Digital Signage for Health and Safety

EPISODE 46 | Guest: Trey Hicks, chief sales officer, Visix, Inc.

Health and safety is important in all work environments, but it’s paramount in manufacturing and industrial settings. Accidents can cause serious injury, damage equipment and cost the organization a lot of money.

Digital signage can help safety managers train new employees and remind workers about current procedures and protocols, as well as engage and motivate people across the organization. And it’s not just health and safety – digital signs can increase engagement with motivational messages, calls to action and realtime metrics on screens.

Safety is never one and done – it requires constant and consistent education and motivation. Digital signs can help you keep all your employees safe and informed, comply with OSHA and ADA requirements, and have a more productive workforce.

  • Understand how digital signage can unite communications across shifts and specialties
  • Learn the benefits of digital safety communications over OSHA posters
  • Explore ways to promote training and increase engagement
  • Discover how realtime data can increase productivity
  • Get real-world examples of how Visix manufacturing clients are using digital signs
  • Consider safety message subscriptions to take the burden off content creators
  • Hear how safety messaging can help during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Derek DeWitt: Obviously, safety is important for all organizations, but I think it’s especially important to the manufacturing sector. Let’s be honest, in a corporate headquarters the chances of someone losing a finger; well, it’s pretty slim. Injuries can be much more severe in manufacturing and industrial environments. And they can also be pretty costly to the organization. Not to mention, obviously, the human cost. Digital signage can certainly help immensely with this issue. To talk about that today, I’m here with Trey Hicks, chief sales officer of Visix. Hello, Trey.

Trey Hicks: Hello, Derek. Thanks for having me today.

Derek DeWitt: Thank you for talking to me and thank you everybody out there for listening.

So Trey, I understand you have some personal experience in sort of an industrial environment. You worked at a carpet plant when you were in college, is that right?

Trey Hicks: Yeah, that’s right. I grew up in North Georgia near Dalton, Georgia. And Dalton is known as the carpet capital of the world. They make and print carpet that ends up in hotels, schools, restaurants, convention centers, all around the world. So when I was in college, during the summers, I worked in a couple carpet printing plants, one or two, and it was a great learning experience.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. I mean, the truth is I personally, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a manufacturing plant in my life.

Trey Hicks: It was pretty cool. The plants were sometimes two or three football fields long, you know, these giant massive plants that produced and printed giant rolls of carpet that were at least 12 feet wide. And the plant that I spent the most time in during the summers, they would take new carpet that was just white, and then they would use different color dyes pressed through screens to print patterns on the carpet.

Derek DeWitt: Like a big silkscreen thing.

Trey Hicks: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. So, you know, if they were printing carpet for a Hilton and that particular carpet run was going to have five different colors in its pattern, then you would have five different screens for the dye to go across, to print those patterns on the carpet.

You know, one big challenge that I saw was lack of communication between the different shifts. Because during peak demand and high demand months of the year, they would run shifts 24 hours a day. And they broke that up to essentially three different shifts. And the thing was, the shift that aligned with your typical 9 to 5 day (in with office personnel and managers and the like), that shift, first shift, they knew what was going on because it was easier for them to stop by an office or to talk to different managers and get the scoop on what was going on.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. Because they’re physically in the plant.

Trey Hicks: Yes. But second shift and third shift, often they were completely out of the loop, even on important things. You know, because they physically did not see the rest of the employees’ part of the company. Completely disconnected. You know, and that led to lower morale in those other shifts because they felt less valued because there was little effort to communicate with them in second shift and third shift.

Derek DeWitt: Just kind of isolated out here, working the machines.

Trey Hicks: That’s right. Another really interesting thing was they only did safety training as new employees were onboarded. So that definitely created a safety gap in that people would sometimes get sloppy using different machinery and equipment, driving around forklifts, that kind of thing.

And in fact, the company’s safety approach was primarily on new employee training and then a total dependence on verbal instructions for managers to keep people safe. And there’s so much more that they could have done.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, for sure. Especially for someone who’s, you know, on shift at 3:00 AM where there are no managers.

Trey Hicks: Exactly.

Derek DeWitt: Well, how was their safety record? I mean, were there a lot of accidents?

Trey Hicks: Fortunately, no. But I actually was involved in an accident one summer. So, I was standing in the production line where the carpet moves from printing to being dried by these massive dryers that unfortunately pump out a lot of heat. And, unexpectedly, water came out of one of the machines that heats up the water to steam, to set the dye. And so that water spilled out of that part of the production machine, and it caused me to fall and I ended up falling, and my shoulder hit a sharp edge of some of the equipment. And so, I actually had to leave the plant and go to get stitched up. But it did happen during the day, the first shift. And that happened due to lack of focus on safety.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, for sure. I think that’s certainly one thing we know about safety messages is you have to remind people. And yes, sometimes they may roll their eyes and say, “Oh my God, I know”, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to remind them.

Trey Hicks: No, not at all. And you know, another interesting thing that I thought of during that experience is the company missed the opportunity to share with employees what was happening, where all this carpet was going, that the employees were producing day to day.

You know, there were no pictures from installations around the world. I mean, this carpet was going in, you know truly, Hiltons and, you know, different convention centers, schools, universities, and the company was familiar and knew the names of many of these destinations. You know, and that’s one of the things about digital signs today. Very easy to put that information up on screen and to show off the different places where your products are going.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. It gives people a real-world context for the work they’re doing.

Trey Hicks: Yeah, it does. And I feel like it builds pride in the product that you’re building when you see where it actually goes and how it’s being used, you know, how it’s improving people’s lives.

Derek DeWitt: So, all right. Obviously, a plant like that would need some sort of safety communications. What other kinds of places might need safety communications messages? Like obviously I think of a warehouse, where people are buying a lot of things online now, so warehouse work is continuing and growing. What else?

Trey Hicks: Certainly anywhere things are being manufactured or produced. You mentioned warehouses. You know, we can also think of the utilities, electrical, gas, that kind of thing. Really anywhere where there’s moving machinery, chemicals, liquids, slippery surfaces, machines that are moving product around, forklifts, trucks that are backing up and picking up product, that kind of thing.

So, you know, we think about different companies just in North America alone, and there are likely hundreds of thousands of companies that do need to focus on safety communications, and even likely have safety managers. Some of these larger environments, manufacturing facilities, plants, they also have EHS safety managers and committees. EHS stands for Environmental Health and Safety. So that’s certainly a focus that must be considered.

Derek DeWitt: I mean, obviously a lot of companies are complying with OSHA regulations and standards because they kind of have to; if they don’t, they get in lots and lots of trouble. But OSHA supplies free materials: brochures, posters. So, if I run a warehouse or a utility or a plant or a transportation company or something, why don’t I just use those? Why should I stick a bunch of screens up there and spend more money?

Trey Hicks: Sure, that’s a great question. You know, the thing is, it really seems like right after you put up those safety posters, once employees and workers have noticed them once, they just kind of blend in the background. And the thing is, you can’t update them without taking them down and putting new ones up. And it’s actually, it’s kind of time intensive and costly to design your own posters.

You know, if you want to go beyond the standard posters from OSHA that are kind of generic to different working environments where safety is a concern, you want to go beyond that to specific safety messages for your plant, your utility, your warehouse, that can be time intensive and expensive. You’ve got to design your own posters. You’ve got to print them. And that’s not, that’s not inexpensive.

The wonderful thing about digital signs is that you can change the content on screen anytime. So, you do have the opportunity, easily there, using something as simple as PowerPoint or Photoshop to create your message, your content. But good content management systems for digital signs, they have simple fill-in-the-blank messages that you can use to create content for your digital signs in literally seconds. You know, you just pick a template, type in your text, you can add a picture or two or a video clip if you like, and then you schedule that out to your screens.

Derek DeWitt: And when you’re scheduling, I mean, you don’t have to schedule it for just, say, during that first shift, say at the carpet plant you worked at, you could have a new message pop up in the middle of the night shift.

Trey Hicks: Yes. And you know, a lot of times there are things that you may need to communicate with different groups of workers and in different shifts. So, having digital signs that are dynamic and that can be changed at any moment. And, you know, a poster can only show one message. A digital sign can show an infinite number of messages. So, it’s a huge advantage in that direction. You know, and another thing is, you can target your messaging with digital signs as well. Because the thing is safety considerations, maybe little training video clips that you want to show, they can be different for the men and women in the machine shop compared to your employees that are in the painting shop.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I mean, the people [who] work in the production line don’t need to be reminded about how to drive a forklift safely because they’re not doing that.

Trey Hicks: That’s right. So digital signs give us the opportunity to target different groups of employees with the right safety messages, and certainly give us the opportunity to show lots of other content.

Derek DeWitt: What about integrating realtime data? Does that help benefit productivity, boost change?

Trey Hicks: Absolutely. Yeah. If you use digital signs to show production data and metrics, that can be a game changer for your company. And I’ll mention a couple of different ways that this can play out.

Just showing, with your digital signs, the production goals, day to day and week to week, or even for the month, you know, that can set the pace at which your employees – no matter if you know your manufacturing facility or utility is running one shift or multiple shifts – by the company communicating clearly on digital signs that can easily be seen what the production goals are, again, that sets the pace at which employees are working. Because without that feedback that, “Hey, we are trying to make 500 widgets this week”, and then the realtime feedback that mid-week, “We’re at 200, Hey, we need to pick up the pace”. Without that feedback, employees have no idea where they are against company goals.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And you can also, I think you can prevent like a log jam on Thursday if you make sure that that information is accurate and regularly updated and sent out to the employees. They don’t just continue working like normal and then Thursday, the manager comes in and says, “Oh my God, you guys, we gotta hurry up, we got a day and a half to get all this done”. And the thing is when we work faster, we work sloppier, and we increase the chance of accidents.

Trey Hicks: That’s right. That is absolutely true. If we rush, we get in a hurry, if we speed things up, then there are more chances for human error and then accidents can happen.

You know, talking about realtime data, another thing to help communicate that the company values employee safety, one simple thing, and very easy thing to do with your digital signs, is to provide feedback on the number of days without an accident. And with a digital sign, it’s automatically updated day to day. And so, you’re showing the number of days the company has been injury free. And what that does is it creates that kind of environment that you don’t want to be the employee that resets the clock, you know, the counter.

Derek DeWitt: Right!

Trey Hicks: Yeah. You want to do your part to hit the company’s goal. And ultimately the company’s goal is that that number of days, it never stops going up.

Derek DeWitt: Right. It’d be nice to break the previous record.

Trey Hicks: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, another really cool thing that a company can do with digital signs that can help employee morale and get employees more engaged is if they set a production goal that has an additional incentive or a bonus associated with it. You know, they can reward safety milestones using their digital signs. They can reward steady production and obtaining goals using digital signs, which may turn into bonuses to the employees. Now those bonuses could be in the form of extra time off. Okay.

Derek DeWitt: Cash. Caaash! Gimme cash!

Trey Hicks: Yes, yeah. Bonus pay. And, you know, another thing that companies can do is they can kind of play first and second shift, or first, second, and third if they have it, those shifts against each other, not only on hitting production goals, but their safety record as well.

Derek DeWitt: So, like a sort of a friendly competition.

Trey Hicks: Exactly. And what a better competition but on safety?

Derek DeWitt: Sure. Yeah. That’s true. We’re safer than you! Eat it!

Trey Hicks: That’s right.

Derek DeWitt: Engagement. Engagement is a word that we use a lot. It’s a word that a lot of business communications uses. It’s kind of this nebulous abstract term. But it means people are aware, they’re there, they’re focused. They’re here now, in the place, in the space, doing what needs to be done. And there’ve actually been studies in the United States that show that when you have engaged workers in a manufacturing or industrial environment, they have 70% fewer safety incidents when compared to a workforce that has low engagement.

Trey Hicks: That’s right. Yeah. So, it’s to the company’s benefit to really promote safety. In fact, as you’re saying Derek, there are a couple of benefits from that. When employees work safer with the support of the company, they feel better about their jobs. You know, they feel personally safer in that work environment, which leads to better employee morale. And employees who are generally happier, stick around longer.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. That’s an excellent point. Because it’s expensive to train…especially on really specialized equipment, it’s expensive to train new people.

Trey Hicks: It is. And when you do have accidents, they’re expensive. As we mentioned before, you could face possible OSHA penalties or fines, the medical coverage, and also damage to the work environment itself, which can include inventory and products that are in that environment. So, all in all, companies really do want to make the investment in safety, and studies show that for every dollar that companies invest in safety, they get a couple dollars back.

Derek DeWitt: It’s actually like $4 to $6 I think is, is the newest statistics. If you have a good safety and health program, you save $4, $5, $6 for every dollar you spend.

Trey Hicks: Yeah. The return is really significant, and digital signs can be an immediate pathway to improve safety.

Another thing is that you can also use those digital signs, not only for showing safety information, but for providing access to training content. Digital signs can be interacted with in different ways. You can have digital signs that you can touch. And with some vendors, like Visix, you can have digital signs that you can just speak to, that are voice enabled. And so, in a production environment or a warehouse, without even touching the screen, an employee can request training content and a menu of training videos can immediately be made available on that screen for an employee to get access to.

Derek DeWitt: Right. So like, you’re in the break room and you’re like, you know what? I have half an hour, “Hey, sign, show me the latest training videos. Okay, play video three.” While I’m eating my sandwich.

Trey Hicks: That’s right. And employers can encourage their employees to watch training videos on a regular basis, especially as they make updates to their work environments, you know, to the warehouse or their production line, and things are changing. There are new safety considerations. Then yes, then they want to encourage their employees with those digital signs to watch new training videos. And they can use those same signs to deliver their training content on demand.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. Now I know Visix has some manufacturing and utilities clients. How are they using digital signage in those environments?

Trey Hicks: Yeah. It’s really interesting to see how diverse the communications are that our manufacturing customers and, you know, warehouse and utility customers, are doing these days. So, they’re doing things like they’re showing calls to action. And what that means is they’re basically motivating or encouraging employees to take action by a certain date or deadline. It may be as something as simple as signing up for next year’s medical benefits, you know, healthcare benefits, with the company by a certain day. It may be something more fun like signing up for the men’s or the women’s softball team. It’s pretty popular with larger plants and manufacturing facilities that they’ll create their own sports teams, if you will, to participate in local competitions.

You know, certainly we have customers who are using their digital signs to solicit feedback from their employees, which is a really smart thing to do. Because again, not only do you want your employees in manufacturing and other environments to feel valued and to create safe working environments for them, but you want them to be part of the overall company conversation about, you know, the direction the company is going, and you need to value their feedback. And digital signs is a great way to get that.

And you can do something as simple as, on your digital signs show a QR tag that any of your employees can point their smartphone to. In smartphones today, when you open the camera, they immediately process that QR tag to go to the link that it’s providing. So, an employee can walk up to any digital sign, scan the, or just point their camera at, the QR attack. And immediately they’re on a webpage on their smartphone that allows them to participate in [an] employee survey. And employee surveys can easily be put out in minutes using free tools like Google Forms. Those forms are really easy to set up. And now you’ve got an employee providing feedback to the company that can really be valuable.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. And you know, I know sometimes management kind of says like, “ Well, you know, who cares?” But, and even if you ignore 95% of the feedback you get, because for whatever reason, because it won’t work or because you’ve already thought about it, or you’ve already tried it five years ago, A) it certainly makes the employees feel like they’re participating. And every once in a while, these are the people down on the floor, these are the people who are down in it, day after day after day. Who knows what great crazy idea someone might come up with sometime? And suddenly the whole company is benefiting from this very simple, free, interactive system that you’ve set up.

Trey Hicks: Yes. And I think one of the primary things that safety managers and EHS managers want to do with their digital signs is, as you were just saying Derek, employees know where the safety problems are better than anyone. So, let’s use our digital signs to solicit feedback from employees in different areas of the production, of the utility, in the warehouse. So we can find out from them, you know, where those areas of concern are for safety and then they can be addressed. And as you mentioned before, typically the employees have the best ideas on how to correct that safety issue.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Because it’s their fingers, after all.

Trey Hicks: That’s right. And safety in different manufacturing environments can be pretty complicated. You know, combinations of different machine guards, electrical, safety, chemical storage, precautions, things like that. You know, they can be really complicated and the workers who deal with those environments day to day, they know the components best. And most likely they’ll have great ideas on a solution to fix the safety concerns for that spot.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. That’s very true. I understand that it’s pretty easy to make messages and schedule them, but you know, there’s a lot going on. We got a lot happening in this company, maybe especially right now with businesses either being much busier than they used to be, or suddenly not quite so busy because of lockdowns and things like this. I mean, what about this idea of doing like a safety message subscription to just kind of ease the burden on the content creators? Is that a worthwhile thing to do or are those messages too generic?

Trey Hicks: The safety message subscriptions, that’s kind of the easy button for getting communications out on safety without really having to do anything. The safety message subscriptions provide daily safety content that can be displayed on your digital signs, and Derek, the great thing is the safety content, it just shows up. No one has to do anything extra or schedule anything. It’s an automated feed for all your digital signs to support your safety initiatives in your plant.

Derek DeWitt: Can it be branded with my company’s colors and logo and stuff, or is it just all generic content?

Trey Hicks: It can. It can be customized to your environment and to your branding, your colors. And another thing that can happen is curating that safety content so it’s most relevant to your production, warehouse, or your utility environment.


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Derek DeWitt: So I mean, digital signs, you said they’re easy to update and obviously the messages you’re going to put up are very often certainly going to be OSHA compliant. What about like ADA regulations? Because you probably also have to follow those guidelines and rules.

Trey Hicks: Yeah. You want your content and information to be accessible to everyone. So, there are a couple of things that can be done in that direction with digital signs. One of the things is putting digital signs in areas where employees typically hang out and get together, whether it’s the cafeteria, the break room, in different common areas. And you want to position those digital signs where they can easily be viewed or even interacted with from a wheelchair, you know, or other mobility concerns or issues in that direction.

And if you are using interactive content, then you want that interactive content to be ADA compliant as well. You know, the screen accessible, the buttons for interacting with the touchscreen to be clear, easily viewable and reachable from the lower part of the screen itself.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Don’t stick the buttons up at the top.

Trey Hicks: Yeah, exactly. And the addition of voice-user interfaces, simply meaning that you can use voice commands to request content and get information, helpful information, from the digital signs, that’s kind of a game changer because it helps everyone get the information that they want, like they can quickly do from their smartphones for other things, just by talking to the screen.

Derek DeWitt: Sure, sure, sure. Well, of course, you know, the world just keeps on turning and right now we find ourselves in the middle of this COVID-19 business that’s going on, not just in the United States, but all over the world. And I think a lot of industrial and manufacturing facilities are remaining open. How can digital signage help management deal with this fresh issue?

Trey Hicks: Great question. And the thing is the health protocols for different environments are going to be very different. You can’t manufacture product or work your warehouse, pull inventory, package it up properly, and ship it out on truck or by air; you can’t do that over Zoom. You know, you actually have to be there.

Derek DeWitt: Maybe someday everyone will have a tiny little 3D printer in their home and then you’ll just buy the software, but we’re not there yet.

Trey Hicks: Yep. We’re not there yet. So for now, we need to be physically present in our manufacturing environments, factories and other spaces, to make it happen. And so, because of COVID-19 that puts a big burden on employers and companies to communicate the changing health protocols, to keep employees healthy and safe from COVID-19, day to day, week to week. And the thing is, as we all know, the protocols and the precautions are changing, you know, as we go from one week to the next. And certainly one month to the next.

Derek DeWitt: Seriously. Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes a couple of times a week.

Trey Hicks: Yeah. And there are a lot additional considerations for health safety when it comes to COVID-19 in manufacturing environments. It could be something as simple as, okay, our employees in our painting facility, you know, that paint the product, that kind of thing, well, they already have specialized breathing masks that they use day to day to protect their lungs from paint spray that they use to do their job.

Well, new things come into play. Well no longer can they just simply spray, just a quick spray, wipe or rinse of those breathing apparatuses, as they’re shared from one shift to the next.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, that’s true.

Trey Hicks: Yeah. Much more in-depth cleaning. Or it may be that employees don’t share those protection mask at all. You know, that each employee has one or more assigned to them. So, you think about the additional safety considerations in regards to COVID-19 that come into play beyond the normal stuff that we might run into just in a corporate office, where hallways are one way, and we’re socially distancing, and we’re wearing masks as we move around in the building. Well, it’s on a whole different level when you go into a manufacturing environment.

And, you know, manufacturers have been doing really well with this, but digital signs can help them greatly in communicating those specialized protocols for their specific work environments. The updates that happen and also what the differences are in required PPE are from one area to another.

And this is another opportunity to have a positive impact on the workforce because when employees see precautions taken and communicated well by the company out to employees, especially as protocols are updated, then employees feel safer. So they’re more likely to be at work, focused on their particular role in the company because they feel their health is valued. And especially in this time of COVID-19, that’s very important.

Derek DeWitt: They’re thinking “Hey, the people upstairs are watching out for us.”

Trey Hicks: Yes, that’s right. Statistics say that about a third of workers feel like safety is not a concern with their employer and it has to be. And, you know, with low cost digital signs and software technology to make it really easy for safety managers, EHS managers, and others to put out safety content to their employees immediately, anywhere in their environment, it makes it cost effective enough and easy enough to get in place.

Yeah. It’s gotten really easy to add content, to update content, to adjust schedules. A lot of the software technology today, it’s drag and drop. You’ve got fill-in-the-blank messages, as we mentioned before, or you can even point your digital signage software to simply a folder on the network. And so your EHS manager or anyone involved with workplace safety, your HR people concerned about communicating things like changes in shift times, or you know, anything that’s changing, that the different shifts or employees need to be aware of, they can just simply drop those communications into a folder on the network. And the digital signs will automatically pick up that information and begin to display it around the plant or in the production environment. So it’s really easy to set up, really easy to maintain and to leverage the digital signs to improve safety, employee morale, to support EHS culture and just overall company culture as well.

Derek DeWitt: And, of course, comply with OSHA standards and regulations.

Trey Hicks: Yeah. Which is very important because if you don’t, it can be very costly otherwise.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. That’s for sure. Well, that’s a lot to think about. You know, there’s an old saying (nobody knows who first said it) but the saying is “safety doesn’t happen by accident”. And that is certainly true in an industrial or manufacturing environment. Digital signage is maybe not just a tool to help an organization in their workplace safety initiatives, maybe it’s the tool. Certainly, for the modern age. A lot to think about. I’d like to thank you for talking to me today, Trey.

Trey Hicks: I enjoyed it. Thank you, Derek.

Derek DeWitt: Thank you. And thank you everybody out there for listening.