Maintaining exceptional health and safety (H&S) standards is integral to the ongoing success of any project in the mining, construction, and engineering, procurement, and construction management (EPCM) industries. However, the time and expenses involved can be discouraging, leading to less effective outcomes.

For experts in the H&S field, the solution is clear: utilising technology can streamline the health and safety process, and lead to more beneficial outcomes for companies, contractors, and stakeholders across the board.

Sam Mabena, safety manager of the South African-based EPCM firm Erudite Strategies explains: “A focus on H&S in the workplace substantially lowers incident risk, protects employees, reduces lost time injury frequency, and, ultimately, protects against substantial profit loss. Companies in mining, construction, and manufacturing that lead in H&S innovation, also often lead in their respective industries.

“That said, developing and managing impactful strategies is resource intensive and requires significant input from employees, which often deters some businesses from implementing H&S practices effectively. The goal is to simplify and even automate the process to the point where barely any additional thought or effort is spent to maintain near-perfect safety standards. The best way to accomplish that is through integrating technology into normal operations.”

Mabena notes that larger companies in high-risk industries in South Africa have largely made the transition to technology-driven H&S solutions, but that small and medium businesses can likewise benefit, and should also consider making the transition.

Uncomplicating H&S through technology innovation

The first step companies often take when introducing technology into their H&S processes is converting physical data to a digital format. Digitisation streamlines H&S-related administrative tasks, reduces paperwork, and is ideal for capturing and managing employee’s personnel files, training records, and certifications. It not only eliminates the burden of manually completing paperwork, but also ensures data accuracy and accessibility.

A common second step is incorporating technology into H&S training practices. Learning modules can be digitised and easily shared among employees, and companies can develop simple training apps, empowering employees to complete their training on any smart device. Workers are further able to review safety protocols or revisit modules on the same app whenever necessary.

From there, risk assessment and emergency response software that integrates geospatial data, weather forecasts, and real-time communication channels can be used to accurately identify potential risks, and to assess the impact and likelihood of those risks occurring.

“Advanced analytics tools enable us to analyse vast quantities of data at speed to identify patterns and threats, empowering our project managers to institute pre-emptive measures or prepare a reactive response plan.”

Mabena adds that H&S does not happen in a bubble – it involves many individual employees, teams, departments, and, importantly, any subcontractors or suppliers that may access the project site at any point. These variables must also be controlled and managed, with specific H&S standards applied to sub-contractors and suppliers as needed, which often involves intensive auditing processes.

“By leveraging the power of technology, digitisation, and digitalisation, we can effectively automate auditing processes across a project’s ecosystem. For example, by centralising subcontractor data, performance metrics, and compliance records, we can ensure that they conduct regular risk assessments themselves, and that their employees are fully trained and H&S compliant.”

Looking ahead, he explains that the use of digital data analytics and machine learning algorithms will soon be widespread as companies seek to identify risks and deviations more accurately and proactively, enhancing their oversight and accountability.

“Ultimately, technology makes the workplace much safer, freeing up valuable time for safety professionals and employees to focus on proactive safety initiatives, as well as engagement with other relevant teams. This means greater consultations on the client-side or with subcontractors to ensure that the whole project is aligned, and H&S is practiced consistently and effectively throughout,” Mabena concludes.