Any business has multiple priorities. These will often shift and develop, as will the tools with which you can address them. Two of the main priorities in most industries today are the maintenance of staff safety and positively impacting the environment. These may seem like very different imperatives. But, the truth is that they have the potential to both affect one another and be addressed in mutually beneficial ways.
One of the positive ways these two imperatives meet in the contemporary industrial space is through the technology businesses use to safeguard both. We often look at business technology as a tool to serve the priority of profit, but it is increasingly useful to protect workers and the environment.
That said, it’s not always easy to know how to act in ways that leverage these tools for the most holistic benefit. So, we’re going to take a closer look at the issue.
The overriding reputation of automation is one of replacing human workers. Yet, as the technology becomes a more practical part of industrial reality, it is clear that this generally isn’t the case. Rather, it is still for the most part a tool to support the efforts of human employees. This is notable in the effort to maintain worker safety and environmental sustainability.
While it can be tempting to limit your research into technology to your own industry, looking to other sectors is just as important. This can inspire protocols that can be adapted to your own purposes. Ecommerce spaces are a good start for exploration here, as they are currently adopting a raft of sustainable and safe practices across the often complex fulfillment aspect of operations. From an environmental perspective, automation is particularly effective in reducing the potential for human error in shipping, inventory management, and labeling; minimizing the production of waste and excessive energy consumption.
This automation also provides distance between workers and potentially hazardous scenarios. Even in eCommerce, there is significant potential for employees to become injured on the job, particularly in warehouses.
Though Amazon’s operations are far from unproblematic, they have recently introduced automated robots into their newer warehouses that take some of the strain off their human workers. Rather than having to walk miles each day on hard floors, or risking injury from objects on high shelves, workers now supervise automated picking machines.
While your business may not quite have the budget to incorporate robots, it’s important to explore how currently accessible automated technology, such as that utilizing the industrial internet of things (IoT), can minimize worker exposure to danger and reduce error-induced waste.
Particularly in the past year or so of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all become aware of the role cleanliness plays in our lives. The small actions employers and employees alike take to keep clean have an impact on the spread of viruses. This obviously goes beyond our current crisis, and there is an imperative to maintain and improve industrial hygiene practices across every aspect of your business. While standards are mandated by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), this also tends to wield significant benefits for workers, the environment, and the business. Taking time to understand and plan against the sanitation hazards of your business — be they chemical, biological, physical, or ergonomic — protects workers from harm and illness, and minimizes company expenditure on healthcare costs and lost productivity.
Incorporating technology into your industrial sanitation helps to take you beyond the minimum standards of OSHA. Again, this is where the IoT is playing an important role in both sustainability and safety. Sensors in wearable devices and rooms can monitor the location for the presence and level of potentially hazardous chemicals and air quality. Indeed, researchers are currently developing tools that are intended to detect the presence of viruses in an enclosed environment. Sensors in the IoT can also track worker activities and produce reports on practices so that managers can adjust operations where needed.
From an environmental perspective, being able to detect hazards in industrial locations allows business leaders to minimize transference into the local ecosystem. This isn’t just for apparent “hard” hazards like asbestos, viruses, and chemicals. It also extends to other sources of industrial poor hygiene like noise pollution. Exposure to this impacts worker hearing and the surrounding environment; particularly the habitats of local wildlife.
Your business makes complex decisions each day. Indeed, your ability to make the most prudent and intelligent choices can significantly impact the continued safety of your workforce and the health of the environment. This is why it can be wise to adopt technologies that help you to make more informed decisions.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has become useful in this regard. Software systems are being adopted into industrial spaces that analyze operational data and learn from historical information to make predictions and recommendations about business activities. This is particularly prevalent from both a safety and environmental perspective when it comes to the maintenance of equipment.
In the shipping industry, the Goa Shipyard in India is already implementing a Condition Monitoring System (CMS) that observes equipment and makes recommendations for servicing to avoid breakdowns. Similar technology is also in place in trucking fleet management software. This approach to keeping on top of maintenance is not only good for efficiency. It also limits the potential for workers to be in danger due to failing equipment. From an environmental standpoint, these AI systems tend to reduce fuel consumption due to inefficient operations and also minimize damage due to potential accidents or spills. The more analytical tools you can incorporate into your business, the better able you’ll be to assess potential threats to workers and the environment.
Technology is a prevalent part of industrial environments. This is not just to be more productive; it also has a key role in safeguarding worker safety and the environment. By continuing to explore the potential of automation, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence, your business can ensure a positive impact for everyone involved.