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Data visualisations workplace safety

Can employees make their own safety rules?

How data visualisations can make us safer

Ian Spatz | August 28, 2015

“Hold the hand rail!” I’ll never forget being told off by a complete stranger on my first day working at a major UK energy company. I was walking on the stairs as I’ve done my whole life—without holding on.

In industrial companies, people learn fast to take health and safety seriously. Many of the safety rules have been built over years of experience and are there for good reason: these companies cannot afford to take safety lightly.

It’s not just about slips, trips, falls and other occupational safety incidents; it’s also about process safety, the complicated interaction between people and machines and the systems of controls that prevent disasters. Safety has become central to their license to operate, and serious accidents threaten survival. Working with energy companies, I’ve seen firsthand how recent events in the Gulf of Mexico have cost companies tens of billions.

It’s time to bring a fresh approach to Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE). Mobility, data visualisation, and analytics are transforming businesses, and they can make us all safer as well.

I’ve wondered how many people actually get hurt when they don’t hold the handrail. Is it really an important rule in the workplace and is it truly helping prevent injuries? Many firms proudly announce the number of days without a workplace injury. But what if we could see up-to-date information on where the near misses and other leading indicators were? What if companies were equally proud of making injury data easy to see so we could make up our own minds about the next important safety rules to adopt and reduce safety risk even more? Using data to proactively identify and correct safety issues is making HSE functions more effective, with more relevant tools and interventions that will save lives.

Some leading companies are making mobile devices, data visualisations, and analytics central to their HSE functions. Acquiring and analyzing data—and making that data accessible to staff—is enabling employees to see areas of concern and intervene proactively. Workplace safety is becoming less about following predefined rules from HR and Health & Safety and more about developing interventions based on the actual risks identified by the data.

HSE data visualisation

Example workplace incident visualisation: leadership site visits at a leading energy construction company include safety interventions based on recent data accessible through mobile devices.

We’re going beyond simply visualising lagging indicators (e.g., incidents). We’ve developed tools to make it easier than ever for employees to record leading indicators like safety observations, site audits, leadership visits, near misses, etc.—data that is critically valuable in preventing accidents. Seeing the data, interacting with it and forming my own opinions makes me much more likely to follow the rules, and develop other ways of staying safe that probably aren’t written anywhere. If data allows us to be more proactive with safety, why not collect more of it and share it more transparently?

For me, this all started off as a hunch, but being inclined to check out if there was neuroscience that supports this thinking, I came across Dan Pink’s talk: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Watch the video or read the book for the full story, but in summary, his premise is about how autonomy, mastery, and purpose have replaced carrot-and-stick incentives when performing complex cognitive tasks.

Slalom has developed and is deploying technology-enabled HSE solutions to improve the collection of leading and lagging indicators; coach those at risk to assess and mitigate hazards correctly; and provide leaders with actionable insights. Our solutions work in tandem with your current processes and technologies by enabling:

  • Dynamic KPI visualization, analytics, and reporting of your existing HSE data
  • Adaptive, electronic JSA (Job Safety Analysis) that coaches workers in risk mitigation
  • An increase in volume and quality of leading indicators using mobile technology
  • Incident entry via mobile device to record images, videos, interviews, etc.

Making safety data accessible encourages employees to be personally accountable for their safety and satisfies their desire for autonomy. Purpose at both a personal level and at a corporate level couldn’t be stronger—no one wants accidents. The leap of faith comes around mastery: will people be safer if they devise and follow their own rules?

Special thanks to Aaron Butler, practice area lead of Slalom Houston’s Strategy & Operations practice, for his contributions to this post.

Ian Spatz

Ian Spatz is a practice area lead in Slalom London's Energy practice.

Aaron Butler

Aaron Butler is a practice area lead in Slalom Houston's Strategy & Operations practice.


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