“Rubbish in, rubbish out”: where organisations fall short on data analytics and WHS

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Tuesday, 20 October, 2020 - 12:30
Industry news
National News

Most organisations do not fare “anywhere near as well as they could do” when it comes to data analysis for WHS improvements, according to a safety futurist.

Rather than thinking about what data to capture and how to capture it, organisations tend to make the analysis of data a routine reporting exercise – rather than using it as an opportunity for continuous improvement, said Cameron Stevens, who currently works as a solutions engineer for augmented reality start-up RealWear Inc as well as the founder of safety innovation consultancy, Pocketknife Group.

There are a few key areas that enable meaningful WHS data analysis that can improve work at the cutting edge, Stevens said.

“First is data quality: rubbish in, rubbish out,” he said.

“Second is the volume of data – you can’t perform a statistically significant analysis on a small data set.”

Arguably, the most important enabler is investment on quality user experience, said Stevens, who was speaking ahead of the AIHS Visions Conference which will be convened virtually from 10-13 November.

“Organisations that are using photo, video and voice data capture are in a far better data analytics position than those requiring their workers to manually enter data,” said Stevens, who has a Masters in Ergonomics, Safety & Health and was the inaugural recipient of the Eric Wigglesworth OHS Education Medal.

He also related an experience around reducing the risk of fatalities associated with tree-felling in the remote jungles of the South Pacific, and explained that jungle tree felling is a “phenomenally risky pursuit”.

“Compared to traditional forestry practice with relatively uniform tree species, jungles are extremely biodiverse; trees experience internal rot, vine entanglement and behave unpredictably when cut,” he said.

“This has led to several fatalities in major projects across Papua New Guinea over the last decade,” said Stevens, who was engaged to co-design a fatality prevention strategy as the corporate safety manager to support this large, geographically diverse project.

“Co-design and collaboration were the two key ingredients for developing and implementing a tech-enabled fatal risk prevention strategy,” he said.

“Chainsaw operators and chainsaw trainers were the stars of the show.

“With simple, targeted interviews, the crews uncovered an amazing insight; the relative competency of a chainsaw operator can be determined by still images of the trees they have cut.”

Stevens said that collaboration between Andrew Burns from an NZ-based innovative EHS software company and the project leadership team resulted in the development of a mobile application that was used to geolocate tree felling competency across the project.

“The most impactful outcome was being able to visualise the geographical distribution of tree felling risk and chainsaw operator competency,” said Stevens, who observed that near misses occurred more frequently when less experienced operators were isolated from more experienced operators or team leaders.

“Geolocation is a fabulous tool to visualise WHS data,” he said.

“Improving supervisor ratio and continually monitoring the geographical distribution of competency across the project, we had a far greater ability to control the risks associated with complex operations.

“Morale increased, injuries reduced, near misses made more sense and project efficiency improved as a result.”

Stevens urged all OHS professionals to rethink their role to that of a “concierge”: “just like a hotel concierge connects you with the best Thai restaurant in the city, a safety concierge connects workers with solutions to solve OHS problems,” he said.

“Investing in a foundational level of digital literacy is critically important for OHS professionals to successfully communicate and collaborate with IT departments and tech vendors on OHS use cases.”

He also encouraged OHS professionals to adopt and practice an “innovation mindset”, as the first steps to a safety innovation mindset are being curious and being comfortable with being wrong.


Stevens will be speaking at the AIHS Visions Conference which will be convened virtually from 10-13 November. The Visions Conference has been run for the past 27 years by the Queensland Division of the Australian Institute of Health and Safety for the benefit of its members and everyone in the Safety Community. For more information call (03) 8336 1995, email visions@aihs.org.au, visit www.visions.org.au or register here.