Director of Private Label, Allied Electronics & Automation
Allied’s “Ask The Expert” series taps into the experience and expertise of key thought leaders and subject matter experts from the more than 450 global suppliers we work closely with to bring customers solutions for their most challenging problems (and the daily ones, too).
In this edition, we talk with Neil Harrison, who leads the RS Pro by Allied brand, about trends in workplace safety and safety products. Neil offers insight into the critical elements of workplace safety and how companies like RS Pro are supporting industrial customers globally with innovations in a post-COVID world.
How has COVID-19 changed workplace safety today from pre-pandemic times?
COVID-19 has changed the whole end-to-end process, from customers to suppliers. The demand for personal protection equipment (PPE) has increased massively, putting a lot of pressure on suppliers to get these needed goods—like masks and sanitizers—into customers’ hands so their employees can work safely. If you look at the workplace itself—I can say this is true of Allied’s Distribution Center—you can see that people have embraced and understood the importance of wearing this additional protective equipment. Before COVID, people tended to be a bit more blasé about taking all the protective measures needed for their job by wearing PPE, such as masks, gloves, or safety glasses. Now, employee safety has come more to the forefront, especially among people who work in these environments.
The blend of PPE and safety gear in the workplace has changed. Before COVID, protective workwear centered around hard hats, gloves, protective eyewear, and hearing protection, which are all still needed. Now, in addition, we have seen a considerable increase in masks, sanitization products, and thermometry products. To help meet the increased demand, RS Pro recently extended its range of temperature measurement products. For example, previously, most of these products were used to measure equipment temperature; now, the extended range includes medical-grade thermometers and thermal imagers that measure body temperature.
What workplace safety changes being made in response to COVID-19 are likely to become a permanent part of the workplace environment in the future?
Across workplace industries, we have seen and will continue to see a significant change in processes. These processes, in turn, are determining the ongoing use of protective equipment and new safety measures. If you look at entry/exit systems, most such techniques were pretty simple and focused on security, but now these systems need to also measure health or temperature, and I think this will be required for the long-term. We don’t know when the next COVID-like virus or similar disruptive event will occur, but COVID has made us realize that, yes, these things can happen. We need to be prepared with PPE, such as respiratory protection, temperature measurement, and sanitization products. This is a trend that I think will stay for quite some time, even after the risk of COVID decreases.
There seems to be a wide variety of definitions for “workplace safety.” What are the most important considerations when looking to protect employees?
COVID has raised some important safety topics – respiratory protection, for example—but safety in the workplace is far more than that. We’ve talked about workwear, ensuring we have the right ranges of protective gear like hard hats, safety glasses, and hearing protection. All of these products need to comply with the proper standards for the specific environment. Beyond the entry/exit systems, security zones, and PPE mentioned above, RS Pro also has other reliable, high-quality personal and workshop safety products to provide everything needed to help protect employees. Workwear from RS Pro includes head-to-toe coverage with protective clothing, footwear, knee pads, hard hats, as well as eye, face, and hearing protection.
Additionally, RS Pro carries an extended range of workshop safety products, such as lockout/tagout devices, which are used to show that high voltage equipment has been shut down/disconnected and is safe to repair or maintain. Other products include magnetic door locks, padlocks, lifting belts and safety harnesses, testers and VDE tools, which are VDE approved for 1000 VAC.
How critical is high-quality test & measurement equipment to the safety of the workplace?
One of the areas we focus on is environmental testing & monitoring. People often overlook this when talking about workplace safety, but it’s critically important to help keep your workforce safe. I recently visited a customer whose employees work with high temperatures, gasses, soldering stations, welding, and furnaces in the working environment. In sites like this, you need to make sure you measure the air and gas environment to keep people safe.
Thermometry for this environment is crucial, specifically thermal imaging cameras to examine elements of the process and make sure these elements aren’t getting too hot but stay at the right (safe) level. Radiation testers might be needed in specific working environments to monitor exposure. Light is also essential to health and safety, whether in a workshop, a processing plant, or even in an office, and can be measured with light meters. Sound measurement is another one—making sure decibel levels are in the safe zone or that workers have proper ear protection to limit noise and prevent hearing damage. Maintenance engineers and environmental managers walk around the site routinely and check to make sure everything stays safe, and they need the right equipment to do that, which is where RS Pro brings value. All these types of environmental testing are fundamental to keeping people safe and healthy in the workplace.
As the demand for speed to market keeps increasing, what safety measures are most important to ensure safety incidents don’t grow as well?
One of the areas our global team is seriously exploring and innovating in is developing more contactless solutions to keep instances of touch down. This includes facial recognition and components that limit the human-to-machine interface. I’m not sure yet what all the solutions will look like, but I know these contactless solutions will play a significant role in future workplace technology.
Many machines are becoming more efficient anyway, so this is a natural progression. For example, new laser-cutting devices operate faster but need very little human interaction compared to older machines. Many modern machines can be managed remotely to not put as many people at risk on a manufacturing floor. With newer technology like this, we won’t need as many people in those higher risk areas. Companies have to stay at the forefront of these trends to remain competitive, and COVID will accelerate that.
What advantage can suppliers like RS Pro bring to a company’s workplace safety plan, and is there a recent innovation or go-to product you most recommend to help keep workers safe?
There are innovations and advantages in rethinking processes and customers’ needs and developing complete, integrated solutions to meet those needs. One of our most recent test and measurement innovations that we’re excited about is our new solution for entry/exit that includes facial recognition and temperature control. We launched a single unit mounted on a wall or bracket that can actually do facial recognition and measure temperature with the person’s mask still on. Very few entry/exit systems let you do that, and most products on the market require multiple devices to achieve the same result.
We’re driving innovation throughout all our environmental solutions to better protect health and safety in the workplace. Testing is key. We pride ourselves on the quality of our products and have testing labs around the world to ensure the compliance, safety, and quality customers expect. That’s why we see very few product returns. In terms of value and quality, we offer customers a competitive alternative to other brands. RS Pro provides complete solutions, unlike most other brands and distributors in this space. We can equip a customer with workwear, test and measurement products, entry/exit systems, and make sure the environment is safe in their building as well. RS Pro offers the customer that complete solution, which is a lot more than just protecting against COVID but encapsulates all the elements of workplace safety.
Safety is a global concern and need, so we make sure we offer global solutions. Whereas regions have different specs and standards for specific safety equipment and products, we provide true global products that meet the applicable various world standards such as EN, CCC, and UL, rather than making different products for different regions. With COVID, we witnessed demand for PPE that far outpaced supply, so the key now is for all of us in this market to take those lessons learned and develop more complete, integrated solutions to address multiple elements of safety, so no one is caught off-guard again.
RS Pro Workplace Safety
RS Pro Test & measurement