The industrial internet of things (IIoT) has significantly impacted safety for workers and entire companies, and many results are undoubtedly positive.

However, since IIoT devices connect to the internet, organizations must follow cybersecurity best practices to ensure cybercriminals don't infiltrate systems and cause dangerous malfunctions.

Companies are rapidly implementing the IIoT but cannot overlook safety

According to a recent study, 64 percent of respondents reported they already started digitally transforming their workplaces with the IIoT and similar equipment or were planning to do so within a year. The resultant technology should allow workers to do their jobs more safely than they could without it.

But, safety-related advantages could become less apparent if organizations don't update their safety plans to incorporate IIoT equipment. For example, coming up with new safety processes might mean testing them in a "digital twin" environment first to determine if they work as expected. The digital twin would also allow companies to investigate "what-if" scenarios and how to deal with them.

Companies must also take initiatives with safety by creating technology roadmaps. Those plans give details about expanding or redeveloping parts of an existing safety strategy, so new technologies fit into it. It's essential that a company's leadership and culture support using new equipment safely, too. But a technology roadmap is a smart earlier step to take for companies planning to implement the IIoT.

Helping companies spot workers in danger before problems arise

Noticing workers who are in distress is not always straightforward. Often, people in the vicinity of a coworker who fainted, had a seizure or experienced another kind of medical emergency mention that the individual seemed okay just before the issue occurred.

Four companies recently came together to engineer an IIoT system that measures workers' health characteristics and transmits data to the cloud. Then, managers can analyze it and intervene if employees are showing signs of trouble, like an elevated heart rate. Such technology is indeed helpful, but it doesn't mean organizations can avoid other non-IIoT safety measures.

For example, procedures need to be in place allowing people to take an appropriate number of breaks and not come back to work too soon after injuries.

Proper training is essential

A gradual progression in innovation paved the way for Industry 4.0 and other IIoT-related advancements. While some companies and employees fear automation will threaten jobs, statistics show a 40 percent increase in productivity within the manufacturing sector over a 20-year period. Many technologies allow humans to do safer, more effective work, helping them excel in more interesting tasks.

However, whenever a company brings new IIoT equipment on site, it's crucial that they devote time to teaching employees how to work with it. Company safety representatives can explain that the gadgets help workers and won't replace them.

Safety training should span beyond the physical realm to encompass cybersecurity. For example, employees should learn how to recognize signs that connected equipment is not working as it should and know how to report such instances to superiors. Worker training must dive into data protection practices, too.

This crucial element of cybersecurity in smart manufacturing becomes even more important as an increased number of internal or external parties handle data. The risks go up with the number of connected devices, too. If a hacker compromises one gadget that communicates with several others, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Integrating IIoT devices must be purposeful and tied to overall goals

When companies look for ways to incorporate smart technologies into their workflows, they must ensure any possibilities are in line with the overall goals that exist. Some organizations may become enticed to use IIoT gadgets after hearing sleek sales presentations or watching impressive videos but fail to assess whether the equipment makes sense for what the company does.

Operations using IIoT equipment are at risk for cybersecurity attacks for several reasons, including that cybercriminals' interest in IIoT equipment is going up, and as companies become more connected, the potential for infiltration becomes more prominent. Companies should only implement new, high-tech equipment after verifying it aligns with a company's goals.

Safety requires an all-encompassing approach

Staying mindful of cybersecurity requires periodically evaluating numerous aspects, similarly to the way physical security necessitates checking access points, cameras and access card readers for the correct functionality. And, companies must be aware hackers could infiltrate systems and make tiny changes that erode to safety and performance of a product.

Staying secure means assessing configurations, downloading security patches and more. Doing these things builds cybersecurity into overall operations.

Physical security and cybersecurity are both essential

Company representatives follow procedures that keep workers safe, but they may not understand how and why cybersecurity ties into those efforts. Once they do, focusing on both physical and internet-based aspects becomes possible.