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Why IoT is key to maintaining industrial workers’ safety

March 29, 2021

Alok Bardiya   

Head – Internet of Things (Business Unit), Tata Communications

Health and safety is carefully considered across many sectors, and regardless of the type of work being undertaken, all employees should expect that their employers provide a safe and protected environment. In this piece, Tata Communications’ Alok Bardiya, Head – Internet of Things (Business Unit), explains how IoT technology can help protect workers in hazardous environments.

For all the disruption and suffering caused by the pandemic, one silver lining has been the closer emphasis on employee health and keeping people safe in the workplace.

In a bid to support newly minted remote workers in the face of sudden office closures, many businesses started offering employees access to mental wellbeing services and flexible work hours. This helped workers carry on effectively while they took on new roles, such as teacher or carer.

A lot of these flexible working initiatives were programs employees had desired for years. As a result, this moment is being seen by many as the start of a revolution in employee wellbeing.

And while this is good news, so far this transformation has been mostly reserved for white-collar workers. But for millions of industrial workers around the world, ‘remote working’ has always been a distant reality.

“For factory workers, building site contractors, and transport staff, remote working rarely involves sitting at home in front of a laptop. Instead, it can mean being physically distributed across large geographic areas, often alone and in potentially hazardous environments.”

These workers also deserve their own health and safety revolution – especially as the majority of the 2.78 million work related fatalities recorded each year are in this group. So in this piece, I will discuss why addressing health and safety concerns is not only the right thing for employers to do, but the fiscally responsible one too. IoT may just be the key to unlocking this revolution.

The true cost of health and safety

Worker health and safety has been a concern since the start of the industrial age. The first worker strike in India in 1862 was, among other things, due to complaints of excessive workloads. But over the decades, regulations and policies have slowly been introduced to ensure the safety of factory workers.

Nonetheless, there are 374 million work related injuries each year. Because, while regulations are great at preventing certain health and safety concerns, they often can’t protect against the more fluid nature of threats in industrial workplaces.

For example, in remote areas with poor connectivity, companies may struggle to inform their people of incidents that call for site evacuations. This challenge and threat grows exponentially when you consider a workplace that’s dozens of feet underground or in the middle of an ocean.

And the prevalence of the problem doesn’t make it any less costly to businesses. Each year, poor occupational health and safety reduces global GDP by 3.94%.

So, while it’s in every business’ interest to provide employees with the best health and safety protection they can, up until now, there’s been relatively few dynamic and cost-effective industrial strength, integrated, health and safety solutions.

But with new advancements in industrial IoT, that’s all changing.

A secure and connected workplace

Developments in the Internet of Things (IoT) now allow for any workplace, regardless of size and scope, to connect, monitor and protect employees. What’s more, the data IoT generates can help drive insights that enhance productivity across the whole of  organisation.

IoT is cost-effective to deploy and maintain, while offering unparalleled levels of granularity when it comes to monitoring and controlling an environment. Sensors installed across locations can also enable pre-emptive intervention in case of accidents and emergencies. This makes it the ideal choice for any industrial work environment.

“Leaders in charge of health and safety can reduce the impact of incidents, while ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements. Auditors can even access digital records when validating compliance, as opposed to working their way through cumbersome paper records.”

Operations leaders, on the other hand, can monitor work to ensure maximum production and productivity uptime in employees.

And that’s before considering the monumental impact on mental wellbeing these measures will have on workers. With concrete reassurances these technologies offer, employees will feel more valued and protected – an important trait for anyone works in a hazardous environment.

Health and safety is an investment – not a cost

Research has shown that every dollar invested in health and safety returns a 500% payback to the organisation. And with a solution as dynamic as IoT, a myriad of highly specific situations can be catered for.

Tata Communications’ Worker Safety and Efficiency Solutions are on the cutting edge of this digital revolution, combining wearable tech with IoT, analytics and AI to securely support industrial workers. The portfolio spans an entire range of smart devices – from a ‘smart watch’ to SafePass to smartphone app based solutions. All of these leverage the smart IoT Fabric that Tata Communications is providing to its enterprise customers for their Connected Operations.

“Features like access management track employees’ entry and exit to facilities and ensures only authorised workers have access to certain areas.”

With appropriate additional sensors, it can also be used in environmental monitoring to detect the harmful emission of gases such as CO2 and NO2, notifying workers within range.

And with wearable tech such as smartwatches, other features such as headcount capture, SOS alerts and vital signs tracking are all possible too.

So, let us all – white-collar and industrial workers alike – move into the next normal together, by ensuring the post-pandemic workplace of the future is a safe space for all.

To find out more about how IoT is revolutionising work and our lives, check out our blog: Connecting generations: The growing role of IoT in elderly care.