Driving continuous improvements and efficiencies is a priority for most, if not all, businesses. Digital technologies are providing us with more data and intelligence than ever before, helping to drive better decision making. Our ability to utilise data collection, predictive analytics and the Internet of Things is enhancing business operations in almost every industry.
There is an area of artificial intelligence (AI) and the IoT that we haven’t fully explored on our blog yet, and that is AI for workplace safety management.
As October is National Safe Work Month, we wanted to turn the focus to worker safety, and how artificial intelligence in safety management is becoming more prevalent.
In 2012-13, the cost of work-related injury and disease to the Australian economy reached a staggering $61.8 billion. Even with safety regulations and procedures in place, there is still potential for incidents, and managing this risk is a huge challenge for employers. The Internet of Things (IoT) and AI technology has allowed for greater understanding of working environments, and we’re already seeing lots of promise when this is applied to the area of workplace safety.
We asked Nukon’s Senior Consultant, Kim Fiddaman, to quickly explain some of the AI and IoT applications in worker safety that we’re seeing.
What are some of the latest trends in AI and workplace safety?
Firstly I want to address what we mean by AI – it can sometimes be used as an umbrella term to describe a whole variety of technologies across the industry. So, I’ll speak more in terms of technologies that relate to Industry 4.0 including AI, digitisation, data analysis, robotics, machine learning, wearables, and the Internet of Things.
There are a few trends relevant to workplace safety here. Paperless solutions that draw on mobile technologies are being increasingly integrated into manufacturing maintenance, quality and production systems. These can reduce unnecessary monitoring of machinery, instead relying on an app, such as our software, to alert workers when they need to check a machine or perform a quality check. At Nukon, clients are asking us about applying paperless technology to tighten their safety process and documentation.
We’re also seeing a surge towards predictive alerts delivered through wearables, which is particularly relevant for the mining sector. Wearables are being used to monitor employee vitals such as heart rate and body temperature, as well as external factors like air quality and moisture. Of course, this presents significant opportunity for improving safety in hazardous underground environments.
Wearable technology can improve workplace safety by monitoring abnormal user movements. Image courtesy of CreativeArt
Most people are familiar with wearables already, they are non-intrusive and quite practical for a range of different industries. There are apps in the market already, like N.O.R.A., which builds a dataset around the user’s movements. It can then trigger an alarm if the app detects a sudden movement that may indicate the user has suffered a fall or an injury. Alarms are also delivered to a control room, making it easier to pinpoint where an incident may have taken place and to enable a faster response.
The future outlook is getting to a stage where you can pre-empt safety incidents and provide alerts before they occur, which is where machine learning, and then true AI, comes into play.
For example, a machine learning model could analyse a dataset of situational and environmental factors, and predict when safety incidents are likely to occur under specific conditions. Workers or managers could then be alerted to take a break to avoid injury. This approach is currently being applied to predict when machine maintenance might need to occur to prevent risk of failure or potential risk to an operator.
For organisations, what are the practical implications and impacts of AI for workplace safety?
There are a few:
- In the near term — organisations can leverage from digitising their paper-based safety processes to tighten their safety processes and documentation.
- In the mid-term — the use of smart sensors, wearables, smartphones and preventative alerts provides a means to prevent and improve safety response in hazardous areas. Organisations should look to take advantage of these foundational technologies to fully leverage AI in the future.
- In the long-term — this will allow for the prediction of safety incidents based on historical data and AI learning.
Our software is designed to orchestrate systems, machines and people — which means it can help organisations to improve
compliance and keep records of every check completed.
Are there any challenges that organisations may face while implementing AI and robotics from a workplace safety perspective (either now or in the future)?
When we talk about digitisation, this is a transformation that has to happen across the whole organisation. It isn’t going to happen overnight.
Many organisations need to adopt the foundational technology and in particular address the change management associated with technology. Early in the transformation lifecycle, Workplace Health and Safety professionals should be consulted. They can provide valuable insights for the design stage, while also being instrumental in ongoing change management, training and adherence.
Utilising AI for workplace safety
We all want our work to take place in a safe, engaging environment.
The IoT, AI technology and smart factories bring benefits in terms of cost reduction and improved efficiency, but there’s lots of potential for these technologies to improve workplace safety as well. Data insight is key for understanding environmental risks of workplaces and for enabling better risk management decision-making.
The ability to monitor occupational fatigue or hazardous environments more efficiently can offer huge value to both workers and employees. As these opportunities grow, so does the potential for minimising, or even preventing, workplace incidents and injury.
Our software isn’t just for quality management. It has the ability to drive improvements in workplace safety too. Using our app, organisations can improve compliance, notify staff via mobile device when safety checks need to be completed and keep a digital record of each check completed.
Does your workplace need some help digitising safety checks? Get in touch with a Nukon consultant to discuss your requirements.