In 1896, Henry Ford completed the horseless gasoline-powered carriage — the “Quadricycle” —  in the shed behind his house. By 1913, Ford’s irreprehensible quest for improvement was responsible for the launch of the first assembly line for mass-produced automobiles. In 2016, Ford cast the vision to test autonomous automobiles in the snow. In short, the quest for better, faster, more effective technology has catapulted the industry through the last century.

In the EHS space, recent studies have shown that advances in technology have reached EHS management systems, extensive mobile capabilities, drones and “smart” PPE. These advances reflect incredible innovation within the industry, but have advances in technology made day-to-day operations easier for EHS leaders?

Look how far we’ve come

One cannot deny that technology has had a significant impact on the ability of businesses to provide safer, more profitable workplaces. Hazard visibility and chemical data transparency enable EHS leaders to educate, train and provide protection for employees, making the need to collect, understand and distribute chemical data more essential than ever before. Technology such as chemical data management systems have unlocked data from the safety data sheets ( SDS) and leveraged this data to provide critical content for use within multiple systems, from tracking quantities to evaluating trends between ingredients and incidents. In addition, mobile apps such as QR readers have provided immediate access to safety information when it’s needed most.

What happens when technological developments lack human interface? Imagine you are a worker in a remote warehouse who needs to locate an SDS by searching for its ingredients. What tools are available to you? A common, readily-available mobile tool is voice recognition software on mobile devices.

We set out to test the application of voice recognition tools to see how they work in the real world of the EHS industry by asking multiple people with varying EHS experience levels to pronounce ingredient names and discover how closely the attempt mirrored the pronunciation. We then asked the volunteers to utilize voice recognition software to see if the software recognized the chemical named. 

The results were amusing (see Table 1).

To be fair, it is possible not all EHS professionals need to know how to say trichlorotrifluoroethane. So, we included a common hazard — carcinogenicity. Even when pronounced correctly, the inflection or background noise prevented the software from properly recognizing the word. This trial was conducted in a room full of people, but imagine the problematic effect on the workplace floor. In that scenario, would voice recognition be practical?

Can we say that voice recognition software is inefficient? Of course not, but this example reflects the necessity for organizations to evaluate the needs and in situ of their employees when examining or implementing new technology in the workplace.

Finding a solid path forward

Without the ingenuity and unequivocal drive of Henry Ford and his contemporaries, the automotive industry might not be the giant it is today. Advances in technology sparked a passion to improve that, spread throughout the twentieth into the twenty-first century. In the EHS industry, similar passions enable safer, smarter workplaces.

But wisdom begs not to let the shiny objects blind your vision. When evaluating new technology for your organization, two questions are paramount to ask in the discovery.

Is it applicable?

Every workplace is different. After evaluating your business goals, examine the technology to see if it aligns with these goals. If your goal is compliance, does the new product or service help drive GHS/HazCom requirements? Does it contribute to the overall safety or sustainability of the workplace? If the technology provides faster, wider access to critical information, the answer is a resounding yes. If the product makes workers safer, reduces risk and drives compliance, proceed to further discovery.

Is it practical?

How does the product or service work in the real world? Demonstrations or samples at use within your facility are often helpful to understand the practical implementation of new technology. If the new tech is software, ask the vendor to help you take a demo on site and poll employees. Obtain a realistic perspective of how this works in your facilities.

In addition, the practicality of a new product or service likewise rests in its impact on the bottom line. Does the technology promote business continuity? Incorporating the potential resources saved, can a true ROI or overhead reduction be calculated?

With these questions in mind, EHS leaders can approach the Digital Age with hope and great expectation. Powerful innovations are ahead, and we can look forward as a greater understanding of data continues to make safer, more compliant and more productive organizations that protect its greatest asset—its people.

Caption Table 1. Example results from voice recognition test. To hear an example of the results, visit