Making workplace safety an integral part of business operations can reduce the risk of industrial accidents and improve worker well-being while increasing productivity by an average of 20 %, according to EU-funded researchers who have developed the tools to make this possible. Commercialisation of the tools has begun
The outcome of three years of research and development within the EU-funded TOSCA project, a suite of 10 modular tools for safety, quality and productivity management, addresses key needs of thousands of European small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in sectors such as food processing, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and oil and gas distribution.
“Though there have undoubtedly been many important advances in organisational safety in recent years, it is clear from the rate of workplace and industrial accidents that not all requirements are being met,” explains Marco Pontiggia, the TOSCA project coordinator at D’Appolonia in Italy. “One of the main reasons for this is that companies tend to treat safety management as a separate issue to other business-critical processes.”
Interviews and studies conducted by the TOSCA team with SMEs in different industries at the start of the project found that business processes tend to be structured in silos, with productivity-focused activities given priority over quality and safety management. Controlling and monitoring the safety of operations was often seen as an obligation, something that has to be done to meet legal requirements but confers little business benefit.
“What companies were failing to realise is that safety management does not need to be treated as a separate challenge, nor should it be. Making safety management an integral part of business operations not only improves safety for workers and surrounding communities, but can also boost productivity and product and service quality,” Pontiggia says.
The implementation of the TOSCA tools at 11 sites operated by eight end-user companies proved that theory in practice.
Ten software modules, 20 % productivity boost
The toolkit consists of 10 software modules that can be easily integrated and adapted to meet diverse SME needs in almost any sector, with companies able to pick and choose which modules best suit their requirements. They include a Computerised Barrier Management System (an online tool to administer safety, quality and productivity that stores comprehensive information on a centralised server for easy reference); a system for risk-based decision-making; an online Risk Register to monitor risk levels from different processes in real time; and training applications, including a virtual reality system so workers can learn to complete potentially hazardous tasks in a risk-free environment.
End-users in the TOSCA trials included a liquid petroleum gas storage facility in Slovenia, a food processing plant in Ireland, a fertiliser production company in Greece and an energy provider in Ireland. In all cases, the solutions helped address risk-related issues that arose on a daily basis.
Pontiggia says the broadest contribution was often in terms of linking solutions and activities across departments that would have traditionally been carried out as separate processes. Once fully deployed, the TOSCA tools ensured all tasks, whether related to safety, quality or productivity, were completed in the most efficient manner in a cohesive way, resulting in productivity gains of 20 %on average and considerably reducing operational risk.
Four of the trial users are continuing to use the TOSCA tools after the project ended amid positive feedback from both management and workers.
“Employees particularly value the virtual reality training as it allows them to practise tasks in a safe environment and gives them clear feedback about the risks and the potential consequences of any mistakes they make. They also said they feel better informed about the importance of certain tasks and why they have to complete them,” Pontiggia says.
Based on the system’s solid performance in the trials, some of the TOSCA partners have begun commercialising the tools. D’Appolonia and French virtual reality technology firm Reviatech are collaborating with Trinity College Dublin in a spin-off called Tosca Solutions, which will offer consultancy services and implementations of the TOSCA tools for SMEs. Meanwhile, the team are also looking to develop the system further, possibly through a follow-up project under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme.