Manufacturing accidents still too common, say officials

Increase digital technologies and existing tools to decrease too-common occupational accidents, say officials from the WHO and Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

By Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit (GMIS) July 14, 2020

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) chief information officer and Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s CEO highlighted how occupational accidents are still far too common and lead to more deaths than the coronavirus pandemic. Countries should increase efforts in digital technologies and tools that always existed to drive a better collective global response to a crisis, they said at the virtual edition of the Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit (GMIS2020).

The acceleration and scale-up of digital technologies will be key to building more resilience into critical infrastructure systems in order to better prepare for similar shocks in the future or a potential second wave of the current outbreak.

Bernardo Mariano, chief information officer and director of digital health and innovation at the WHO, said to develop successful health and safety protocols in the factory floor and public health security systems, we need a high level of preparedness. While innovation is vital to resolve immediate challenges caused by the pandemic, scaling-up these innovations is crucial.

“Today, countries are racing towards finding a vaccine. The real challenge is the supply chain – how do you scale up the production to make sure it reaches the whole world. Scale-up of innovation at every level, I think is an area, we should do better,” Mariano said.

Richard Clegg, CEO of Lloyd’s Register Foundation, said that every year around 2.3 million people die from occupational accidents or work-related diseases around the world, about one every 15 seconds, and that addressing this requires a technology shift in safety accompanied by international regulations, codes, and standards.

Clegg said it is imperative that we harness the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and robotics, for the betterment of humanity and to make the world a safer place. A study by Lloyd’s Register Foundation revealed that the market for emerging safety technologies could be worth up to $863 billion by 2023. However, he added that it was important to anticipate and manage the risks associated with these new technologies to ensure they are applied safely.

The response to the pandemic from a technology point of view has been quite primitive in some ways, relying on “blunt and centralised” interventions such as lockdowns, social distancing, and testing, Clegg said. However, he predicted that the crisis would be a catalyst for improvements in technology and access to better data that would allow more sophisticated responses in the future.

“With better insight, we could make better interventions. The digital universe is growing all the time, and we need mechanisms to be able to share this data for epidemiological studies and developing AI tools to look for patterns in that data. This is an international challenge requiring international solutions, and that’s where collaboration needs to happen,” Clegg said.

Mariano said the pandemic had exposed that digital transformation in the healthcare sector lags significantly behind other sectors, which needs to be rapidly addressed. “We need to accelerate that because, after all, what the pandemic is showing us is that the health of our workforce is key to profitability for companies, is key to development, and is key to the well-being of the people,” he said.

He said the crisis offered an opportunity to accelerate the utilisation of some technologies, citing the example of telehealth and telemedicine as an existing technology that could have been leveraged during the pandemic.  “The technology is there, but the policies are not there to really leverage the potential of telehealth and telemedicine to reach the unreached. No countries allow telemedicine to be used across borders. We’ve seen health systems collapse in countries that have what we would consider good health systems. And of course, there were other people who have other diseases that were impacted because of COVID-19, and telehealth and telemedicine could have supported that,” Mariano said.

Preparing for a potential ‘second wave’ of COVID-19

Mariano highlighted that while it is essential to have access to COVID-19 tools, the focus should continue to be on testing to prepare for a potential second wave of the pandemic. We need to develop rapid-test kits which are affordable and easily accessible to all. “Rapid tests can be available everywhere – in all industries, at every entry point, in any company – to make sure that anybody who is infected are quickly traced, and the infection is contained as quickly as possible. Innovation around rapid tests with wide availability is a key area that I believe where the private sector and government need to invest heavily. This will not only impact tourism, but every sector,” he said.

Addressing the trend of countries considering the use of Immunity Passports, Mariano warned that it still puts a strain on health systems to generate, test and create that passport, however, rapid tests can be made available everywhere. “If we ask the hospitals to trace the cases of COVID infection, we will reach the same situation of overwhelmed health systems,” he said.

Mariano urged the private and public sectors, and academia to come together and quickly learn the lessons of the pandemic. The new normal post COVID-19 will include adopting and adapting to the new ways of working and staying safe while enhancing health and safety measures at a factory level to ensure production, economy, revenue and outcome are not gravely impacted as they are today.

Author Bio: Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit (GMIS)