The Future of Workplace Safety is Already Here - National Safety Council

The Future of Workplace Safety is Already Here

How to drive workplace safety and sustainability through better data.

June 14, 2021

Written by Julian Moffat, principal solutions strategist of environmental management at VelocityEHS.

The Gen Xers that now occupy senior EHS management positions worldwide have witnessed unprecedented technological change over the course of their lives. This is the generation that witnessed the birth of personal computers and the invention of cell phones, consumer video, robotics, the evolution of the internet, GPS, workplace automation and a host of other revolutionary technical advancements. The full impacts of these changes have often not been fully understood until long after they have permanently changed society, both positively and negatively. And yet, for the most part we have never been more capable or better positioned to advance safety culture or positively influence our impact on the environment.

If the past 50 years have been transformational, the next 20 years will be truly revolutionary. We are in the early stages of a fundamental shift toward AI and machine learning technologies that are already beginning to transform workplaces. The key to this revolution is data – lots and lots of data. High-density inputs such as video feeds, smart metering, telemetry, personal monitoring devices and smartphone inputs feed the voracious appetite of AI and machine learning algorithms. Familiar EHS workflows, like performing an accident investigation following an incident, are now being reclassified as “reactive” processes. Proactive EHS processes instead leverage technology to predict problems before they occur. This is where the next huge leap in workplace safety and sustainability is going to happen.

If this sounds a little too futuristic, take a closer look at what leading EHS software vendors using AI-assisted video analysis are already doing today. We now have the ability to conduct an automatic ergonomics or safety assessment based on a smart phone video clip, and conduct video behavior analytics. The future has already arrived. Such advancements are made possible through:

  • Adoption of measuring systems that can capture dense, high-quality data
  • Advancements in machine learning and AI that can process and make sense of large datasets
  • EHS professionals who leverage these tools to predict, identify and correct problems before they turn into lost-time injuries, production disruptions or environmental impacts

It’s important to remember that every major technological advance has a human element and requires training, adjustment and adaptation to achieve its full potential. This leap forward in technology does not replace EHS staff or the need for critical thinking. Instead, it augments and empowers EHS professionals to make better decisions, target problem areas, optimize resource expenditures and, most importantly, save lives and avoid negative environmental impacts. The best way to adapt to the new normal is to get in front of the story: investigate what is already available, identify infrastructure requirements to support high-quality data collection, and adopt management practices and systems that will help to support the coming revolution.

To begin, watch the on-demand recording of the session, Data: Too Much, Too Little, Or Just the Right Amountfrom VelocityEHS, and start figuring out how to use data to drive your EHS program forward.