The UK HSE will launch a regulatory sandbox for industrial safety technology

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is inviting technology companies to take part in an Industrial Safetytech Regulatory Sandbox as part of its Discovering Safety initiative, which is set up to explore how well technology and regulation can improve safety and risk management in industrial workplaces.

Delivered in partnership with the Safetytech Accelerator, a not-for-profit set up by Lloyd’s Register and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation to promote wider adoption of safety-related technologies, Discovering Safety specifically explores new ways of using of data and analytics to prevent workplace accidents.

The sandbox that was launched will focus on the beginning of innovation around the key areas that are dangerous in construction – including falls from height, vehicle collisions, crane operations and manual handling – and is set to start on April 2023.

Regulatory sandboxes, such as those created by the UK information commissioner, are test environments that allow software to be tested in real-life situations under the strict supervision of regulators or other oversight bodies.

The HSE says the sandbox will also explore ways to assess risk and ensure more effective regulatory compliance; help accelerate the adoption of proven technology safety products; and work to understand and reduce barriers that may delay the deployment of new safety technologies.

It will also adopt a collaborative “tripartite approach” between industry, the tech sector and the HSE as regulator to identify common safety problems and develop solutions.

The project is funded by a £555,000 grant from the Regulators’ Pioneer Fund, established in July 2022 to help UK regulators experiment with new approaches. “We are committed to supporting innovation in health and safety, and also to exploring ways we can be innovative in how we approach regulation,” said Helen Balmforth, head of data analytics at the HSE and lead for the project. in Discovering Safety. “We look to the safetytech community to help identify the best opportunities for growth and how we can collectively overcome the barriers that limit progress.”

The sandbox will recruit six technology companies with “high potential” safetytech products by the end of February 2023. Each of these companies will receive up to £15,000 in funding to support their involvement in the sandbox, which is open to UK-based companies with “market-ready or pilot-ready” technologies.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Balmforth said the Discovering Safety initiative came about because the HSE “knows we can do more” with the valuable health and safety information available to it, especially given new tools. and analysis methods available today to help extract insights from. this data.

He added that working with the Safetytech Accelerator program has also “opened up our ability” to work directly with startups, adding that it has helped HSE to adopt new ways of “working at speed” and push those boundary of how it seeks to use new technologies.

Steven Naylor, a senior scientist in the HSE’s science division, added that while the regulator already has its own in-house data science and analytics capabilities, it recognizes that the UK’s startup ecosystem offers a wider range of capabilities that can complement HSE’s.

“We also recognize that, especially construction projects, generate a lot of data,” he said. “We are very interested in technologies that allow the effective use of AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning, predictive analytics to capture data and predict results, technologies around dynamic risk assessment… [and] technologies that can potentially push workers into safer behaviors.”

Naylor added that while most health and safety information is currently obtained in “narrative form” through free text reports, technologies such as wearables, sensors and other industrial internet of things things (IoT) devices help to generate and use data in reality. time.

“A big part of the challenge is breaking down data silos,” he said. “The most common data sets used by health and safety functions are accident reports and near miss reports. A lot of that information is very reactive in nature – it needs to happen or be reported to be collected We have information about it – but we are trying to be more proactive.”

Barriers to safety technology adoption

However, Balmforth pointed to several remaining barriers to safety technology adoption, including financial ones for small companies that may not have the resources to purchase new technologies; a lack of understanding of what certain technologies can do and how to effectively implement them in a business; and “considerations of the worker’s environment, and the behavior of potentially monitoring people and collecting information while they are working”.

He added that one of the first projects undertaken by Discovering Safety after it was launched in June 2019 dealt with the auto-anonymization of health and safety-related data: “It was one of the first things we did, because we needed a way to redaction automation. and anonymity to open our records.

Naylor said that “creating that capability just means we can build the data resource that provides the foundations for our innovation work”, and that the HSE is also interested in exploring new ways of sharing data. , such as the idea of ​​data trust developed by the Open Data Institute.

Other projects that HSE has done through the Discovering Safety initiative include using computer vision to conduct more thorough safety inspections, and automating risk assessment and quality assurance processes.

“If this [sandbox] is successful, we hope that we will be able to run more sandboxes,” said Balmforth. “We hope to try the way we can have this tripartite approach … we want to try to develop that discussion and continue that relationship if we can.”

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