Modern data analytics and artificial intelligence-based technology could reduce employee injuries, as well as improve traditional processes in environmental health and safety by streamlining and automating workflows, according to a March 15 report from the National Safety Council.
More than 5,000 workers died on the job in 2021, increasing workplace fatality rates and prompting new efforts to bolster workplace injury prevention, NSC said, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
But there may be some immediate steps safety pros can take to mitigate those numbers. “EHS professionals already manage large volumes of data on a daily basis, and advancements in analytics and artificial intelligence have made it easier to synthesize this information to improve existing risk mitigation activities,” Emily Whitcomb, director of innovation for the nonprofit, said in a statement.
Based on findings from academic and industrial journals, the report offered three machine-learning methods that can help prevent workplace illness, injury and death:
- Computer vision technology, when paired with CCTV systems to monitor images and video footage, can detect objects and worker proximity to hazards. It can also be combined with data on location, time and safety guidelines to alert workers about equipment malfunctions, vehicle collisions, and other concerns such as lack of personal protective equipment.
- Natural language processing can summarize written reports and extract insights, including quantitative data. This can streamline safety reporting and compliance — and potentially boost productivity.
- Predictive and prescriptive analytics engines can predict incidents and provide recommendations, such as the most suitable PPE for a specific task.
The report also discussed emerging technology and use cases, such as wearables for fatigue monitoring. In addition, virtual reality and augmented reality programs could enhance worker safety through hazardous work training modules, the organization said.
More companies are placing a focus on education around workplace safety and PPE compliance, particularly in an effort to promote a culture of safety, according to sources who previously spoke with HR Dive. AI-based tools may play a role in improving communication and helping employees to see the benefit of certain safety policies.
At the same time, the National Safety Council report identified several barriers to AI adoption, including high costs of implementation and privacy concerns, which can vary by organization size. For instance, large enterprises would likely benefit from customized platforms that help with widespread data collection, training and deployment. In contrast, small businesses should consider flexible, modular AI packages, it recommended.
Other concerns should be considered, such as potential liability and algorithmic bias. Ultimately, AI adoption should stem from workers’ needs and current automation processes in the workplace, according to recent recommendations.