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Harrison Fords REAL near death experience - new technology gone mad?

Last week, details emerged of Harrison Ford’s near death experience on the set of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The 71 year-old Hollywood A-lister was the victim of a set of highly engineered hydraulic doors, which crashed shut as he passed through them, hitting his leg with the force of a small car, and breaking it. Thank God his leg was the only part of his body in the doors’ way! A court heard last week that Harrison Ford COULD have been killed in the accident, and the production company responsible admitted 2 breaches under health and safety law.

When the original Star Wars was filmed, those doors on the same Millennium Falcon set, would have been operated by a stage hand using a pulley. A much more basic way of doing things, but, as it turns out, a much safer one! But the set of Star Wars is one workplace which has been transformed by new technologies – and in that regard, it is not unlike many of the workplaces the rest of us non-Hollywood stars work in every day. While new technologies bring many advantages – higher productivity, profitability and better working conditions in many cases – there are down sides, which must be recognised and properly mitigated.

One of the key problems with new technologies, is that people trust them too much. They tend to think they’re safe just because they’re new and fancy – ‘we don't need to worry about this/that aspect of our safety any more, we have some new technology in place to take care of that.’ But new technologies should be subjected to the same rigorous health and safety checks and analysis as all other work processes, and their introduction and use carefully monitored. Problems often present themselves when new technologies are placed in human hands, or in a new kind of workplace, for the first time. No matter how highly engineered they are, unforeseen issues arise, and they often need to be adapted to the environment they’re being used in. The people using them need to thoroughly understand them, and know their strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes new technologies actually create health and safety issues. A simple example is the introduction of computerised patient records in hospitals. Most hospitals have not been designed to accommodate doctors and nurses spending long amounts of time on computers. The lighting, the equipment layout, the space available, and the heights of machines, is not always optimal. Staff can spend hours at seated/standing computer workstations, in the course of long and demanding shifts, and this raises all sorts of musculoskeletal issues.

Of course, it must be said that many new technologies have done much to improve safety in the workplace, and will continue to do so. They should be embraced. But they should also be thoroughly understood, and tested within individual work settings, before they are relied upon. And even then, they should be carefully monitored on an ongoing basis. At the end of the day, as the production company behind Star Wars knows, the buck stops with the people using those technologies, and the people responsible for putting them in place.

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