The Utilities sector comprises electricity and gas generation, distribution and supply to consumers, telecommunications, water, and sewerage.
In 2016, 74% of Lost Workday Injuries (LWIs) were caused by
Slips, Trips and Falls
Utilities workers frequently experience substantial risks in high hazard environments due to the nature of the work (e.g. elevation, confined spaces, high voltage environment and flammable gas presence); the technologies and equipment used.
The Utilities industry is characterised by the need to work:
• at risk of being struck by moving plant vehicles
• at risk of being struck by large/heavy moving objects
• in proximity to overhead/underground high voltage power lines
• in confined spaces
• at height
• in high noise environments
• at risk of exposure to dust and fumes (especially vehicles)
• at risk of exposure to flammable gas and chemical emissions, fire and explosions
• with vibrating tools / machinery (HAV)
• for continued periods of high exertion or with repetitive movements.
Additionally, the Utilities industry faces particular challenges from lone workers which form a high proportion of its workforce, an increased risk of musculoskeletal disorders resulting from an ageing workforce, and the widespread use of contractors creating inconsistent Health & Safety procedures and policies and/or blurred lines of responsibility.
Innovation in the Utilities Sector : The Case for Wearable Technology
Confined space entry and lone working are just two scenarios that present potential risks to workers across the Utilities sector, namely water/wastewater, gas and electricity production/distribution and telecommunications.
There are obvious hazards associated with entering an enclosed tank or inspection which are covered by the Confined Space Regulations 1997 and identified in the approved code of practice (ACOP, L101). The latter also points out less obvious examples where gas can build up that could lead to an explosion or asphyxiation. Excessive heat build up leading to heat stress and eventual unconsciousness is another potential cause of fatality.
In addition, there are specific hazards from physical and chemical agents that also need to be considered, which, if left uncontrolled and exacerbated by repeated exposure, can lead to chronic occupational illnesses. These include noise from plant, equipment and from power tools, which can result in noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). Tools can also be the cause of excessive vibration being transmitted to the hand and arm, which can lead to hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) also known colloquially as vibration white finger. Both NIHL and HAVS can be very debilitating and severely impact on people’s quality of life.
As well as the obvious human costs, there are financial ones too; having people off sick means lost productivity and extra management time spent dealing with sickness and staffing. It can have an adverse knock-on effect on insurance premiums as well as prosecutions and large fines for serious breaches, compensation claims and not least, reputational damage. The health & safety press regularly features cases of corporate prosecutions and the recent changes to the sentencing guidelines means that penalties for breaches of regulations, including the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, are on the increase.
With so many different aspects to consider, how can the latest technology help managers better meet their health and safety responsibilities?
You are probably familiar with fitness bands and mobile phone apps that track activity and location and Wearable Technologies Ltd.’s (WTL) solution is an extension of this technology tailored specifically for the industrial workplace. WTL has developed an end-to-end platform that offers ‘mix & match’ sensors for noise, gas, dust, temperature & humidity in addition to posture, physiology monitoring and proximity (to moving hazards) with a mobile communication hub. These are incorporated into a smart hi-vis jacket, and data is available on a dashboard that will alert both the manager and the worker to health and safety events through centralised and local alarms. Such a digital revolution will turn the way health and safety is managed on its head through actionable insights, offering cost savings and productivity improvements.
Imagine having access to ‘real-time everything’ on your mobile, tablet or desktop PC so that you can mitigate the risk of exposure or injury and immediately investigate near-miss incidents. These can often otherwise go unreported, resulting in lost opportunities for corrective action and improvement.
For the worker, this means a visible alarm incorporated into their existing, familiar PPE which alerts them and their co-workers to surrounding hazards, ‘nudging’ them to stop the task, check that they have the correct PPE or control methods or seek supervision when necessary. There is also a man down facility to protect workers when working alone. Future developments will also enable you to head off problems before they happen using powerful predictive analytics that will point to where the next accident or exposure is going to occur.
The Millennial workforce is well disposed to adopting new technology which will drive their engagement. More participation in health & safety will bring about behavioural change, a critical success factor in delivering productivity improvements, cost savings, but most importantly better health outcomes and quality of life.
For more information or a demonstration
telephone 01455 563000
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Wearable Technologies Limited is registered in England & Wales No. 08814318.
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