Safety Byte: Innovation & Technology - Karl Simons


Safety Byte: Innovation & Technology - Karl Simons

Posted on 01 March 2021

In a recent Safety Bytes video, we met with Karl Simons - Director of Health, Safety, Security & Wellbeing at Thames Water to discuss the latest innovations and impacting the health and safety industry. In this video Karl discusses the latest trends around technology & innovation and the importance of this to the modern day Health & Safety professional. He highlights discusses some of the innovative initiatives that the health and safety team have introduced in recent years and discusses how technology can bring huge advantages for the modern day health and safety professional.

So technology and innovation -- you have to embrace it. I think the modern day health and safety professional is constantly striving for what's next. And also, there's an expectation from the business looking at us, to say, well, what are you doing? You're the health and safety professional. Are you just an inspector of sites and investigator of incidents? Or you're asked, are you strategically aligned into the operating model of the business? And are you driving innovation?

For me, I think, hugely important to all my team-- innovation doesn't come from an individual. It comes from a collective team of minds, that actually, when stimulated in the right way, can get some amazing outcomes. With the best part of innovation is not being afraid to reach out into other organisations, and say, can I understand what you're doing on this, because I've got an issue?

The best health and safety professionals I've worked with, and the best leaders, are the ones that are not afraid to actually go and connect with other professionals. And say, I need to understand more about what you're doing on this topic I spend a lot of time and energy personally delivering conferences and sharing what we're doing within Thames, so that others can learn and benefit. The whole remit of the professional body is to protect people from harm, whether injury or illness. Therefore we have a duty almost, and an obligation, certainly morally, to share everything.

Can you provide some examples?

Where will we be in the future? So right now, I recently said to my leadership team, I want to keep a seat spare for my virtual safety advisor. Don't worry, that's not to make us all redundant. But ultimately, I want to listen to the silent voice of the majority.

So what does a virtual safety advisor look like? How does artificial intelligence move into that virtual safety advisor world? For me, working across the capital and the South of England, I have thousands of people every day that may be wanting to ask a question. Now then, you get your management system onto the right platform, they will ask the management system the question they want.

And think how many times my virtual safety advisor can say, the top trended issues, asked by the silent majority-- which haven't picked up the phone or sent an email. They've just gone in had a look. Here's what the outcomes are. Then you're using artificial intelligence to gather information and actually put it on the table. Whereas, as opposed to listening to the vocal voice of my minority around the table, I'm listening to the crowd-- very simple way of injecting innovation.

Within Thames, we have a personal medical assessment program, started 5 years ago. And we said, if you work for us, we will give you an annual personal medical assessment-- 30 minutes, face to face with a medical professional. What that drives, culturally, is wow, this organisation really cares about our well-being.

And we do things like blood pressure testing, cholesterol tests, blood sugar levels. But also, then we start to look at, well, what's the highest causes of cancer in men? You've got prostate cancer. Second highest of cancer in everyone-- bowel cancer is an issue within society now. So we do free testing.

I've had over 100 abnormal results for prostate cancer. 13 people have phoned us up and said, thanks very much. I've got cancer, and you've identified it. And I'm thinking, oh my god. That's horrendous. But they say, no, there's no signs or symptoms. I'm getting treatment early. And that's happened because the organisation has invested in me, there's 5 confirmed bowel cancer cases.

Well, how do you get that buy in from the executives? So the way I put it to them was, we all have our Bupa medicals, as senior professionals. Does that make us more important than the receptionists sat downstairs, or the plant fitter out on the site? Well, of course it doesn't. So why wouldn't you invest in your people, in the same way that you invest in your plant? So for all our vehicles, we pay 50 quid circa a year for an MOT. It only costs the same-- 50 quid-- to have that medical that we undertake.

How are you utilising Technology?

When the drone evolution was taking place, we looked at it as a team, and said, right. How can we make sure that we are using this technology wisely? We have saved millions over the last few years, through using it for our inspections. So why would I put up scaffolding around a massively high 50 meter digester, when I can actually use the drone technology to go up and do the inspections for us?

Also we're looking at the same use of drones now to identify leakage. If you've got a leak on a water in an open field, how are the team meant to find it, if it's a wet day? If we send a drone up, we can pinpoint exactly where that leak is through thermal imaging camera. And we're doing that. It's not pie in the sky stuff. This is what we're doing.

What does the future hold for a Health & Safety professional?

The modern professional, 20 years ago, is very different than the modern professional today. 20 years ago-- inspectors of sites, investigates of incidents. 20 years later-- strategically aligned in the business operating model of the companies, and we are much more leadership engagement professionals.

20 years time-- hopefully, there'll be no injuries. There'll be no need. First, we'll all have to get new jobs. Will that happen? I very much doubt it. But we are on an evolution where we are removing, more and more, the human ability to fail.

Yeah, human beings by our nature, we have slips and lapse in concentration, make errors in judgment. Regrettably, we are built to fail, unfortunately. But the use of the driving technology-- the evolution-- is leading to less and less injuries and incidents occurring. And I believe the future looks very bright if we embrace technology in the right way.

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