Industry 4.0 implications for health and safety phase one outputs

Industry 4.0 is the name given to a suite of technologies that is transforming how operational decisions are arrived at in industrial workplaces. The impact of Industry 4.0 technologies is so great that it has been associated with a 4th industrial revolution. The technologies in question, including smart sensors, wearable devices, mobile devices, robotics, artificial intelligence, advanced algorithms and data analytics, the industrial internet of things and cloud computing, are enabling digital extracts of operations to be generated and used to support and even completely automate decision-making. The previous industrial transformation, i.e. the 3rd industrial revolution, was characterised by the widespread emergence of computer controlled systems and automation within workplaces. Industry 4.0 technologies introduce the concept of cyber-physical systems, essentially networked integrations of complex physical plant and machinery, sensors and computer software, often communicating and sharing data and information wirelessly via the internet. 

The transformational impacts of industry 4.0 technologies on industrial operations are increasingly extending to how health and safety is practiced in workplaces and this is only likely to gather pace. In fact, in some workplaces, industry 4.0 technologies are being used directly for the purposes of better managing health and safety risks. More commonly however, they are being used for optimising operations and delivering improvements in process efficiency.  In doing so, it is evident that new health and safety risks may be introduced into workplaces and this requires attention. In addition, there is an increasing awareness amongst the health and safety regulatory community that there are significant opportunities in certain areas for industry 4.0 technologies to be exploited to support regulatory activities. For example, these opportunities may include how inspection efforts are targeted, how risks are assessed across workplaces and how industry guidance and good practice is shared. 

Aims and objectives

Capitalising on the opportunities to improve health and safety practice and dealing with the practical challenges of doing so provide the focus of this feasibility study. The overarching aim of the study is to identify and clearly define research opportunities for the wider Discovering Safety Programme to support that will promote the deployment of industry 4.0 technologies for the betterment of health and safety practice. Specific objectives are to identify: 

  • key technology areas where the potential to impact on health and safety practice is the greatest 

  • key barriers to effective deployment of technologies in such contexts 

  • potential practical solutions to address them  

Given the data-centric scope of the Discovering Safety Programme, this study is particularly interested in opportunities that could be exploited and challenges that could be addressed through intelligent use of data, coupled with the exploitation of the data analytic expertise available to the Programme.  

Industry 4.0 technologies offer major opportunities for delivering step change improvements in health and safety performance across industrial workplaces, particularly if the challenges associated with their effective deployment can be addressed. The aim of this feasibility study is looking to help characterise such challenges and help shape the development of effective solutions. 

Key findings

A broad analysis of the overall on-line survey entries is presented in Table 1.  It shows that 26.4% of entries report using, or planning to use, network sensors in their organisation, while only 11.6% report using, or planning to use, video analytics.  73.2 % of those reporting using (or planning to use) wearables, do so for health and safety applications while only 45.6% of those using networked sensors do so for health and safety applications.  Maintenance is the main application for using networked sensors (50.9% of user) and positioning technologies (62.5% of users). Health and safety is reported as the main application for those using wearables (73.2 % of users), drones and autonomous vehicles (58.1% of users), advanced analytics (53.3% of users), including video analytics (48% of users). 

When considering the use of these technologies for health and safety, the top two cited data challenges as indicated in the survey relate to data governance and data auctioning.

Data governance is cited more often than any other challenges listed for each technology surveyed. 



Considering collective findings from Phase 1, the research team believes that developing a framework for conducting an audit designed to assess the extent to which an organisation is set up to exploit industry 4.0 technologies for maximum safety benefit would be a logical next step for the work. The high-level aim of the audit framework to be developed would be to assess the maturity of the organisation in this regard so that where relevant, targeted, fit-for-purpose improvement initiatives could be offered.