Few challenges in the business world rise in importance above health, safety, and environmental (HSE) issues. And within that broad set of considerations, accident awareness and prevention are almost certainly the biggest considerations on the minds of corporate managers and executives. For while environmental and general health concerns are measured and managed for the longer term, safety—i.e., the prevention of accidents—is an immediate challenge, particularly in high-risk industries like manufacturing and energy.
The breadth of exposure to accidents in the corporate world is vast. Not only is there the human cost—ranging from lost work time and income to injury and, in the worst cases, loss of life—but accidents also cost companies in measures of productivity, regulatory exposure, reputation, and profitability. It is thus incumbent on corporate leaders to take every available action to create and maintain safe workplaces. And a key contributor in this regard is technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI).
In a 2020 report, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) captured 2.7M nonfatal workplace accidents in private companies that year, including injuries from overexertion, slips/falls, contact with dangerous machinery, transportation accidents, and a host of other causes. This was a slight decline from the previous year but still a significant cause of lost productivity and increased corporate cost. And these accidents are not limited to the well-known high-risk industries like logging, roofing, oil platforms, firefighting, etc., but also less obvious pursuits like healthcare, farming, and even office work.
In a recent HSE webinar, SparkCognition Vice President of Sales Cory Rhoads posed a question to his audience exploring which of the many benefits of HSE strategy they felt was most compelling. The responses—shown in Figure 1—overwhelmingly support the notion that industry leaders regard worker safety as being of paramount importance.
31% of respondents cited “unsafe acts, near-misses, and accident detection” as the most important use-cases to address with HSE mitigation strategies. Tied for second place was “equipment/machine guarding safety” alongside “ergonomics and overexertion.” “PPE compliance” was the third most popular answer.
Although recognizing the criticality of maintaining a safe workplace is the key first step, achieving this goal presents a number of challenges, the greatest of which is recognizing risk before accidents occur rather than searching for causes afterward. This proactive approach can take many forms—some obvious, some less so—but all addressable using state-of-the-art AI capabilities.
There are at least four major areas in which AI—and in particular visual analysis with AI—can lead directly to improved safety outcomes in the workplace.
Work practice awareness—Are workers lifting heavy objects incorrectly or engaging in other practices that increase the likelihood of injury?
PPE compliance—Are workers wearing the requisite helmets, gloves, vests, safety shoes, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for the jobs they are doing?
Vehicle/human interaction—Are vehicles approaching humans who may be unaware of the approaching risk and/or may not be wearing the PPE that could mitigate that risk?
Machine guarding—Are workers reaching or walking toward machines in a risky manner or approaching machinery they are not trained/certified to be near?
Corporate culture and practices in most cases do not include the reporting and tracking of instances in which risky behavior takes place without an ensuing accident. As a result, most reporting happens only after the accident, with all of its ensuing consequences. But by using the power of visual scene analysis, all of these risky situations can be proactively identified and alerted upon without any need for manual human intervention. And in addition to stopping an impending accident in its tracks, all instances of risky behavior or dangerous work environments can be actively tracked and reported, allowing managers to make enduring changes to workplaces and work practices.
By using AI technology to identify and mitigate workplace risk, not only are industry leaders minimizing injury and saving lives, they are also helping to ensure the productivity, profitability, and reputation of their organizations and achieving all of these goals without the need for extensive capital investment, on-site data science expertise, or ongoing human intervention. The tools—AI-enabled tools—are there today to make workplaces safer and workers more secure.
Click here to learn more about SparkCognition’s AI-enabled HSE solutions.
Watch the complete HSE webinar here: 5 Ways to Transform Worker Safety with Artificial Intelligence