How technology is enhancing safety for supply chain workers

How technology is enhancing safety for supply chain workers

Even with the most diligent approach to health and safety, ports, terminals and multimodal trade hubs can be hazardous places.

Well-defined health and safety protocols remain essential. Equally, a workplace culture where every staff member is empowered to call out safety risks is a powerful way of reducing accidents. But the recent arrival of generative AI as an everyday tool has opened up a wide range of opportunities to support efforts aimed at making supply chain work safer. Additional advanced technologies including digital twins, drones, the Internet of Things (IoT) and virtual reality are helping to lower risks for those working on the frontlines of global trade.

These are some of the technologies being deployed to raise safety standards across supply chain networks.


Remotely piloted aerial vehicles are increasingly being used for surveillance, maintenance and inventory management in ports. The use of drones for multiple operational tasks can enable the withdrawal of staff from some of the most risky areas in ports – including the area where containers are moved to and from cargo ships.

In 2023, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges in the Netherlands launched a fleet of six drones to monitor the 120kms² area the port covers. The drones are being used “to help coordinate smooth, safe and sustainable operations” and are tasked with inspecting port infrastructure such as cranes, which can limit the number of staff working at height and therefore reduce the associated risks.

Annick De Ridder, Vice-Mayor of the City of Antwerp and President of the board of directors of Port of Antwerp-Bruges, said: "We are going all out to make our port – the engine of our economy – run as safely, cleanly and smoothly as possible.”

Augmented and virtual reality training

While drones offer an unparalleled perspective of port operations from the air, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are providing a new lens on safety in immersive training in simulators. Lifting a 40-tonne container safely while sitting high up in a crane cabin requires skill and a high level of situational awareness. Training a new operator in the heart of a busy port injects additional risks.

AR and VR technology is opening up new risk-free training programmes. It enables inexperienced workers to encounter hazardous situations safely and improve their response to real-world dangers. These technologies can simulate potentially risky procedures spanning the full range of port operations, allowing workers to gain experience in a controlled and safe environment, with no danger to themselves or to critical equipment.

Automation and robotics

By automating routine and potentially dangerous tasks, such as container handling, the risk of human error is significantly reduced. Automation systems can be applied to cranes, forklifts, trucks and conveyor systems. At our port in Yarimca in Turkey, our Easy Route application is ensuring drivers spend less time in potentially hazardous areas. The system also sends alerts to them if they stray into non-walk zones or breach regulations that are in place to keep everyone working safe.

Digital twins and the Internet of Things

Digital twins and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors add a new level of accident prevention capability in ports and the wider supply chain ecosystem.

These technologies are being used for predictive maintenance on heavy logistics machinery, driving a process known as condition monitoring. Remote sensors can send alerts to engineers, highlighting developing safety issues before they become critical.

By avoiding machine failure, this technology can reduce the risk of accidents. For example, IoT sensors are being used to monitor the health of crane cables in the port of Belfast in Northern Ireland.

A series of IoT sensors has also been installed on mooring bollards in the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands. These “smart bollards” transmit live data about the loads being exerted on ships’ mooring lines. This data can predict if a dangerous situation is developing and prompt engineers to take action to prevent an accident.

The safety benefits of digital twins and IoT technology are proving valuable right across supply chain ecosystems. In trucking services, IoT devices and telematics solutions are used to manage driver hours, track the location of trucks and monitor the mechanical health of vehicles. These systems provide real-time data, enabling better planning and response strategies, which can significantly reduce the potential for accidents. In India, where we have a fleet of 500 trucks connecting supply chain hubs, we have deployed a system that monitors the alertness level of drivers and the road ahead. This system is helping to reduce accidents and aid investigations into incidents on the road.

Forward with technology

The use of digital technologies in ports and logistics sites not only safeguards workers and assets, but also ensures the smooth operation of global supply chains. Through technology advancements, safety measures will continue to improve, enhancing the industry's ability to reduce accidents, health risks and security threats.

By introducing advanced technology as an additional layer to existing safety protocols, we can all ensure everyone goes home safe at the end of their shift.