Implementing Industry 4.0 Technologies? Keep your Smart Factory Protected from EH&S Liability

By: Bruce Martin

In this article, we explore Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing technologies and discuss related Environmental, Health and Safety considerations.

If you own, run or work at a manufacturing company, chances are you have heard the term “Industry 4.0”. More than likely, your company has already started implementing smart factory technologies, or at the very least, has started discussing strategies to do so. In fact, in their “Industry 4.0: Building the Digital Enterprise” report, PwC surveyed over 2,000 companies across 26 countries and nine industries on their implementation of Industry 4.0 technologies. 33 percent of respondents said they had already achieved advanced levels of digitization, with 72 percent of respondents stating they expected to achieve advanced levels of digitization by 2020.[i]

What is Industry 4.0?

The Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI) economic development agency of the Federal Republic of Germany first defined Industry 4.0 at the 2011 Hannover Messe trade fair as “the technological evolution from embedded systems to cyber-physical systems,” representing “the coming fourth industrial revolution on the way to an Internet of Things, Data and Services.”[ii] Similarly, Deloitte, in its Industry 4.0 and Manufacturing Ecosystems report, describes Industry 4.0 as the “integration of the IoT (Internet of Things) and relevant physical technologies…that complete the physical-to-digital-to-physical cycle.”[iii]

Essentially, the term represents the fourth industrial revolution (see chart below) and refers to the fact that industrial production machinery “no longer simply “processes” the product, but that the product communicates with the machinery to tell it exactly what to do,” through the use of cyber physical systems (systems that integrate sensing, computation, control and networking into physical objects and infrastructure, connecting them to the Internet and to each other.).[iv]


By linking embedded systems (systems that are encapsulated by the devices they control and are designed to have optimized pre-set tasks)[v] to smart manufacturing processes to create cyber-physical systems, Industry 4.0 represents a revolutionary shift in industrial production value chains and business models.

So exactly how can such tools be utilized to improve specific operations? Deloitte, in their recent publication, “The Smart Factory: Responsive, Adaptive, Connected Manufacturing,”[vi] presents the following sample digitization opportunity chart that helps answer this question:


ProcessSample Digitization Opportunities
Manufacturing Operations
  • Additive manufacturing to produce rapid prototypes or low-volume spare parts
  • Advanced planning and scheduling using real-time production and inventory data to minimize waste and cycle time
  • Cognitive bots and autonomous robots to effectively execute routine processes at minimal cost with high accuracy.
  • Digital twin to digitize an operation and move beyond automation and integration to predictive analyses
Warehouse Operations
  • Augmented reality to assist personnel with pick-and-place tasks
  • Autonomous robots to execute warehouse operations
Inventory Tracking
  • Sensors to track real-time movements and locations of raw materials, work-in-progress and finished goods, and high-value tooling
  • Analytics to optimize inventory on hand and automatically signal for replenishment
  • In-line quality testing using optical-based analytics
  • Real-time equipment monitoring to predict potential quality issues
  • Augmented reality to assist maintenance personnel in maintaining and repairing equipment
  • Sensors on equipment to drive predictive and cognitive maintenance analytics
Environmental, Health and Safety
  • Sensors to geofence dangerous equipment from operating in close proximity to personnel
  • Sensors on personnel to monitor environmental conditions, lack of movement, or other potential threats.


Environmental, Health & Safety Considerations for Implementing Industry 4.0 Technologies

The digitization of operations and new safety technologies create many opportunities for significantly improving EH&S facility programs. For example, predictive analytics and sensor-equipped machinery can collect valuable incident information and allow shop floor personnel to implement preventative measures to decrease accident rates.  Likewise, facility sensors can improve emissions monitoring and even detect chemical spills and releases.  Augmented and virtual reality technologies can improve personal protection equipment, allowing employees to actually be able to view real-time environmental information while they work. Wearable technologies can also monitor employee vitals and alert individuals to chemical and toxin exposure. These are just a couple examples of the many ways Industry 4.0 technologies can improve EH&S management.

While Industry 4.0 technologies present a new host of opportunities for improvement in EH&S programs, they also introduce new risks. With improved efficiencies, it is essential for companies to ensure their EHS management programs account for new growth. For example, new facility expansion will result in the need for air, water and waste permitting, along with the other familiar EH&S considerations associated with acquisitions. Moreover, Health and Safety programs and procedures will need to be streamlined, maximized, and remain consistent across new locations.

New technologies may also result in changes in employee responsibilities. It is essential to ensure all employees are trained properly from an H&S perspective as they operate new and advanced machinery. Finally, from a sustainability perspective, with advances in supply chain technology and efficiency, suppliers should continuously be vetted, as should raw materials.

These are just a few general examples of the many new EH&S risks and opportunities that come with Industry 4.0 technologies. For more information on specific ways your company can protect against EH&S liability, while also capitalizing on the opportunities Technology 4.0 can bring from an EH&S perspective, contact Bruce Martin at or (703) 944-4709.


[i] Geissbauer, Reinhard; Vedso, Jesper; Schrauf, Stefan. PwC. (2016). “Industry 4.0: Building the Digital Enterprise.”

[ii] (2018) Germany Trade and Invest website. “Industrie 4.0.”

[iii] Sniderman, Brenna; Mahto, Monica; Cotteleer, Mark. Deloitte. (2016). “Industry 4.0 and Manufacturing Ecosystems.”

[iv] National Science Foundation Website. (2018).

[v] NC State Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. (2018). “Computer Architecture and Systems.”

[vi] Burke, Rick; Mussomeli, Adam; Laaper, Stephen; Hartigan, Martin; Sniderman, Brenna. (2017, August 31st). Deloitte.

Bruce MartinABOUT THE AUTHOR As a certified professional environmental auditor (CPEA), Bruce Martin has 23 years of varied experience in environmental management consulting, including environmental, health and safety auditing; merger and acquisition environmental due diligence; environmental management systems; site assessments, training, and environmental investigations… Read More



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