According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), more than 2.3 million workers die every year as a result of occupational accidents or work-related diseases. As labor shortages disrupt the industry, companies must prioritize workplace safety by making it easier for employees to identify and mitigate workplace hazards. The key to a safer work environment is finding innovative ways to train teams to identify hazards with Industry 4.0 tools that best support in-the-moment decisions. These tools can also encourage employee engagement and productivity for a more resilient business.
The manufacturing industry faces a critical skills gap in the wake of the pandemic, which will lead to millions of unfilled manufacturing jobs in coming years. Furthermore, 85 percent of the global workforce is disengaged, which means hazards in the workplace can often be overlooked. In fact, employee disengagement can double the number of accidents and injuries.
Despite industry-wide progress, many frontline workers are still concerned about their safety. Fortunately, organizations can overcome this challenge by implementing Industry 4.0 tools. These tools can help attract a new workforce generation, enable worker productivity, and engage workers in safety and quality, allowing companies to emerge as leading employers that recruit and retain the best talent.
However, many workers don’t feel equipped with the right technology training, even though these tools are proven to increase productivity. On a global scale, 90 percent of workers with access to good technology reported being more productive on the job, and only 12 percent of respondents with access to ‘poor’ tech at work reported being productive. A disengaged workforce and outdated solutions hinder the ability to identify and address issues in real-time and ultimately increase the risk of a workplace accident.
In addition to employee safety concerns, companies also have a financial impact to consider. The ILO estimates that the annual cost to the global economy from workplace deaths and work-related diseases alone is a staggering $3 trillion. In the United States, companies pay over $1 billion per week for workplace injuries, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, the economic consequences of the global ‘norm’ of worker disengagement equates to approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity.
The solution: visual literacy training and mobile connected worker technology
With the proper visual literacy training and technology, decision makers, safety leaders and supervisors have the opportunity to engage employees. Fortunately, investing in mobile Connected Worker applications, which transform communication between workers and leaders and provide real-time visibility to what is happening on the floor, has become a proven way to increase engagement.
These solutions can be easily implemented on devices that frontline workers are already using, like mobile phones and tablets. In the US, more than 96 percent of younger workers already have smartphones, and using digital technology is an expectation for this generation. Manufacturers who adopt new mobile applications are less likely to cause friction or require time-consuming training sessions. This leads to increased engagement, and encourages the most knowledgeable workers to be leaders in data collection and sharing best practices.
In addition, companies that use mobile applications to unlock data and discover what’s happening in real-time can identify patterns and trends and act quickly on the information. Incorporating visual literacy training into mobile Connected Workers applications takes employee engagement a step further because it enhances workers’ ability to see those hazards and communicate them appropriately.
Overall, this combination of tools provides a two-fold solution. It helps workers determine what risk a given hazard represents, and decide the appropriate action to mitigate its potential impact. By collecting this information in real-time, it can also help leaders understand the risk profiles of their work areas and proactively resolve safety concerns before an incident occurs.
Incorporating mobile Connected Worker applications with visual literacy and enhanced hazard recognition training has three key benefits. First, and most importantly, incorporating daily work practices that include these tools can dramatically improve risk mitigation and reduce serious injuries and fatalities (SIFS). Similarly, visual literacy training engages workers to evaluate their work conditions in order to identify concerns and communicate risks before an accident occurs.
One international company whose US employees received visual literacy training identified 132 new hazards in a specific work area that was previously risk assessed. Another company utilized photographs to analyze potential hazards using instructions from visual literacy training. As more companies invest in Industry 4.0 tools, including workplace safety technology, companies can reap the benefits of real-time hazard identification and assessment taught by visual literacy tools.
Developing critical thinking is another added benefit of incorporating visual literacy training. Mobile Connected Worker applications that provide in-the-moment prompts and guidance also support the development of critical thinking skills. By following a disciplined process of improving what is seen, assessing what it means, and determining what action to take simplifies complicated work environments and focuses attention on what really matters. This can help everyone on a team not to feel overwhelmed by the amount of data being captured through audits, observations, checklists, work permits and more.
Lastly, leaders have the opportunity for real-time visibility into various situations to capture insights and analyze trends and top areas of risk, which leads to agile continuous improvements. Evaluated trends can reveal insights such as, what the recurring issues are, the efficacy of processes, and if there is a pattern among hazards identified. This makes data actionable, and as a result, money, and time are saved as well leading to a safer worker environment.
A Connected Workforce is the future
According to IDC, 70 percent of all organizations globally will have accelerated the use of Industry 4.0 digital technologies by 2022, and mobile Connected Worker applications will play an important role in transforming existing business processes to drive worker productivity, safety and business resiliency.
As McKinsey notes, digital is no longer optional. Incorporating visual literacy training and Connected Worker software can truly improve worker engagement, and ultimately your safety program, by identifying and mitigating risks at the earliest point.
For a list of the sources used in this article, please contact the editor
Robin Fleming is the co-founder of Anvl, an award winning software company helping companies unlock real-time data to improve product quality, safety and productivity. Anvl’s easy-to-use mobile Connected Worker platform has collected over 16.5 million leading data points and routinely sees over 90 percent engagement from its user base.
Douglas Pontsler is the Chairman and Managing Director for COVE: Center of Visual Expertise at the Toledo Museum of Art. Prior to his current role, Pontsler was the former vice president of operations sustainability and EHS for Owens Corning (retired).