Why is OHS slow to embrace technology? (and what to do about it)

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Thursday, 7 November, 2019 - 13:45
Industry news
National News

Most Australian companies are generally slow to adopt the latest technology, however, this tendency can leave potential organisational and other benefits on the table, according to an expert in technology and innovation.

There is a large desire to see new technologies validated by other companies first and reduce risk, said James Tibbett, former virtual reality development manager in the school of mining engineering at UNSW and now CEO of VR solutions company SeePilot.

“In the US there is a greater hunger for new technology as it is seen as a way to gain an advantage over competition and market pressures,” he said.

“The ‘innovate or get left behind’ mentality is a more apparent over there,” said Tibbett, who observed that the willingness to utilise the latest technology to improve OHS outcomes largely depends on the industry and the size of an organisation.

There are a variety of appetites for new technology, and Tibbett said this also depends on the individuals within the organisation who are willing to own the initiative.

“The greatest challenge is the status quo within their organisation – particularly in larger businesses where there are many existing systems in place and many people that need to be taken on the change journey.”

For such individuals it can seem like the easiest/safest option is to do nothing, rather than embrace new technology and innovate, said Tibbett, who will be co-presenting an Australian Institute of Health & Safety (AIHS)/Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia (HFESA) webinar on accessible and immersive technology to achieve optimum work performance on Thursday 14 November 2019.

Tibbett explained that a big part of being an OHS professional and building a good safety culture is just showing people that you care.

“If the workforce is observing you experimenting with new technology to help them, and seeking their feedback, they notice the effort and it helps improve the culture within the organisation,” he said.

Technological competency is becoming less of an issue as people are becoming more familiar with smartphones, web applications and assistant technologies in their personal lives.

“We use some great apps at home, like using Google Street View when choosing an Airbnb for a holiday to see what the location looks like,” said Tibbett.

“However, I think it is strange when they go to work and it’s like going back in time to using old technology, confusing pictures and long reports.”

There are a number of new and emerging solutions for companies in the WHS space, according to Tibbett, who said that the first step is to move away from paper reporting/forms in the business and realise the value that can be derived from the data in real-time when brought together on a cloud platform.

“I have seen companies like Donesafe make huge improvements for organisations by upgrading their whole safety management system to such app platforms with could centralisation, particularly for large and dispersed teams,” said Tibbett, who added that another area of interest is predictive intervention which big data analysis is starting to provide.

“I remember hearing about Boeing’s big data analytics team processing the data across all of their planes (through time) and finding a correlation between a particular kettle and another food preparation device failing in close succession, and then the air conditioning unit having a high probability of failing shortly after,” said Tibbett.

This had significant safety implications and the potential to ground an aircraft, and Tibbett explained that when those two kitchen devices fail now, the air conditioning circuit is serviced straight away.

“I think this is a great example of proactive intervention and I think it is moving more and more into the safety space to look at which employees, on which sites, at what time of the year, have a higher probability of which types of incidents when certain site conditions happen – and then changing their tasks proactively in real-time to lower the likelihood of these incidents,” he said.

As the head of a VR solutions firm, Tibbett said he is also excited by the immersive learning potential that is available with 360-degree footage, iPads and VR headsets.

“I love how an organisation can capture their actual workplace conditions with this technology and place trainees in the conditions that they are going to be working in – and how they can interact with the information inserted around them, learning visually and collaboratively,” he said.

“It is so much better than long procedures and death by PowerPoint, and it really helps to bring people up the knowledge curve quicker and get everyone on the same page.”

There are a number of steps OHS professionals can take to improve their own professional skill set and adopt/utilise new technology for the benefit of their business, and Tibbett said these include:

  • Maintaining a hunger to challenge the status quo and making a difference to improve the safety and performance of workers.
  • Understanding the needs of your organisation and areas for improvement by closely observing workers in the field or asking them “what don’t you like about performing this particular task?”
  • Knowing where to learn about new technologies that are out there, such as blogs, conferences and the right networks.
  • Getting to know technology companies and collaborating on problem-solving, such as getting better at the screening and piloting process for new technology.
  • Building a framework for experimentation, which includes clarifying measures of success for a project and how to manage technology implementation to get the data you need to take it to the next step.


“A great way to keep an ‘ear to the ground’ and learn about new technologies is to attend AIHS networking events and ask people ‘have you come across any cool new tech for your business lately?’” said Tibbett.

“It is a great conversation starter and helps you to stay in the loop with what others are doing.”

Many start-up accelerator programs (such as Startmate) will run a “demo day” where start-up companies pitch their product in a few minutes, and Tibbett said this is a great way of hearing about many cutting-edge solutions in an evening.

“This also helps you to draw parallels from problems they are solving for another industry into yours,” he said.

“In summary, keep an eye on the evolving needs of the business, keep looking for new solutions, and keep running small experiments as you are always guaranteed to learn.”

Tibbett will be co-presenting a webinar on accessible and immersive technology to achieve optimum work performance in conjunction with Sara Pazell, managing director of Viva! Health at Work, and Andrew Goldston, co-founder of Real Serious Games on Thursday 14 November 2019 from 2.30-3.30 pm (AEDT). The webinar will be hosted by the Australian Institute of Health & Safety (AIHS) and Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia (HFESA). For more information please visit the webinar website, email or call (03) 8336 1995.