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Workplace safety 4.0

Today is World Day for Safety and Health at Work. And what a time for it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that as of April 23, over a third of humanity is living and working with some form of lockdown.

That takes many different forms, from full shelter-in-place orders to less formal government guidance.

But the reason is the same: safe places are no longer safe. And that includes places of work.

Although the lockdowns, testing and other public health measures have created a degree of control, experts agree that we should not expect to go back to business as usual.

As we gear up for the gradual re-opening of the economy, organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization are publishing recommendations for how to run a full spectrum of business operations while still practicing social distancing and enhancing other aspects of workplace safety.

These include telework where possible, staggered shifts, bigger offices, and even downsizing operations at certain sites if necessary.

Industry 4.0 will bring with it several technologies that make such changes easier.

One example, particularly suited to the current circumstances, is situational awareness – technology that guides employees towards working as safely as possible.

In fact, this tech already exists, particularly in industries where people work in relatively risky environments.

Mines are a great example. Heavy-duty equipment automatically shuts down when employees get too close, augmented reality tools show engineers how to fix machinery in the safest possible way, and virtual reality training modules allow new starters to explore mines with zero risk.

It is not hard to see how these capabilities can be adapted to make post-lockdown social distancing easier in the workplace.

Your name badge, clipboard or lanyard could let you know when you have inadvertently got too close to a colleague or customer. And the tech is smart enough to power down as soon as you clock off, so your privacy is protected just as much as your safety.

But connected safety goes beyond that too.

For those familiar with workplace risk, the holy grail is not a risk-free environment. That is impossible. Instead, it is an environment in which risks are managed on a micro level. An environment where hazards are identified and mitigated as they emerge.

This is the whole point of Industry 4.0.

Its arsenal of low-powered IoT sensors, artificial intelligence, machine learning, edge computing and next-generation wireless connectivity make it possible to create a dynamic, real-time picture of what is going on at any given moment in any given industrial setting.

Together, these technologies allow for the automation of risky or repetitive processes, more efficient operations, greater quality control, less waste and predictive maintenance. All of which help make workplaces more predictable and less risky.

And, particularly relevant at the moment, they unlock digital PPE for physicians and key workers, in the form of wearables that alert people to any heightened environmental risk.

This allows individual employees to manage their own health and safety better.

But combined with the huge and increasing amount of data being created every day, it also allows the analysis of trends and behavior the world over, incrementally improving our understanding of what goes wrong in workplaces and how to prevent it. You might call it workplace safety 4.0.

This safer, more connected future is already here.

4G/LTE is perfectly sufficient for most of the applications I have mentioned.

Then, when industrial 5G is available, things will get safer still. An even deeper pool of data will be collected, aggregated, crunched and acted upon all in real time.

Private networks provide the most reliable and secure access to most Industry 4.0 applications, including those related to employee safety.

Nokia has already built these networks for hundreds of customers. We can say with real authority – and excitement – that businesses have only begun to scratch the surface of what Industry 4.0 makes possible in terms of protecting their staff.

The future is full of promise.

It can be tough to really accept that. Especially right now.

As national lockdowns begin to loosen over the coming months, a lot of questions remain.

What next?

How do we prevent future outbreaks?

How will businesses, communities and individuals cope with the post-pandemic reality?

But there is also one real, indisputable fact.

Things will change.

The certainty of that statement is powerful. It makes us all aware of our responsibility to each other. It can empower us to be bold, and build a world that works better for everyone.

Let’s make sure that workplace safety 4.0 is a part of that.

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokia using #COVID19, #coronavirus, #connectivity, #5G, #4IR, #healthcare.

Rajeev Suri

About Rajeev Suri

During his tenure as Nokia CEO, Rajeev transformed Nokia into a leading technology company for a world connected by 5G and shaped by increasing digitalization and automation. Under his leadership, Nokia acquired Alcatel-Lucent, successfully expanded into enterprise vertical markets, created a standalone software business, and engineered the return of the Nokia brand to mobile phones.

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