What does the future hold for loss prevention and OH&S inspectorates?

25 May, 2012 Terry Bogyo


I've been keeping a list of the issues, trends and ideas that will shape the future of prevention and occupational health and safety from the perspective of loss prevention (education, consultation) and compliance (regulation, enforcement). Here are my top 10 items:

1. Harmonization
The mobility of capital, labour and goods will drive harmonization across jurisdictions regardless of constitutional or sovereign boundaries. This does not mean there will be a race to the bottom but it does mean there will be an emergence of a minimum set of standards within nations and among trading partners. The challenge for regulators will be to agree on external or new standards. Watch for the rise of (and battles between) competing cross-jurisdictional standards.

2. Inter-agency “Task-force” models
No structure is ideally suited to address every problem. If we precisely define the problem in real-world terms, we can then design the interventions we need to actually fix them. We will see more inter-agency taskforces, “deputized” officers from one service to work with others, and letters of understanding between agencies in support of common causes (tracking bad actors across jurisdictions, for example).

3. Data-Driven Risk Intelligence
We live in a connected world. First aid records (or OSHA logs in the U.S.), paper claims records, and regulations that require firms to keep records of exposures are obsolete, wasteful, inaccurate and (almost) useless from a loss-prevention or OH&S regulatory program perspective. Data — not the paper or forms that contain them — are what will drive change. I don't mean tables full of numbers published once a year but instantly available, continuously updated, visualized data with intuitive drill-down capabilities. These will become the standard mechanism for programmed inspections, blitzes, and targeted prevention interventions.

4. Social Media Response
Complaint phone lines are almost obsolete; yet, prevention agencies have failed to enlist the millions of people with smartphones on and near jobsites to detect and correct imminent risks. Agencies are all very quick to have a web presence going out, to tweet newsroom items and to seek Facebook followers. Embracing social media this way has the added benefit of fostering societal change.

5. Information transparency
Ultimately, it is information in the hands of consumers, workers and investors that will drive change. The Alberta Ministry of Human Services already allows anyone to search a firm's injury rate, fatality count, injury cost, and Certificate of Recognition status, among other things. The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration provides online access to enforcement inspection reports. Workers, shareholders, business partners and others are going to demand this information. Information has the power to shape reputation, and reputation matters. Transparency will drive better safety and health performance. Transparency will detect discrepancies and injury-reporting/claim suppression. More importantly, it will allow for the creation of new approaches to safety and health that we have not yet conceived.

6. Technology-enabled monitoring
For years, safety regulators and insurers have declined receiving copies of documents such as safety minutes, First Aid ledgers, OSHA 300 logs, and exposure records required by regulation. Regulators struggle with the question of what to do with such data. Smart systems change all that. All safety committee minutes can be received and analysed by intelligent software; all OSHA 300 logs (not just a sample) can be retrieved and the sampling error eliminated to reveal new trends; and exposure records can be used for epidemiological “surveillance” particularly for long-latency occupational diseases. Technology-enabled monitoring has the power to protect people.

7. Safety-culture detection
You can't fake your safety culture. If you have a good one, the safety rules are almost redundant. If you have a bad one, safety rules don't matter. Yes, promoting and studying safety culture have been around for years. Detecting safety culture in the dozen or so questions inspectors, loss prevention officers, managers or workers can ask will diagnose the state of a safety culture quickly.

8. There's an app for that!
Black box monitoring in transport vehicles, forklifts, cranes; “setting memories” cached on processing equipment; personal monitors for sound, motion, stress, toxins; worksite cameras capable of recreating three-dimensional scenes; “augmented reality” and “vertuality” capable of overlaying blue prints, floor plans, wiring and systems on camera images from any perspective in real time . . . there will be (and in some cases, there already is) an app for that. Best practice will make such apps common. And some insurers will offer discounts to employers with them in place.

9. Technology-enabled causation tree analysis
Software and intelligent systems will increasingly be used to establish exactly how safeguards, barriers and defences all failed to protect workers from injury. The antecedents that create active and passive defects allowing the inherent risk to harm injured workers will be actively mapped and the information used for prevention (and potentially third-party liability). Technology will enable (insurers will expect, regulators will demand) shorter periods to complete such analysis.

10. Tele-inspection
Insurers for underwriting and loss prevention purposes and OH&S inspectorates for compliance and enforcement purposes will use technology to do inspections at a distance. More worksites will be “visited”, more lives saved by adding this technology to the repertoire. Whether via remote connection or by use of a proxy (via the on-site safety manager with a helmet-mounted camera), inspections with corrective orders, penalties and even stop-work orders will be issued based on this sort on tele-inspection.

That's the top of my list.

What do you think? What's on your list?


About Terry Bogyo:

Terry BogyoTerry is the Director of Corporate Planning and Development for WorkSafeBC. His current responsibilities include environmental scanning, strategic planning and inter-jurisdictional comparisons.

Terry says of himself: I am a student of workers' compensation systems. Many years ago I discovered two things about this area. First, workers' comp and OH&S are of vital importance to people. Protecting, caring for and providing compensation to workers are important, noble and morally responsible endeavors. The second thing I learned was that no matter how much I knew about workers' comp/OH&S, there was always so much more to learn. This is an endlessly challenging area of study. My purpose, therefore, is not to lecture, but to reflect on the ideas and issues that are topical in this area... and to invite others to share in a learning experience. By adding your knowledge and insights, others with similar interests can participate in the discovery and study of this important domain.

His blog is "Workers' Compensation Perspectives".

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