Workplace safety and innovative digital technologies

Kate Keedwell, Vodafone UK Head of Sales - Manufacturing, Energy and Logistics, explores the growing role of digital technologies in improving and maintaining employee safety in manufacturing.

  • Despite manufacturing making up 10% of the UK’s workforce, it accounts for 20% of workplace injuries, meaning factory worker shortages and billions in lost output.  

  • Employee safety should always be a top priority, and innovative digital technology is making it easier than ever before to keep people safe at work.  

  • New technologies like Multi-Access Edge Computing and Mobile Private Networks are helping manufacturers keep employees safe with real-time data insights. 

Improving workplace safety with digital technology

An employer’s duty of care to their staff is paramount. For manufacturers, this means assessing and protecting employees against a wide range of potential risks: manufacturing makes up 10% of the UK’s workforce but accounts for 20% of workplace injuries.*

The squeeze on skills is compounding this issue. Factory worker shortages cost the UK £7 billion in lost output,** so it’s clear that the manufacturing sector can’t afford to lose people from the workforce because of accidents. However, workplace injuries still cost the UK economy £7.6bn in 2019/20.***  The good news is that innovative technologies can go a long way towards boosting staff safety. Here’s how some of these technologies are helping manufacturers:

Improving personal safety

Smart Cameras and wearable devices help keep personnel in contact with centralised offices so they can more easily check on the safety of staff. Manufacturers can issue staff with Smart Hard Hats as part of their lone worker health and safety strategy. The hats contain Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that check on variables like pressure on the hat, as well as other factors like temperature, air quality and moisture.  

The hat sensors connect to a Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) platform via a Mobile Private Network (MPN). If any data from one of the sensors breaks a threshold like temperature, for example, it issues an alert to supervisors. All the data is collected and visually presented back so, over time, manufacturers can identify problem areas and put preventative measures in place. They can also issue verifiable danger scores to activities to help shape worker safety strategy.

Site-wide monitoring and protection

It’s important to take care of people across your entire plant, from the factory floor to offices, car parks and loading bays. New technologies like Mobile Private Networks (MPNs) enable manufacturers to collect and analyse data in real time using 5G, capturing data from a wide range of sensors and devices that give you the insight to make your workspaces safer.  

Employee and visitor safety should be a priority from the moment they drive, walk or cycle through your front gates. For years now, manufacturers have installed CCTV cameras to keep watch on their sites day and night, but now Smart Wireless Cameras, which are quick to install, can do that much more effectively. They combine motion detection and provide evidence-quality imagery for you to use, while being easy to manage from mobile devices.  

High-bandwidth, low-latency MPNs will also enable manufacturers to use overlaid holograms that guide junior workers through complex tasks without putting them at risk.

Hands-on work from a distance

Haptic gloves are taking the concept of mixed reality a step further. A worker wearing these gloves, which use high-speed 5G connectivity, could complete manual tasks on the other side of the factory floor, or in a separate building altogether. For technicians who work with hazardous materials and tools, this is an ideal way to reduce their exposure to risk.

Turning up the power of training

Education and training are key to maintaining a safe environment and workforce. Video meeting and collaboration tools like Vodafone Business Unified Communications (VBUC) make it easy for employees to access regular learning from anywhere, on any device, and to collaborate with colleagues and session leaders for a more engaging experience.  

At the same time, upskilling and re-skilling staff is important for maintaining safe working practices while driving productivity and innovation. The combination of 5G and Mixed Reality can help you there too. When training becomes immersive and hands-on, people respond well, engaging more deeply with the subject and learning faster.

Proactive safety measures

It’s well-known that repetitive tasks cause lapses in concentration that lead to errors, and in a plant or factory, the consequences can be serious. AI and cloud-based monitoring solutions can help you spot and correct small errors before they escalate into bigger ones. At the same time, automated inspection tools will help you take a proactive and predictive approach to keeping plant and machinery in peak condition. This helps reduce the risk of malfunctioning equipment injuring employees. It also reduces the risk posed to maintenance teams if they’re called on to fix a sudden malfunction in a time-pressured environment like a production line. 

10% of the UK workforce

is made up of the manufacturing industry.

20% of workplace injuries

happen within the manufacturing industry.

£7.6 billion

was lost from the UK economy in 2019/20 due to workplace injuries.

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