Behavioural Science

How technology is bridging the gap between human vulnerability and safe behaviours

Tended’s geofence solution uses wearable technology that nudges the wearer into safe behaviours.

While there have been significant improvements to safety over the years, the rail sector has still struggled to prevent accidents and fatalities that could have been avoided. The UK’s railways are the safest within the EU’s top 10 largest railways. However, the latest ORR Annual Health and Safety Report outlined the circumstances of five workforce fatalities in 2020 to 2021, compared with three in 2019 to 2020. This is in addition to 9,667 harmful incidents both for rail workers and rail users in the same year. These statistics are shocking and must be addressed.

Clearly, there is an urgency to introduce innovative solutions that will have a significant impact on safety improvements. There must be a drive to improve the safety culture of the organisation, safety leadership, safe conditions and safe workforce behaviours. This requires a proportionate investment in time, effort and money.

There is still much room for improvement when it comes to trackworker safety.

The human error trap

Understanding the common failures in human error will enable us to consider the most appropriate action to mitigate them. There are several human vulnerabilities that make us susceptible to making mistakes.

Most notably, the top five are:

1. Fatigue; shift workers are particularly prone to experiencing bouts of tiredness, and a subsequent lapse of concentration and cognitive function is inevitable.

2. Time pressure; when there is a tight deadline, people will take calculated shortcuts to reduce the pressure, which often makes them overconfident in their ability to control a risk that is perceived to be small.

3. Presenteeism; even when people are present physically at work they can be absent mentally, meaning their minds aren’t on their work. This could be due to general disengagement or a one-off issue.

4. Lack of knowledge; this is due to health and safety not being given credibility in the workplace, as every employee should have undertaken an appropriate risk assessment for their task.

5. Mindset; a lack of care for company rules, a risk-taking trait or just messing around - these are more conscious attitudes that can increase errors in judgement.

Many of these human vulnerabilities are impermanent and that’s partly the reason they are difficult to control with systemic measures, because most of them rely on people following the rules. Clearly, solutions that support and mitigate human error are required.

It is human nature to make mistakes and so, without the right intervention, unsafe behaviours can easily occur in the workplace.

Behavioural nudges - a safety improvement tool

Nudge Theory, introduced by Richard Thaler in 2008, can play a crucial role in health and safety within high-risk industries. The principle is that the ‘right’ behaviours can be influenced by presenting an obvious, but subconscious, choice. The individual is free to make the choice, albeit engineered to be the only ‘real’ option. In this way, the person is ‘nudged’ into a decision, which is generally met with less resistance than a direct instruction.

Nudges have been used successfully in road safety historically, e.g. the white line was first introduced for corners in the road, significantly reducing the number of collisions. We are also conditioned to respond to colours, red = danger, amber = caution and green = safe. Even if we didn’t know the highway code, these colours would still have the desired effect.

The effect of nudges is evident in every aspect of society, in the way we raise our children, choose our lifestyle and our consumer preferences. While some would argue that it is unethical to use these techniques, the case for keeping people safe is not just our duty to them, but also a moral obligation. In an age where IoT is part of daily life, it is inevitable that technology will play a part in supporting behavioural nudges.

Taking the next evolutionary step with technology

There have been great advances in the use of technology to bridge the gap between human vulnerability and their safety. This is evident in innovations including in-vehicle technology that can detect when a driver is distracted based on their brainwaves and an alert is activated to draw their attention back. These types of nudges are in real time and provide an awareness to the user that they wouldn’t usually be conscious of.

Technology provides an automated response to human vulnerability that drives them to immediately correct themselves to safer behaviours. It allows workers to go about their work without intrusion until it is needed.

For example, Tended’s geofence solution uses wearable technology that nudges the wearer into safe behaviours by alerting them when they have lost spacial awareness and are about to enter a dangerous zone. It works by alerting the wearer through audio, visual and vibration alerts when they are approaching a dangerous zone. This encourages the wearer to naturally become more aware of their surroundings and automatically improve their safety habits and behaviour.

The wearer knows what the device does and how it works to keep them safe. They are willing participants as it serves as a ‘tap on the shoulder’ when they are concentrating on the task in hand.

Tended's wearable device nudges trackside workers in to safer behaviours

Millennials - a generation embracing safety

From millenials onwards, the workforce is now made up of a majority of tech generations. There is an expectation that technology will be part of the solution for the human condition. They have an expectation that technology will play a part in their safety - they don't want paper-based, passive instructions, they want real-time, interactive devices.

The current generation of workers are more risk averse, as the traditional ‘macho’ personas no longer hold social credibility. According to Forbes, 76% of Millennials have avoided a specific activity due to safety concerns and 75% are willing to use devices to provide personal safety, e.g. tracking functions on mobile phones or smart watches are accepted for location safety, rather than being rejected as a monitoring ‘spy’.

Changing the face of rail safety for good

The rail industry has an urgent need to improve safety and avoid further fatalities. Taking into account human vulnerabilities, the industry needs innovative technology that will nudge workers into safe behaviours. This elevates PPE to a proactive level by reducing personal risk significantly.

Trackside work is often a high-risk operation and workers need the protection that a reliable wearable solution offers.

Using revolutionary geofencing technology, Tended is transforming the face of railway safety.

To learn more about our high precision safety solution visit our geofencing page .

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