Technology Can Help Eliminate Workplace Deaths for Good

Work to Zero 2050 is a new initiative from the McElhattan Foundation and the National Safety Council.

February 26, 2019

Nothing traumatizes a company like a fatality. Disbelief and confusion reign for months afterward. Co-workers strive to make sense of it by compulsively reliving every detail. Productivity goes down the tubes.

Now, multiply the shock on the company by a hundredfold and you begin to see the horror the victim’s family suffers. The family will be tormented by what-ifs for the rest of their lives. Years later they remember every detail like it happened yesterday. For the family, tiny reminders will bring gut-wrenching memories and emotion to the surface for years.

In the United States, over 5,000 workers were killed on the job last year due to motor vehicle crashes, falls, exposure or other causes. In the early 1900s, more than 50,000 employees were killed each year: 10 times more than now. Technology innovation was key to changing the status quo in dangerous industries over the years. Whether on the rails, in the air or on the factory floor, we have made great progress.

That’s remarkable success when you consider the number of people working has increased from about 30 million to 160 million. Employers, unions, government and advocacy groups deserve more credit than they get. However, for the past 30 years, jobsite fatalities have plateaued and moved in unison with the economy. When the economy is up, workplace fatalities are up. When it’s down, they’re down.

So, we’ve reduced workplace fatalities 90% over the past 100 years. What’s it going to take to put an end to this?

This year, the National Safety Council will launch Work to Zero 2050 with a $500,000 grant from the McElhattan Foundation. Its purpose is to eliminate death on the job by the year 2050. Period. No hedging, no qualifiers. We won’t stop until every one of these fatalities is eradicated. Since 1913, NSC has used data, expertise and innovation to solve some of the toughest workplace safety problems.

Work to Zero 2050 will accelerate the development of technologies that hold the highest potential, by using decades of insight, the latest available data, and the knowledge of an unparalleled network of safety leaders and practitioners. This initiative will pilot and evaluate promising technology and training programs that could eliminate workplace fatalities in our lifetime.

Small businesses, Fortune 500 companies and 100% of NSC member companies already have a strong interest in existing innovations, such as wearables, robotics, virtual and augmented reality, automation and artificial intelligence. In the future, Work to Zero 2050 will vet, translate and distill the actionable knowledge we need to implement the right technology at the right time to save lives.

We hope Work to Zero 2050 will ignite a movement of supporters who are as frustrated as we are with the status quo and as excited about creating a future in which death on the job is a thing of the past. With the full potential of new safety measures yet to come, we can really meet our life-saving mission head on. We hope you will join us. By doing something constructive to eliminate 5,000 fatalities, it won’t be just a dream.

Kent McElhattan

Kent McElhattan is CEO of Discovery Robotics and chairman of the McElhattan Foundation.

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