Last week we published a post about how technology is impacting EHS right now. We shared 12 examples of actual applications and use cases. The goal of the post was to emphasize that, whether EHS professionals like it or not, and whether they’re ready or not, technology will impact the EHS function sooner rather than later.
Companies implement technological innovations mainly to increase productivity and improve the customer experience. But as EHS departments become more integrated into company operations, organizations are realizing that enhanced business performance and improved worker safety and health can go together.
While technology will have a great impact on the EHS function, adapting to the realities of Industry 4.0 presents challenges for EHS departments and managers. These challenges may not harm the value proposition or business case of technological innovations, but it’s good to be aware of them to ensure success. Here are four things to know:
1) Technology Must Enhance, Not Diminish Skills
With smartphones (that include calculators) everywhere, it’s easy to dismiss the need for strong mathematical skills. But if you are going to hire someone, would you hire someone who systematically needs a calculator for basic mathematical calculations or someone who can do some mental math? It’s the same with EHS and technology. The challenge is to make sure that technology does not de-emphasize skills, but complement them. For example, big data and advanced analytics will help detect patterns, as well as predict and prevent incidents. But EHS managers must still be good at getting valuable insights from conversations with workers.
2) Don’t Adopt Technology for Technology’s Sake
It’s easy to get excited by new technologies and to jump on the bandwagon right away. Sometimes organizations implement a new technology simply because it’s “cool” to have it. But this can create pitfalls. Companies must be sure that the technology will add value to the organization, i.e. that it will result in EHS and operational benefits that can be explained and documented. This is why it’s a good idea to create a roadmap for the adoption of EHS technologies, and to understand the effects that they will have on the organization.
3) Know the Effects on Workers
Some technologies, such as drones and sensors, do not physically interact with workers. But others do, such as wearables, smart personal protective equipment (PPE) and exoskeletons. The newer the technology, the more likely it is that we’re not 100% sure yet about all the physical and psychological effects on workers. Make sure that a new technology that physically interacts with humans is field-proven or thoroughly tested to limit any risk of adverse effects on workers who will use it.
4) Manage the Shift to Soft Skills
Technology will not replace the EHS manager, but it will change the role. Big data, analytics and artificial intelligence will impact EHS managers in a positive way by making them focus on safety culture. The EHS manager’s role will become more psychological and less logistical. It will become more human and less clerical. EHS managers will have to be good at communicating, motivating, inspiring and persuading. They will need to use soft skills more than before because technology will take care of other tasks. But not everyone has the same level of soft skills. As more EHS technologies are deployed, organizations will have to manage the transition of the EHS manager’s role to one where soft skills are more important so that nobody is left behind. In fact, a recent white paper on hiring EHS generalist graduates highlights the importance of soft skills.
There are other challenges as well, such as data security and privacy, providing adequate training, driving acceptance of the new technologies throughout the organization, etc. But the four in this post are those that have a risk of “flying below the radar” and being neglected. Be aware of them to be sure to get the most value from the adoption and implementation of EHS technologies.
Download this Research Spotlight report from LNS Research and learn more about the ways in which Industry 4.0 and the IIoT will apply to business in general and EHS in particular: