What is safe? Navigating a collective understanding of safety
Setting up safety standards around vehicles, the leading cause of fatal accidents
In heavy industry, establishing a robust safety program hinges on a consensus of what is considered safe and unsafe. Without a clear alignment on safety standards, the very metrics used to measure adherence to safety practices can quickly become meaningless.
Having an understanding of what is safe is a no-brainer, yet achieving this is no easy feat. Each individual's perception of safety is filtered through personal risk tolerance, administrative decisions, and the confidence to speak up.
Take, for instance, a recent experiment at Presien. We recently provided a selection of our customers with a sample of detection videos from our AI vision system, Blindsight. The participants spanned frontline workers, office-based staff, and senior executives – all within the same company. The task? To evaluate the safety level depicted in each video. The outcome? Minimal overlap in responses.
Delving into distinctions: safe vs. hazard vs. risk
To work towards alignment, let’s first clarify some important distinctions:
- Safe = a moment when physical harm is low
- Risk = the chance that a hazard will cause harm
- Hazard = something that has the potential to cause harm
While hazards are typically well understood, gauging risk is more challenging. Crucially, different views on risk result in different views on what is safe.
When it comes to risk, it often depends on machinery specifics, operational nuances, the control mechanisms in place, the operator's proficiency, environmental conditions, and more. The risk depends on context which is complex. While not perfect, the solution is often boiled down to the establishment of basic rules like barriers, pre-set exclusion zones, and spotters.
So, how can organisations bridge the gap and arrive at a collective comprehension of risk and ultimately safety? This answer is crucial when confronting life-and-death scenarios, like vehicle-person interactions – a leading cause of fatal accidents.
Let’s delve into an approach and steps to follow for a vehicle-person scenario.
Step one: Connect HQ to frontline IQ
The first step in defining what is safe in vehicle-person interactions is enabling a two-way discussion between frontline staff and leadership.
Individuals working on the ground are deeply immersed and acclimatised to their work environment. It's highly likely that they perceive on-site risks through a distinct lens compared to those at HQ. The question of right or wrong is nuanced, and establishing alignment begins with open conversation.
Start by striving to understand the realities of onsite work and the reasons behind certain behaviors. Policies and procedures may stipulate machinery exclusion zones, but engaging in conversations with frontline staff can reveal the necessity of proximity for completing tasks. For example, it is not possible to have an 8-metre exclusion zone in a road or rail project where the operating corridor is less than that width.
Emphasising the importance of input from frontline teams ensures that safety protocols are firmly grounded in practicality. This approach paves the path for sensible and effective procedures.
Step two: Quantify unsafe behaviors
Understanding the realities of onsite work enables teams to recognise unsafe behaviors more accurately. Next, it’s up to organisations to determine appropriate zones for proximity to machines or vehicles.
Each week, Presien works closely with customers to create essential detection zones using Blindsight. With the technology's fine-tuning capabilities, detection settings are precisely aligned with each organisation's unique operations, ensuring seamless integration.
Alert zones, with distances ranging from 6-10 meters, generate alerts when selected objects, like people, enter these areas. Critical zones, covering 2-3 meters, tag detections as near-misses, enabling prompt attention to potentially hazardous interactions.
Establishing agreed-upon zones brings clarity to every situation, reducing the cognitive load on teams and fostering safer practices.
Step three: Make near-miss reporting automated
There’s a growing consensus across heavy industry that tracking near misses is essential. While this is positive, a large portion of safety reporting remains manual and relies on people making a choice whether or not to log an issue. This fractured approach to reporting means critical events aren’t caught as problems arise.
Progressive operations leaders are tackling these industrial close calls by prioritising the automation of associated data. This approach eliminates the burden of decision-making from individuals and provides a clear picture of daily onsite activities. In the case of Blindsight, AI vision and automation bypass subjective judgment calls, offering a comprehensive and unbiased view of onsite operations.
It starts with a question
Successful safety programs start with a deceptively simple yet pivotal question: “What is safe?”.
As heavy industry advances with technologies like AI vision, it's crucial not to overlook the power of simple conversations to lay the foundation of understanding and align teams toward a common goal.
Technology holds immense potential, yet meaningful dialogue remains an indispensable tool for achieving alignment and fostering a cohesive safety culture. Embracing both paves the path for progress and sustainable safety improvements.