HSE safetytech sandbox aims to tackle workplace injuries costing £8bn per year
UK’s health and safety watchdog is aiming to de-risk construction sector via tech innovation.
The UK loses 37 million working days each year due to work-related accidents and illness, while the 600,000 people getting injured at work comes at a cost of almost £8 billion per year.
In a bid to prevent or reduce the number of accidents in the workplace, Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched the Industrial Safetytech Regulatory Sandbox. The project will see HSE working with industry and technology partners to develop safetytech.
The sandbox is part of the Discovering Safety Programme, led by HSE and funded by Lloyd’s Register Foundation. It will work alongside Safetytech Accelerator, a non-profit organization set up by Lloyd’s Register to explore how technology such as AI, analytics, wearables, drones and robotics could improve safety and risk management.
The Discovery Safety Programme is helping HSE to be more innovative, for example looking at ways to apply new analytical techniques to its data or combining it with other sources to extract different insights. Dr Helen Balmforth, HSE Head of Data Analytics and lead on Discovering Safety, says:
It’s potentially being able to move into a more proactive space and understanding in more granularity where risks might be starting to occur, and move towards looking at leading indicators rather than lagging ones.
With the new Industrial Safetytech Regulatory Sandbox, HSE is testing whether new technology might be able to help improve health and safety performance. Balmforth adds:
Our particular sandbox isn't about the implementation of technologies in the workplace. We're more upstream than that. It's more of a desk-based feasibility study, but it will bring that community of tech companies, industry and the regulator together to work on specific challenges.
As well as looking at the regulation of health and safety and how safetytech can be an enabler to that, participants will work on problems together to understand and break down any barriers to its use.
Three industry partners have now signed up to participate in the sandbox: Balfour Beatty, BAM Nuttall and Heathrow Airport. The next stage of the project is selecting technology companies that offer products and services designed to improve safety and risk management in industrial workplaces. Safetytech Accelerator is currently recruiting tech participants for the sandbox.
The project is aiming to find ways to undertake assessment and compliance activities more effectively, and accelerate the use of proven safetytech products within companies. The scheme will focus initially on key risks affecting construction, including falls, vehicle collisions and crane operations.
The sandbox will run from after Easter for around 10 weeks until the end of June. Balmforth notes:
That's the nature of sandbox: fail fast, try things out quickly and see how it goes. The intention is hopefully we'll get some good results and we can build on it, but the sandbox itself is a pretty rapid process.
After the sandbox has completed its activities, HSE is planning to host a dissemination event in September. The organization will invite wider industry to explore some of the learnings and achievements, and consider what the next steps will be.
The overall objective of the safetytech sandbox is to prevent accidents happening by reducing risk. Steven Naylor, HSE Senior Scientist and Research Lead, explains:
Within health and safety circles, we refer to the hierarchy of risk control. It outlines a preferred strategy for controlling risks in the workplace, and the whole basis around it is that it's better to eliminate risks rather than deal with them at end of pipe, issuing people with personal protective equipment for example. We’re interested in technologies that operate high up on the hierarchy of risk control to eliminate and reduce risks in the workplace.
This specific sandbox is focused on the construction sector, so HSE is interested in technologies like digital tools that can support the design process in construction; connected and automated plants; technology that automates construction work such as robotics that allow workers to be removed from the risk loop; and drones that remove the need for workers to carry out high-risk inspection activities. Naylor adds:
We’re really interested in Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence, and how we can inform the workforce and manage competency in different ways using technology. Health and safety as a management activity relies very heavily on digital and written information, so we’re interested in the idea of using AI to be able to actually understand regulations, guidance standards, as well as what's detected in audits and inspections, and understand the interplay of all that information.
However, taking advantage of this cutting-edge safetytech requires a level of sophisticated data management not always seen in organizations. Balmforth explains:
We've identified data maturity and the information that is collected as a potential barrier to adoption. That is actually what we would be hoping to start to explore with the sandbox. The way that organizations maybe approach collecting and using data is pretty mixed across the board. There are some organizations that are quite mature and have this integrated, there are other organizations that maybe need assistance with that, or there might be tools or processes that can help them.
Part of the overall Discovering Safety remit is trying to understand how data and new analytical techniques can help improve safety performance. Balmforth adds:
If we can demonstrate and build that case for using a data-driven approach to health and safety management and understanding, that will help bring organizations and industry along with us.