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The Role of Digitization and Automation on Safety and Risk in the Workplace

Posted by Clarion Safety Systems on 14th Jun 2021


Workplace safety for nearly all industries has faced significant challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic and events of the past year. Advances in digitization and automation have helped chart the new direction for workplace safety and risk management in the manufacturing sector and industries that rely on high-tech tools. Manufacturing automation and digital workplace tools can help businesses stay on track and meet new and existing equipment and safety guidelines for employees in a post-pandemic world.

Product Manufacturing: Entering the Age of Robotics
One of the most important benefits companies receive from combining automation and safety practices is in their product manufacturing processes. Manufacturing automation can improve industrial practices, speed up timelines, and prevent product mistakes and liability issues related to human error. Tools like production management software allow a small number of human operators to control the process and keep manufacturing going at a steady pace without sacrificing quality control.

Decreasing Risk Through Automation
The number of workplace injuries has gone down significantly since the early days of OSHA in the 1970s, from 10.9 per 100 workers in 1970 to 2.8 per 100 workers in 2017. With even more of a focus on digital workplace safety with automated tools in the future, that number could decrease much more. Today, manufacturing companies can pivot laborious, dangerous tasks to robotic devices. Repetitive jobs can now be assigned to machines through manufacturing automation, such as a conveyor belt or a robotic assembly line. Heavy items can be picked up and moved with equipment instead of by hand, reducing the chances of a worker suffering a back injury during the task.

Robots, Cobots and Increasing Productivity
The other big challenge with the new normal in the workplace is keeping productivity at a high level despite possibly having fewer workers on the floor. In 2018, more than 115,500 manufacturing workers and 17,000 warehouse workers missed workdays to due injuries. Some companies have started investing in a specific type of robot, the cobot, which is a more collaborative robotic device that relies on input from a collective group of workers instead of one programmer. Unlike traditional robots that require engineer-level programming, cobots are designed to make programming simple through human-machine interfaces familiar to anyone who has used a smartphone. This robot reduces the learning curve dramatically, along with time, effort, and cost. This in turn translates to a faster return on investment and increased employee safety for companies looking to add automation into their workplace.

To recap, automated manufacturing has a multitude of benefits including;

  • Higher product output through more working hours at a lower cost.
  • Better product quality through eliminating worker fatigue and inconsistencies.
  • Improved safety and security due to keeping workers away from blades, chemical exposures, and electric hazards.
  • Freedom from the mundane by allowing employees to focus on jobs requiring critical thinking to focus on innovation and eliminating repetitive busy work.

Digitalization: Solving Pandemic Challenges
Digitalization also has a role in workplace safety, especially in the COVID-19 era. In a poll conducted in May 2020, 54% of workers in the U.S. were worried about their risk of exposure to COVID-19 at work. The poll also revealed that employees felt less anxious about COVID-19 at work when they knew their employer took steps to improve health and safety.

Companies can start by using digital tracking and contact tracing tools at the workplace, as manual tracing becomes near impossible for employee counts over ten. Automation and safety devices are available to digitize employee attendance and scan for possible signs of illness. One way to do this effectively is with touchless devices that scan each worker's temperature and use thermal cameras to find any symptoms of COVID-19. Wearable devices can be worn as a belt clip or on a lanyard to track each worker's movements through a building, measure distances between users, and store symptom data for contact tracing in case of an outbreak. Digital safety tools can be used to monitor the number of workers congregating in different parts of the facility and can help keep the risk of virus exposure low through app check-ins and pre-set capacity limits.

Focusing on the Future
The reality of the future is that many industries have much more responsibility for their workers' health and safety. The most cost-effective way to protect workers and to keep a business’s profit margin strong is to incorporate technology – such as automation and digitalization – into the company's operations. Manufacturing automation helps reduce safety hazards to workers while digitization tools can support social distancing efforts and contact tracing.

Even though the landscape of the workplace has experienced some big changes this year, it's still possible to achieve company goals and experience profitability with manufacturing automation and digitization. You’ll certainly continue to be presented with new safety-related challenges and opportunities in 2021 and beyond – whether it’s related to the equipment you manufacture or to the overall health and safety of your workforce. At Clarion Safety, we strive to keep up with your changing needs, including a full catalog of labels and signs in line with the current manufacturing environment , as well as offering digitized solutions of our own. This past year, that included adding two new complementary offerings to our product safety portfolio: a digital product safety/management solution called ClarionAccess® and product safety and risk consulting services, available through Clarion Safety Assessment®. Our team is here to help answer questions on these services, as well as the rest of our safety solutions .

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