions or even newer, non-invasive electroencephalogram technology. Now that it is rolled out, you determine that a percentage of your staff is fatigued at the start of shift. Is there a plan to let them rest? If not, then will your organization knowingly allow them to continue working? As Spiderman says, “With great power, comes great responsibility!”
[Human interaction] Technology exists now with video surveillance that can make safety observations and report out the results. Imagine getting a notice as a contractor on a construction site that some members of your crew were not wearing PPE or someone was standing on the top step of a ladder. A video was analyzed, deciphered, and communicated all without making a single contextual inquiry into why or timely intervention to the individuals in harm’s way. Is this the future we have dreamed about?
The technology exists now to provide deep, rich, and meaningful information about how we humans interact within our workplace. How we elect to get and use this information will determine the worth and value of the endeavor. Don’t take my word for it, consider this powerful quote:
Aditya Agarwal, CTO for Dropbox: “Technology should work for people, not the other way around. It succeeds when it fits seamlessly into our lives and solves real problems. Too often, it forces us to change our behavior to fit its own limitations. Increasingly the question of whether technology helps us or hurts us is our decision.”
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Cary comes to the SafetyStratus team as the Vice President of Operations with almost 30 years of experience in several different industries. He began his career in the United States Navy’s nuclear power program. From there he transitioned into the public sector as an Environmental, Health & Safety Manager in the utility industry. After almost thirteen years, he transitioned into the construction sector as a Safety Director at a large, international construction company. Most recently he held the position of Manager of Professional Services at a safety software company, overseeing the customer success, implementation, and process consulting aspects of the services team.
At SafetyStratus, he is focused on helping achieve the company’s vision of “Saving lives and the environment by successfully integrating knowledgeable people, sustainable processes, and unparalleled technology”.
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Chan, D. (2014, April 27). The Human Connection in a Digital World. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-human-connection-in-a-digital-world_b_4855478