Leveraging technology for workplace safety and health
Applications and gadgets are ripe for reducing work accidents
Three-dimensional visualisation and animation technologies are often associated with the latest gaming and entertainment applications.
In certain construction projects in Europe, such underlying technology also enables designers and engineers to check if real-life components are appropriate before installation begins.
Such new applications are immersive and can systematically reduce the risk of a workplace failing before workers even get involved in the task at the construction site.
Another example is wearable technology - a nascent phenomenon, yet an affordable solution that can help in boosting workplace safety and health (WSH).
"Smart glasses" enable workers to record via video anything from worn-out aircraft turbine engines to broken-down automation equipment before commencing repair.
While the availability of such solutions is not new, their proliferation and the ability to integrate them within current work processes with a view to enhancing workplace safety is finally gaining recognition.
How many Singapore businesses are leveraging these technologies as tools in enhancing WSH? It is undeniable that these applications enable businesses to undertake better incident reporting, occupational safety and health record-keeping, medical management, employee safety monitoring, training, reporting and work injury compensation.
The emergence of more sophisticated tools and gadgets offers a fresh perspective on how workplace safety can be further improved.
Recently at a WSH Tech symposium, Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan echoed this point: "We owe it to our workers to keep them safe and healthy... Let us embrace technology to push new frontiers to bring about safer, healthier and more productive workplaces for our workers in a manpower-lean workforce."
Technology can and will do more in helping Singapore raise WSH standards.
Last year, 66 workers died on the job.
Singapore managed to bring down the fatality rate from 2.8 per 100,000 workers in 2008 to 1.8 in 2014. However, it rose to 1.9 in 2015 and stayed the same for last year. The target is to have fewer than 1.8 fatalities per 100,000 employees by next year.
As a business owner or WSH head, the first question that arises is, "What does it take to get businesses to start thinking of technology within the context of improving WSH?"
Evidence suggests that most decision-makers raise this question only when it pertains to what it will cost them to implement such a solution.
As members of the general insurance industry here, insurers encourage businesses to look beyond component costs such as premiums. Indeed, securing adequate cover for each and every employee is important and must not be compromised, for employers could end up with a financial deficit in the event of breaching the Work Injury Compensation Act.
Above these considerations, businesses need to set out a more strategic and proactive way to understand workplace behaviours and processes and find relevant solutions to enhance WSH.
One example is to consider how a tablet or a smartphone can communicate information with a view to raising WSH and this is a step in the right direction.
Once information is captured, the value of it in driving inspection and enhancing overall safety and project implementation within becomes phenomenal.
Embracing new technologies may be difficult to many companies, especially small and medium-size enterprises, but one can make a small step towards adopting the Snap@MOM, a Ministry of Manpower initiative that was upgraded several months ago.
It is a free and simple-to-use mobile application to encourage and drive industry and community ownership in managing WSH.
This tool enables workers to take a photo of the work practice that may need corrective action, identifying the location via the application's Global Positioning System feature, among other features.
Such a tool becomes the starting point where workers and their superiors can easily share information and rectify potential workplace failures.
This information can subsequently be escalated to higher levels with a view to finding solutions to create a more safe work environment. This is a multi-pronged approach to build a progressive and pervasive WSH culture in Singapore.
The writer is a member of the management committee of the General Insurance Association (GIA) of Singapore and a convenor of the GIA's Work Injury Compensation Committee. This article was published in The Business Times yesterday. It has been edited for length.