I was intrigued by two recent IoT related survey and reports. They emphasise use cases about efficiencies and return on investments but, surprisingly, there is no mention of people-safety nor productivity. I think it is imperative to place people at the heart of the IoT universe. Today, people related use cases have been greatly understated. We will be doing a great injustice if we continue to ignore the human angle. All aspects are equally important – business efficiencies, productivity and people safety. IoT must become more human centric.
Nearly 2 million people die each year from work-related causes, according to the estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Labour Organization (ILO). This number is dramatically higher than the death toll from road accidents or air crashes, yet one that receives significantly less attention. Global estimates by the United Nations (UN) health and labour agencies also warn that exposure to long working hours was a key health risk linked to approximately 750,000 deaths globally. In addition to this, 450,000 people have lost lives as a result of workplace exposure to air pollution, gases and fumes while occupational injuries were estimated to have killed 360,000 people per year. Daunting facts and figures on health and safety at work by ILO highlight that every 15 seconds, a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease, and 151 workers have a work-related accident. These are truly shocking statistics.
The alarming reality of workplace fatalities sends a clear signal to business leaders urging them to perform an organisation-wide diagnosis on workplace health and safety culture while driving business efficiencies and productivity. A large number of these premature work-related deaths are preventable if proactive actions are taken to identify and monitor work-related health and safety threats. Organisations do follow work-safety measures and policies, yet problems remain only partially solved. The key to sustainable prevention lies in getting the right set of technologies combined with organisational strategies for effective implementation.
IoT-based connected worker solutions with their rapid abilities to monitor and predict safety risks are continuing to protect millions of people from workplace injuries and deaths globally. Especially for high-risk industries such as oil and gas, chemical production, mining and metals, these connected worker solutions when deployed in production environments provide complete visibility of their workforce and their operations. More importantly, the real time insights from continuous monitoring helps companies to identify and isolate risks in advance, significantly saving lives and avoiding near miss incidents.
From health and safety monitoring to asset tracking and utility management, IoT applications are already transforming multiple support processes in factory settings. Beyond factories, the actionable data from IoT sensors are enabling a wide range of use cases like connected vehicles, remote health monitoring and smart home appliances. Alongside 5G, IoT is set to bring a myriad of benefits to society and the environment. To top it, with a common IoT Fabric that brings together the connectivity, data and device management, the opportunities for businesses to unlock efficiency and productivity seem boundless.
While the technical-brilliance and usefulness of IoT makes it widely applicable across industries through different use cases, enterprises are often prioritising use cases that deliver promising Return on Investment (RoI) directly linked to production processes. Today, companies are making efforts to enhance people safety, however, there is not enough focus on leveraging IoT as an enabler for the same. In my view, there needs to be a balanced approach across the business and human aspects. In fact, research studies indicate that every dollar invested in an effective health and safety program returns an average of 500 per cent payback to the organisation. In addition to that, there could be significant cost savings from increased workforce productivity.
Moreover, reports and surveys that predict the growth opportunities of IoT use cases fail to highlight the importance of workplace safety and wellbeing. More than 90 per cent of the use case adoption reports do not rank IoT use cases on safety and health in the top three places. This myopic view on IoT growth potential leaves out the immense opportunities arising from IoT solutions that can enhance workplace safety, productivity and wellbeing. Business and consultants’ surveys must also start asking questions about employee safety in addition to bottom-line returns. This will uncover the true potential of IoT use cases for people-first organisations where employee safety and wellbeing gain importance along with bottom line benefits.
Protect the business and the brand. Organisations that put people first and that are focused on employee safety have shown greater operational resilience and business continuity success. For instance, when the pandemic hit, most companies and businesses across economies were grappling with business continuity challenges caused by workforce disruptions. Successful businesses that understood the benefits of investing in a safe and healthy workforce stayed afloat, naturally gaining a competitive advantage over others. In fact, these organisations were able to resume operations swiftly adhering to higher standards of health and safety compliance. On the flip side, businesses that failed to embrace change due to technical and organisational barriers saw productivity loss, disruptions in supply chains adversely affecting jobs and livelihoods of workers across sectors.
While secure connectivity solutions enabled employee safety through Work From Home (WFH), employees in industrial settings or remote working environments were ensured safety through IoT-based connected worker solutions. Over the past one year, implementation of our connected worker solutions - safety watch and Safepass® have alone prevented around 40 safety incidents and a reduction of up to 20 per cent in unauthorised entry at the workplace. Additionally, the actionable insights into safety and productivity have also resulted in 20 per cent increase in workforce productivity. In terms of monetary savings, this translates to nearly 10 per cent reduction in contract spends for enterprises.
Companies are increasingly turning to digital technologies to both avoid and mitigate health and safety risks. This is apparent from the increased demand of connected worker solutions, in particular, safety watches and Safepass® cards that has been witnessed during the pandemic. They are helping enhance employee productivity through accurate data, while ensuring adherence to social distancing norms through overcrowding alerts and zoning. As we navigate to a world of challenging and uncertain times, and a majority of workforce preferring hybrid ways of work, it makes sense to think of alternative and effective approaches that ensure physical safety and wellbeing at the workplace.
In a digital-first world, creating value for business, environment and the society needs a systems thinking approach to anticipate and solve future challenges. Analyst firm IDC predicts that there will be 55.7 billion connected devices worldwide by 2025, and with 75% of these connected to an IoT platform, businesses need to think of long-term strategies for industry verticals, especially the high-risk industries that are resource and labour-intensive.
A peek into the future of workforce and the dominance of IoT promises a plethora of possibilities in Industry 4.0. Transformational leadership with the right mindset and trust leveraging the power of digital technologies will be instrumental to ensure business continuity while protecting employee safety and security.
Here’s the bottom line: Make workplace safety a top priority for your organisations today, else you will stand to not only lose financially, but also jeopardize your brand.
Views are personal. The author is CEO & MD, Tata Communications.
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