While the conditions in factories, warehouses, and construction sites have no doubt improved since the days of the early industrial revolution, they can still be some of the more dangerous work environments in the world.

The question is, how can grounded, real-world tech like industrial panel PCs and interconnected devices be used to ensure safety, security, and a comfortable working environment?

What can we all do to improve the lives of our workers, while at the same maintaining or even increasing productivity?

Worker Safety is Paramount

Easily the top of the list, improving worker safety is the number one method for improving factory conditions. Before workers can be productive, satisfied, and happy, they must feel like they’re not in danger of serious harm every time they step onto the work site.

Luckily, technology has always had a place in reducing the risk of catastrophic injury and death. And even more fortunately, this tech is readily available, if not already deployed in your worksite in some capacity.

Integrating Sensors into Workplace Safety

Most automated or partially-automated production lines are familiar with “Internet of Things” sensors: automation is practically impossible without some version of them. What some might not know is that these sensors can be used for more than just automation: when turned toward the environment, they can help protect workers. 

One of the more useful (and necessary) sensors for worker safety is one that measures air toxicity/quality. Air quality sensors come in a dozen different styles and thresholds, which is why it’s important to find one relevant to the environment of your production facility or worksite. Dust, carbon dioxide, smoke, dangerous particulates, noxious fumes, and other airborne toxins can be tracked and fed to the nearest industrial computer or tough tablet.

These can then be monitored by supervisors and workers, and even configured to send alerts through personal devices, mounted speakers, or other customizable methods to ensure that everyone in the area is warned when the air has become too toxic. And, it’s been proven that just having these sensors tends to not only make people more aware of toxins in the air but will make workers actively work harder to reduce those toxins.

Internet of Things sensors of all different sorts can all be connected together to form an array to protect worker safety, detecting anything from radiation to extreme temperatures to dangerous vibration and deadly chemicals.

Reducing Stress Without Decreasing Production

While we generally think of industrial accidents and injuries as the only dangers to manufacturing employees, the fact is stress can (and does) have an extremely unhealthy effect on everyone. And when these stresses compound and become unmanageable, they could even lead to physical accidents through loss of focus or simple exhaustion.

In fact, it’s been proven that not only does stress increase the chance of accidents, it also leads to greater absenteeism for workers, which can, in turn, lead to compounded stress for those other workers left to pick up the slack. Which leads to a greater chance of accidents, even more absenteeism: you get the idea.

Preventing Stressful Breakdowns

Reducing stress on the production line isn’t a matter of installing a PlayStation in the breakroom: it’s about providing an appropriate workload and the right tools to do the job in a reasonable amount of time.

Industrial computers and HMI panels are of course designed from the ground up to help industrial workers achieve more with less time and labor. But perhaps one of the most useful features of industrial workstations is the ability to anticipate and even predict potential slowdowns and breakdowns.

Work is stressful enough on the production line. However, when a machine goes down, everything grinds to a halt. Pressure from management cranks down on the worker controlling/supervising the machine, which creates stress, which leads to more chance of accident or mistake, etc.

The right industrial computer, on the other hand, can use past data to predict when a machine will create a bottleneck and cause a slowdown, suffer from a likely malfunction, or even breakdown completely. When the employee on the HMI panel can see this data, and make changes and repairs before the problem arises, stress is reduced across the board. Production is preserved, the managers are happy, and the worker gets the satisfaction of working proactively to save the day.

Getting Employee Feedback

It also means knowing what workers are feeling about their current conditions. Top-down solutions can be implemented every day to help workers, but without the feedback of workers in the trenches then management is just shooting in the dark. However, many workers are scared to provide feedback, worrying about retaliation (or just suffering from garden variety social anxiety).

Anonymous feedback programs like Symphony work right on an industrial tablet, industrial work station, or even on a smartphone. Symphony, and aggregators like it, can be configured to give employees regular surveys on whatever timescale you specify. These surveys offer an honest outlet for your workers, while at the same time obscuring their identities and making them feel safe to share their experience.

This feedback can then be used to address the actual problems going on, thereby relieving stress across the board and making employees feel heard, respected, and valued. It also provides upper management with a blueprint of user buy-in to new objectives, as well as helps to identify persistent issues that might need to be addressed through process improvement. This in turn gives employees a sense of having a voice in the decision making process, making them more likely to adopt new processes as well as share feedback in the future. 

Saving Time During Clock-In

The days of the punchcard timeclock are, for the most part, long gone. Or they should be, at any rate. However, there are plenty of factories, manufacturing plants, and work sites that rely on antiquated timeclocks for tracking hourly employees. With a small site, this may not be a problem, but once you get more than a handful of employees it can begin to affect working conditions for the worse.

When every employee has to line up for a single time clock (or even a single digital workstation) to clock-in every morning, lunch, and evening, you’ve got a problem. Employees either have to be “late” because they’re waiting in line, or show up far earlier than necessary. Lunch gets similarly delayed, as does the employees trip home after their shift.

Not only do these delays and long lines throw off the timing of production, but it also greatly affects employee morale. When you spend a quarter of your precious lunch break waiting in line to clock back in, or you have to leave home 15 minutes earlier than usual just to punch a card “on time,” resentment builds. Resentment leads to anger, which leads to less productivity, which leads to the dark side. Ok, we might have gone a bit too far there, but you get the idea. 

This is where even a few industrial computers or industrial tablets scattered around the worksite can easily improve employee morale and production timeliness. Of course, these computers and tablets would be used for other functions like HMI panels, inventory, ordering, and the like, but having a simple digital time clock installed on these terminals would break up those clock-in/clock-out lines and improve working conditions in one fell swoop.

Add RFID or badge tag-ins for authorized employees and things speed up even more.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

As you can see, productivity and human happiness and safety don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Through the careful application of tried-and-true resource management, cutting edge tech, and sensors and workstations already available on most production lines, the work environment of any site can be easily improved.

To learn more about deploying and using industrial computers to streamline your factory, contact Cybernet today.