It’s no secret workplace accidents can carry a devastating cost. A single workplace accident, even a minor one, can bring production lines to an immediate halt, potentially costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost productivity and missed deadlines - and that’s just the start.
The Price of Unpreparedness
Even after the lines are started again, there’s still the cost of medical bills, workers compensation, and potential increases in already costly insurance premiums. Depending on the cause and severity of the injury, there might be additional costs in inspecting and repairing faulty equipment, labor union disputes, and even lawsuits. In the best-case scenario you’re still out a worker, and it can be costly and difficult to find a temporary replacement for a skilled worker on short notice. These are just the business expenses that can be measured; the cost to worker morale, company reputation, and the resulting hardship for the employee and their family cannot be understated.
According to the International Labor Organization, there are 151 work related accidents every 15 seconds. Every 15 seconds, a worker will die of a work related accident or disease. The ILO estimates that work-related accidents and diseases cost a staggering $2.8 trillion every year in direct and indirect costs worldwide. That’s almost twice the amount of Canada’s entire GDP. It’s a staggering figure.
Workplace safety is too big of a problem to be an afterthought; it must be a central focus of any manufacturing company that aims to make a profit. From liability to lost production, the consequences of unexpected accidents can be disastrous.
Expecting the Unexpected
There’s a reason that, when a production line is interrupted by an accident, it’s called "unscheduled downtime." Accidents, by their very nature, are the result of a failure in planning. There’s no such thing as a scheduled accident - if we could always predict when and where systems would fail, there would never be any accidents or failures.
Every accident can be traced back to a failure of information. A machine component breaks unexpectedly before its scheduled maintenance window. An employee or contractor is unaware of safety procedure, or disregards it. A miscommunication results in the failure of a lock-out system. In every case, the cause is the same: someone, somewhere, was missing vital information and that lack of information led to catastrophic results.
Thankfully, information is the bread and butter of the Industrial Internet of Things. The IIoT is all about data - collecting data, communicating it, and acting on it. In this way, IIoT technology becomes an invaluable asset in improving workplace safety and avoiding costly unexpected operational failures.
IIoT technology brings an entirely new approach to safety. Old safety procedures are mostly based on the assumption that there’s just no way to predict when something will go wrong. While it’s always good to have a contingency plan, waiting for something to go wrong is hardly an ideal approach. IIoT safety, on the other hand, attacks the problem at the source, predicting and preventing failures before they ever have a chance to occur.
One of the most well-known applications of IIoT technology is predictive maintenance. By monitoring the status and operational data of manufacturing equipment, parts can be replaced and maintenance performed before it becomes a problem. This isn’t just good for avoiding unscheduled downtime, it’s also important for avoiding accidents. Studies have shown that roughly 35% of manufacturing accidents are caused by equipment failure. Having valuable operational data collected in real-time and centralized in one location, for accessibility, helps to avoid those failures altogether.
In addition, that same data can be incredibly beneficial in identifying equipment that’s performing under standards, even if it’s not getting ready for a catastrophic failure. This data allows engineers to keep everything running in top shape, without having to spend huge amounts of time trying to pinpoint malfunctioning systems in complex machinery.
IIoT solutions are also great for interfacing with traditional safety solutions. For example, lock out systems themselves can be monitored, which can be very useful data to have. If a system is being locked out more often than it should, it may be a sign that it’s experiencing problems with jamming or that employees are misusing it. Similarly, if a system isn’t being locked out enough, that might mean that employees aren’t following proper maintenance schedules or they might be doing maintenance in an improper and unsafe way. In either case, having that data allows a solution to be implemented; malfunctioning equipment can be repaired for gains in efficiency and training issues can be corrected to prevent slowdowns or unnecessary risk.
A full set of data also means that, in the event of an accident, it’s much easier to identify where things went wrong. Did an employee not follow lock out procedure? Was a piece of equipment not serviced according to schedule? How might the accident have been prevented? This is all useful information for creating effective safety procedures and can also be invaluable data to have for liability purposes.
Smooth Operations Benefit Everyone
From the highest CEO to the entry-level worker, good safety procedures benefit everyone. The new solutions that IIoT technology brings to the table improve things across the board: minimizing delays, maximizing efficiency, and ensuring a safe working environment for workers. The best business is one that runs smoothly and without interruption, and preventing workplace accidents and work-related illness is a major part of that.
Intelligent application of IIoT solutions is already an effective tool for manufacturing businesses everywhere and, in the years to come, will become absolutely central to every major operation. The connected nature of the factories of the future will make them faster, more efficient, more profitable, and safer for everyone.