AI and the impact on Workplace Safety

When people hear the term, “artificial intelligence (AI),” it brings to mind futuristic images of talking, thinking robots; perhaps it even conjures up negative feelings about “jobs being replaced by machines,” or a future as bleak as the on presented in director Alex Proyas’ film, I, Robot. However, what its opponents forget is that AI is not meant to replace humans, it is meant to help humans automate functions and improve upon existing technologies.

The development of AI, and AI itself, is a relatively broad topic. It is also a very plastic area of development, undergoing rapid growth and change. What is exciting about the advent of AI is that there is so much potential for what it can do in the health and safety field.

Microsoft’s Monitoring Initiative

Currently Microsoft is pioneering AI designed to monitor specific areas and/or situations, and alert personnel to potential hazards, near misses, or incidents so that they can be quickly controlled or otherwise dealt with.  The technology presented by Microsoft has the potential to recognize a safety incident and automatically notify relevant employees. It can also see potential safety hazards (such as a precariously placed saw), and notify the proper person to address and control the hazard before an incident occurs.[1] It is an exciting development for those in the business of accident prevention, as it presents and automated approach to workplace safety.

Self-Driving Vehicles

Vehicular accidents are a leading cause of workplace fatalities in Canada. One aspect of AI aimed at preventing vehicular fatalities is the invention of self-driving vehicles, and vehicles equipped with other technologies designed to prevent collisions, such as pedestrian alerts, cyclist recognition, lane departure technology. Those sophisticated alerts are built on the same principles as other AI inventions, allowing for safer workplace driving and a drastic reduction in accidents.[2]

A perfect example of this type of AI is evident in Tesla Motor’s launch of a fully electric semi-truck. The truck features Enhanced Autopilot, the second generation of Tesla’s semiautonomous technology, equipped with automatic braking, lane keeping, and lane departure warnings, which greatly enhance safety on the roads.[3]  Elon Musk and the team at Tesla are known for their advancements in AI and self-driving fleets; many health and safety leaders are looking to them for new and exciting accident prevention technology. Self driving technology doesn’t just have the power to increase safety, but it is also a boon to accessibility.

Assembly Line Robots

Some may not realize it, but AI has been in the manufacturing industry for years. Assembly line robots are examples of AI in the workplace. They impact health and safety by removing the human element where there may be hazards present. As AI is intended to automate functions, it is useful on assembly lines because AI can only perform what it was programmed to do. Not only does AI replace the human factor where risks may be high, but it also frees humans to completing more imaginative or less standard thought-work. Additionally, AI is not at risk for ergonomic injuries or fatigue.

It is important that AI be celebrated for what it is; technology designed for use alongside the work of humans in order to automate functions or reduce risk of life or injury. In no way is AI meant to replace the human being. Think of the nurse who holds a patient’s hand, a fashion designer drawing the next great trend, or a lift truck operator tasked with loading pallets onto a truck in a pedestrian-heavy warehouse. Certainly, there are AI inventions yet to be thought of that will assist these humans complete their functions safely. However, nothing can replace the human element. AI is an exciting area of development for those looking to increase workplace health and safety and prevent more accidents, injures, and fatalities using automation, monitoring, and other exciting AI technology.

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[1] http://www.cc-global.com/blog/2017/ai-monitors-workplace-safety-in-real-time-microsoft-offers-a-glimpse-into-the-future-of-ehs

[2] http://www.ehstoday.com/artificial-intelligence

[3] https://www.wired.com/story/what-does-teslas-truck-mean-for-truckers/