It’s official – artificial intelligence (AI) has entered our personal lives. Whether it is the virtual assistant on your smartphone, or the smart speaker in your home, you'll agree that AI is everywhere.
So much so, 47.3 million US adults "have access" to a smart speaker. As TechCrunch points out, it took television 13 years to hit 50 million users; for smart speakers, it took two.
Now, AI is in the workplace. A typical example is AI powered chatbots facilitating customer service by providing 24/7 assistance and answering queries.
However, besides customer service, AI enhances workplace safety and productivity.
Adnan Yunus, CEO of Procedural.AI, said:
"It's an interesting time for workplaces in general due to so many things happening related to automation. AI and associated technology have true potential to reform the workplace. I believe it will lead to more productive workers and improved job quality."
As we know, workplace safety is a top priority. Between 2017 and 2018, 144 people were killed at work in the UK. Bear in mind that the UK has the lowest number of workplace fatalities across the entire EU.
AI safety and workplace injuries and illnesses
However, this does not include illness contracted at work. For example, asbestos exposure caused illness to 2,595 people. In total, around 1.4 million people suffer from work-related illnesses and injuries. Moreover, worker injuries impact companies with working days lost and compensation payments.
To clarify, employers must ensure worker safety. The proper workplace conditions are set for companies to avoid heavy penalties, and for workers to have a safe working environment.
The good news? AI is the perfect tool.
"AI and robotics brings fewer physical injuries and a reduction in work-related stress. Also, companies will have lower insurance premiums for hazardous work: AI puts humans at reduced risk."
Here are five ways AI improves workplace safety and productivity.
1) Decreases Human Error
Human factors play a huge, er, factor in workplace safety, with fatigue and stress readily contributing to accidents. Around 40% of US workers suffer from fatigue.
So, one major benefit of AI is its inability to get stressed, tired or unwell. In other words, AI safety can scale down human factors in the workplace.
Let's look at an example:
Launched in 2018, AI-SAFE (Automated Intelligent System for Assuring Safe Working Environments) cleverly detects if employees are wearing the correct PPE for each working area by blending video footage, innovative algorithms and machine learning. If a worker is not suitably dressed, AI-SAFE sends an alert and restricts access.
As PPE checks are typically conducted by a staff member, human error can come into play. AI safety reduces this risk.
2) Undertakes dangerous tasks
Strictly speaking, drones themselves are not AI. However, as technology advances, drones are quickly incorporating AI - allowing them to make decisions and operate themselves.
If that makes you shudder, then look at it this way:
Drones can replace humans in assessing and investigating dangerous situations, then reporting back valuable data. In this sense, robotics may replace humans for life-risking tasks.
For example, drone use is rising in the construction industry. In fact, between 2017 and 2018, drones deployed to construction sites grew by 239%. Furthermore, one survey found over 50% of construction sites employing drones reported an improvement in safety.
Construction site drones can gather and analyze data otherwise overlooked by humans. For example, one Dallas construction site has used drones to inspect roofs since 2014. As a result, AI safety makes roof inspections cheaper, more efficient, and most importantly, safer.
3) Tracks Worker Location and More
Again, while wearable tech is technically not AI, industry advancements are bringing AI on board.
At the moment, wearable tech is transforming EHS. Predicted to be worth up to US $60 billion by 2022, the wearable tech industry is now catering to extensive use by employers, certainly for safety purposes.
A 2018 Verdantix report found 58% respondents regard industrial wearables significant to their upcoming operational risk management initiatives.
Industrial wearables' primary functions include:
- Tracking worker location
- Overseeing vital signs, such as heart rate and blood pressure
- Alerting to environmental risks
- Issuing information to remote workers
- Reducing chance of musculoskeletal injuries
- Improving staff training
4) Monitors Workplace Harassment
A happy worker is a productive worker. Unfortunately, 81% of women in the US have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
In 2019, using AI to identify workplace harassment is predicted to become the norm. AI can examine and highlight workplace harassment.
How? Well, with natural language processing, AI can scan work emails to spot inappropriate phrases then send alerts. By crunching data, AI can discover wage gaps and unequal promotions. With voice recognition, AI can recognise who is speaking the most in meetings.
An equal and diverse workforce brings countless business benefits.
5) Workplace Automation
When you hear automation in the workplace, you automatically think job losses.
And that is true up to a point. Thanks to computing power, a full office working day in 1970 can now be completed in 1.5 hours. Amazing, right? In fact, in 1930 the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that automation and technology advancements would eventually leave us with a 15 hour work week.
We're not quite at that stage yet. However, the value AI brings to each industry is enormous. Looking at the graph below, AI is predicted to have over a US $4 billion impact on transport and logistics industries alone.
A human gets tired and needs rest breaks. A machine-learning robot, however, does not need rest - effectively increasing productivity.
Despite the clear benefits that accompany AI in the workplace, it does come with disadvantages.
Let's look at a few:
AI in the workplace has connotations of mass job losses.
"This is driven by the lack of understanding of what AI is and isn't. AI will not replace human ingenuity or creativity anytime soon. AI is a tool; overestimating its potential or incorrect application can lead to reduced efficiency."
So, the opposite may be true. A Gartner report found that AI could generate up to 2.3 million jobs by 2020. However, this differs for each industry: public sector, healthcare and education will see a job increase, while manufacturing and construction can expect job losses.
High tech like AI comes with a hefty price tag. Basic AI for an individual development can reach a massive US $300,000.
Lack of awareness
AI is not completely error free. Just last year, a driverless Uber car hit a woman crossing a road in Tempe, Arizona.
One argument is that autonomous systems like driverless cars and robots are taught by virtual training scenarios which do not match real-life environments. Regardless, AI still has room for improvement.
While there are still problems that need to be worked out when it comes to AI, these are few and far between. Importantly, its contributions to worker safety and productivity is undeniable. What do you think?
Further reading: A Guide to Wearable Tech in EHS