Workplace safety and technology are thoroughly intertwined. From Excel spreadsheets to full-blown EHS software, most EHS professionals now use technology to save time and effort while ensuring workplace safety.
However, a new form of technology has entered the world of EHS.
Today, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is undeniably a big part of our lives. Whether it is the virtual assistant on your phone, or the smart speaker in your home, AI has been increasingly normalized in past years.
But is AI ready to take on workplace safety?
Applications of AI in Workplace Safety 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. Here are some of its applications in workplace health and safety.
No fatigue, stress or illness
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.
Human factors play a huge role in workplace safety, with fatigue and stress readily contributing to accidents.
In 2018, AI-SAFE (Automated Intelligent System for Assuring Safe Working Environments) launched which cleverly detects if employees are wearing the correct PPE for each working area. Normally, PPE checks are conducted by a staff member, with potential for human error.
Drones for difficult tasks
Another application of AI is to undertake dangerous tasks, so humans don’t have to.
Although strictly speaking drones themselves are not AI, they are quickly incorporating it. This allows them to make decisions and operate autonomously.
For example, drone use is rising in the construction industry. In fact, between 2017 and 2018, the number of drones deployed to construction sites grew by 239%.
Furthermore, one survey found over 50% of construction sites using 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.
Do you need AI?
Despite its clear benefits to workplace safety, AI is still a developing piece of high tech.
And, as developing high tech goes, it comes at a hefty price. Basic AI for an individual development can reach a massive US $300,000.
An investment of that size deserves careful consideration. The truth isdepending on your safety budget and goals, this may be a realistic option—or it may border on overkill.
Furthermore, AI is not completely error free. Just a couple years ago, a driverless Uber car hit a woman crossing a road in Tempe, Arizona.
Indeed, AI is not perfect, but it still has some beneficial applications to workplace safety. The real question here is, do you really need to spend $300,000 in order to improve your Health and Safety performance?
Is there a more realistic solution in 2020?
That will depend on the issues you are experiencing, and the goals you are aiming for.
If you relate to any of the following, you might just need good EHS software.
1) Cumbersome reporting on large EHS datasets
When thinking of safety, you likely don’t imagine hours and hours of data consolidation and analysis (or maybe you do, if you’re still using outdated software).
But the truth is, collecting data is only half the story. It’s what you do with it that counts.
Unfortunately, not everyone is an IT wizard (trust me, I know). In fact, a study performed by independent research firm Verdantix showed 55% of EHS professionals felt their team lacked data science expertise.
This is a challenge when dealing with spreadsheets of numbers, which EHS professionals so often do.
Enter: configurable dashboards.
Most EHS software solutions offer data analysis technology, instantly interpreting data into charts and diagrams on a dashboard. Easy to understand, regardless of your IT skill.
Here are just a few benefits:
- Tracking of KPI performance
- Creating your own customizable reports
- Save time in data crunching
- Report on data from different sites
Using Pro-Sapien’s EHS software on Office 365, Tronox is saving an average of 5 hours a month on data consolidation. And they didn’t need to use AI to accomplish it!
2) Too much time spend on admin
In most jobs, administrative tasks are a time-consuming and repetitive (yet necessary) part of the day.
Despite this, when studies show that they are costing managers an average of up to 2 days a week, clearly this is a productivity-sapping problem.
In safety, manual moving of data and complex filing systems are not uncommon, making management a tedious task.
Here is where EHS software can help.
EHS software removes the need for paper forms to be filled, scanned, emailed or saved in a physical storage space.
Much less time will be dedicated to this, making the most of an automation system that has nothing to envy from AI.
3) Paper waste
Here’s another goal for which employing AI technologies would be overkill.
Although going paperless is probably not the primary goal of your EHS department, it is nonetheless an important one.
In fact, the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the preference for paperless transactions, with some people even ditching cash payments. But there are many other benefits to going paperless:
- It is good for the environment (shock!). Making one ton of paper emits 1.5 tons of CO2 equivalent, not to mention the trees that are cut down every year to facilitate this.
- Don’t get lost in piles of paper. A study revealed we spend an average of 5 days a year looking for things we have misplaced. This may be even more for some of us!
- Ability to work remotely. I think we all know the advantages of this one by now.
How can EHS software help reduce paper waste?
EHS software replaces paper forms with digital ones. It also provides a secure, central space to store all EHS-related documents.
With your data in the cloud, you also reduce time spent on archiving, organizing or searching for specific documents. (On top of drastically reducing paper waste!)
4) Lack of employee engagement
For the purpose of encouraging employee engagement, not only is AI inefficient, but it can be detrimental.
So far, we listed two examples of observational safety functions AI can carry out: PPE checks, and drone analysis in construction sites. Both are valuable, but they could have a negative impact on employee engagement.
Why would you bother telling someone they’re wearing the wrong PPE if there are machines specifically to do this? And why report an observation when a drone may have seen it already?
Yet as we mentioned earlier, AI is not foolproof.
Not to mention, employees won’t feel particularly trusted if they’re under constant surveillance.
So how is EHS Software any different?
Observations software allows employees to quickly complete observation forms on-site in less than 2 minutes. Short forms make it easy for employees to report observations there and then.
By increasing the simplicity and accessibility of observations reporting you will open up workplace safety to employees that wouldn’t usually get involved in health and safety, making them part of the solution and increasing their awareness of common safety issues.
In essence, you will be depositing your trust back on the workforce, instead of taking it away from them and handing it over to a piece of technology.
EHS software vs. AI
For decades, technology has played a critical role in the smooth running of our lives, both personal and professional. Every day we rely on it more and more.
As you have seen, AI is on the path to becoming an invaluable resource to maintain workplace safety.
However, regardless of how novel AI seems to be, it is important to first consider the existing technology options, like EHS software.
Chances are, you need a cost-effective, proven solution that answers your range of Health and Safety needs.
Not an expensive AI machine that efficiently carries out one very specific task.