I recently attended a Safety Technology event as part of London Tech Week. The event was hosted by Safety Accelerator, an organisation which brings together end users and innovators in the Safety Tech space to ‘make the world safer and more sustainable through wider adoption of industrial safetytech.’
Maurizio Pilu, Managing Director at Safetytech Accelerator set the scene with the formidable challenge of 2.1m deaths globally and 3.9% of global GDP being the cost of accidents at work. However, with £150m invested in startups in the space since 2020 and a 5-fold increase since Covid, it is clear Safety Tech will play a key role in driving health and safety performance and playing a key role in tackling the global challenges across health and safety.
From virtual reality, AI, sensors, wearable technology, drones, through to data analytics, the space and opportunity is vast. However, a lot of this technology is not new, so why have we not seen wide scale adoption?
The event brought together a panel of industry leaders with a construction and infrastructure focus including Andrew Rippington - Health and Safety Lead at BAM Nuttall, Mark Saunders - Client Director at Colas, George Mosey - Head of Health, Safety and Environment at Laing O’Rourke, and Xanyar Kamangar - Founding Partner at Griffon Capital.
Kicking off the discussion was George Mosely who offered some insight into the past track record of Safety Tech perhaps hindering recent uptake, identifying there was cynicism of Safety Tech given the amount which has been ‘discarded along the way’.
George discussed further some of the challenges in embedding Safety Tech, with the project nature of construction being a key example. If a project is successful with implementation on an individual project, wider adoption can then break down in an organisation as this success needs to be transplanted from projects to the central hub then back to project. Much like a 2000-person health and safety tango.
For Safety Tech to tick the box and be identified, acquired, and embedded effectively in an organisation, it needs to tick another box as well. It is essential the ‘Safety’ technology solves a wider business problem such as driving productivity (and oh it will also make up work place a lot safer). This sentiment was echoed later in the day by entrepreneurs Shelley Copsey - CEO at FYLD and Sebastian Andraos - CEO and Co-Founder at HAL-Robotics, who despite leading technology companies which drive vast improvements in health and safety, they don’t label their product ‘Safety Tech’. They each solved a different workplace issue and drove safety performance ‘by proxy’; as George mentioned ‘reframe the issue’.
Mark Saunders from Colas put it well when he stated that you can’t look at safety in isolation, you need to look at it as a failure of other parts in the business process with Safety Tech solving these wider issues. He also highlighted lack of time invested in the project and tech set up for pilots as being barriers to success.
Andrew Rippington who has been at the coal face of health safety and major infrastructure for 20 years gave a vivid account of when tech became unstuck on projects. Much of this he put down to the wrong tech in the first place and time and resources not invested to set the implementation up for success or refining once implemented.
What does work when implementing health and safety technology?
The speakers were unanimous about the value and benefit of the Safety Tech. Having clear and tangible KPIs in place from the outset was essential, as mentioned by angel investor Xanyar Kamangar.
Another major factor is ensuring all technology is people centric, getting the right stakeholders onside and complementing sound health and safety management rather than trying to replace it.
A splattering of government regulation to act as a catalyst doesn’t hurt either.
The good news is that despite the barriers there is a track record of the construction industry moving at speed to implement solutions to identified problems. George used the example of an initiative by Skanska where lorry loaders were fitted with certain types of stabiliser legs following three fatalities. This collective response was seen as key with many seeing the Safety Tech space as a ‘noise world’ with multiple players. One key to cut through this is the sharing of information and case studies to allow organisations to make informed decisions on options.
The HSE is really playing their part in this with Helen Balmforth - Head of Centre for Data Analytics at HSE, Discovering Safety Programme Director giving an overview. Their three-pronged attack focuses on data, analytics, and a regulatory sandbox. All of which will allow data to drive health and safety performance.
Hearing from four innovators in the space - Brendan Digney - Founder at Machine Eye, Sebastian Andraos - CEO and Co-Founder at HAL-Robotics, David Greenberg - Founder and Executive Director at Eave, and Shelley Copsey - CEO at FYLD, it is clear there is a huge amount happening. With passionate, smart, purpose driven people driving innovations the space is in a good place.
James Irwin is a Director at Irwin and Colton, a specialist health, safety, environment and sustainability recruitment consultancy.