Startups working with artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, robotics and other emerging technologies to improve safety and risk management in industrial workplaces have secured more than £150m in funding since 2020, according to the Safetytech Accelerator.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), more than 100 people are killed each year in the UK due to workplace accidents, while over 500,000 sustain non-fatal injuries. A further 1.8 million people suffer from illnesses caused or aggravated by work. Overall, it notes that the cost of workplace-related accidents and illnesses to the UK economy amounts to more than £18bn a year.
Established by Lloyd’s Register and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation as a non-profit to promote wider adoption of safety-related technologies, the Safetytech Accelerator has conducted a mapping exercise of the UK’s safety technology startups working to improve safety and risk management in industrial workplaces.
It found that safetytech startups working in AI (£60m), data analytics (£51m), and sensors and wearables (£27m) have attracted the most funding since 2018, and that investment between 2021 and 2022 was three times higher than investment between 2018 and 2019.
It added that safetytech investment reached a record high of £100m in 2021, before falling back to £48m in 2022. However, it noted this investment was still significantly ahead of pre-pandemic levels.
“While the wide range of technologies make this a difficult area to measure, our initial findings show investors are starting to see the potential of industrial safetytech,” said Maurizio Pilu, managing director of the accelerator.
“It is encouraging to see that investors and industrial companies are supporting the development and deployment of technologies that could boost safety, efficiency and support environmental, social, and governance initiatives.
“Through our discussions with clients and technology companies, there is anecdotal evidence that the pandemic has made companies reassess the importance of worker welfare and how to keep operations safe and resilient with fewer people on site. This has led to new approaches to safety and risk management, in particular using technology, and may have led to more interest in safetytech across industry. We hope this trend is here to stay.”
A wider analysis of the UK safetytech sector conducted in August 2022 by Perspective Economics on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – which included analysis of firms working on safety-related issues outside of specifically industrial workplaces – found that safetytech is now one of the fastest-growing technologoy sub- sectors, with significant jumps in revenue, investment and employment.
The Safetytech Acceletror is currently working with HSE on its Discovering Safety initiative, which was set up to explore how better tech and regulation can improve safety and risk management in industrial workplaces.
As part of this initiative, HSE and the Safetytech Accelerator are seeking to establish an Industrial Safetytech Regulatory Sandbox, which will initially focus on innovation around significant areas of risk in construction – including falls from height, vehicle collisions, crane operations and manual handling.
Regulatory sandboxes, such as those being developed by the UK’s information commissioner, are test environments that allow software to be trialled in real-life situations under the close supervision of regulators or other oversight bodies.
Set to being in April 2023, the sandbox will also explore ways to assess risk and ensure more effective regulatory compliance, help accelerate the adoption of proven safety tech products, and work to understand and reduce barriers that might delay the deployment of new safety technologies.
Helen Balmforth, head of data analytics at HSE and lead for the Discovering Safety project, previously told Computer Weekly there are still a number of barriers to more widespread safetytech adoption, including financial ones for smaller companies that may not have the resources to purchase new technologies; a lack of understanding about what some technologies can do and how they can be effectively implemented in a business; and “considerations around the workforce, and the ethics of potentially monitoring people and collecting information as they’re working”.