Despite the importance of safety in any manufacturing operation, it seems we’ve been hearing more and more about how difficult it is to actually sell safety technology. On the face of it, it’s not where companies want to have to invest their money.
Corvex Connected Safety is a company that got its start creating an open platform for personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers to develop smart PPE. Sensors embedded in the PPE would—as a worker moves around a facility—compare what they had on vs. what the safety plan was.
That was even more of a tough sell. “PPE compliance was interesting, but it is the lowest rung on the hierarchy of safety,” said Ted Smith, president and CEO of Corvex. “It’s really difficult selling safety technology in the first place, let alone some type of PPE compliance.”
Instead, Corvex’s platform has evolved into a digital transformation for frontline workers, engaging them in a full operational excellence picture that improves productivity and also reduces employee turnover rates. It’s an evolution that grew out of the realization that workers needed a voice in manufacturing.
“There’s this massive gap in technology for frontline workers, specifically in manufacturing, but as well in construction and oil and gas and everywhere else, for that matter,” Smith says. “There’s no technology available to them. And in a lot of places, they can’t have their personal mobile device with them because it’s a safety hazard.”
Safety, quality and lean operations are all separate focuses that meet at the worker. “There is no data going to that worker in real time from technology and there really is no data coming from that worker in real time,” Smith says. “So that’s what we’re providing is really that technology that empowers and engages those workers—giving them a voice that makes them more productive, safer and ultimately happier.”
Corvex’s aim is on the right-hand side of the DuPont Bradley Curve (shown above), which identifies four stages of safety culture maturity: reactive, dependent, independent and finally interdependent. “At the far left, which is where most injuries occur, workers rely on their natural ability,” Smith explains. It progresses through as the company gets involved, instituting compliance programs, until finally the worker starts keeping themselves safer independently. “The far right is about creating a community, where they’re starting to not only take care of themselves but their coworkers as well.”
Most companies are stuck in compliance, Smith contends, focused on reporting and compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). “The missing boat here is really enabling that frontline worker, listening to them, being able to empower them to make observations in real time, mitigate those observations, learn what happened and how they solved those things,” he says.
The challenge in moving to the far right, however, is that communities exist and thrive when there’s transparency and communication among everyone in the community. “That doesn’t happen today,” Smith says.
Instead, safety tends to come from the top and be lagging. Rather than relying on safety metrics that try to prevent problems based on what has happened in the past, the Corvex Connected Safety platform keeps the worker connected and gives them the power to flag unsafe conditions, communicating real-time information with the team about an actual hazard.
Corvex has taken a page or two from the behavioral economics playbook to look at human behavior associated with financial risk. “Through the real-time data we’re collecting at the worker level, we’re leveraging behavioral economics to come to an understanding of what a worker’s risk tolerance level is,” Smith says. “Is it a high-risk individual or is it a low-risk individual? Once we identify that, we can start to provide them content and make them aware.”
The technology components
A key component of the technology is the smart PPE where the company got its start. A module called Site Awareness locates a worker based on what manufacturing zone they’re in, and then can push content to them based, for example, on known hazards in that area, or on specific PPE or training required for that area, or any other content the client might want to provide to its workers. “It’s really about providing them information based on where they’re located,” Smith explains.
Another component is the Observation Module. “That’s the ability for them to make observations, whether they are safety observations, whether they’re quality observations, or whether they’re lean or productivity observations,” Smith says. “If I’m on a line and I see some product coming across and it’s got some quality issues, rather than grabbing piece of paper or walking over to some place, I can grab the device out of my holster, I can take a picture of it, I can scan barcodes, I can gather information, and I can escalate that to the quality team.”
An employee might also opt to fix the issue on the spot. But that in itself can lead to issues if not communicated to the team. “Some of the challenges that companies have is that the workers are fixing things, but they’re fixing the same things over and over again, and they don’t realize that there’s a problem there,” Smith says. “So being able to capture that information is really valuable.”
Communication capabilities can be deployed in a number of ways, including a locked-down device that workers wear to communicate with each other within the network—texting or sending pictures, for example. “What we found is that unstructured data is an absolute goldmine,” Smith says. “A majority of that unstructured data on the communication side is really productivity-type things. So we’re mining that data as well.”
The last piece is the engagement side. “We’re leveraging the behavioral economics piece to understand risk tolerance, but then also a rewards and point systems for doing observations,” Smith says.
Some plans for future buildouts include a mustering component for emergency situations and an inspection/audit piece. “We’re looking at doing some interesting things around quality audits and gamifying that for those frontline workers,” Smith says.
Digital transformation of workers
Smith frames the discussion in terms of an increasingly connected factory that is able to do more predictive maintenance. You can stick a sensor on a piece of equipment, and it’ll let you know when it’s about to break. “You can’t do that with a human because it’s dynamic,” he says. “There are some companies that are just putting sensors on people and trying to manage it that way. And it’s just not working. You have to have that interaction piece because every day can change based on that individual. They can become more risk-averse or they can become more risk-tolerant as they move through their career.”
Understanding that, the Corvex system collects data that helps it understand that a risk level is based on the location and the people in it—helping to move more toward a predictive model for people. “Right now, I’ve got a high-risk area with four or five high-risk individuals,” Smith provides as an example. “The system can recognize that, send them what’s called a ‘nudge’ in behavioral economics, in safety it’s a ‘stop and think’—being able to hit them with an alert.”
It’s all about awareness, he adds. “It’s not a control thing, it’s not a Big Brother thing. It’s an awareness thing to say, ‘Right now you’ve got a lot of hazards around you. Just make sure everything’s good and go back to work.’”