Ensuring efficient Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) management within any business is important, but it is especially so within higher risk environments like many manufacturing operations. Over the last 5 years, on average 22 workers have died in the workplace in manufacturing environments per year. Stricter legislation and increasing public expectations now mean that efficient HSE management is more critical than ever, as manufacturing businesses who fail to follow HSE regulations are now named and shamed by The Occupation Safety and Health Administration in regular press releases. These events are frequently highlighted by the media, meaning a single HSE incident can not only disrupt the daily functions of a business but damage a business’ reputation altogether.
A variety of systems and tools have been introduced and developed over time to help HSE management within a business. More recently, advances in technology and data science have led to the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a trend within HSE. AI refers to “the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions”. It also refers to any systems that show traits associated with a human mind, such as learning and problem-solving e.g Google’s DeepMind or IBM’s Watson. HSE, as a result, is on a transformational path and manufacturing businesses, in particular, are embracing this.
The primary aims of HSE are to try to reduce and prevent injuries occurring and environmental damage. Tasks in manufacturing environments can quite often be repetitive, and employees can regularly be working within hazardous environments. AI can automate repetitive tasks and therefore remove employees from potential risks and injuries occurring in hazardous environments. It has also been reported that up to 80% of accidents that occur in the workplace are human-related. People don’t always report incidents and in particular what they believe to be “minor” incidents. In reality, employees don’t often realise the importance of accurately reporting incidences. When an incident is reported, employees often “other” in relation to the category of the incident. This makes it difficult to understand exactly what they are reporting. In comparison, AI provides more information and greater context when reporting HSE incidences. This reduces the likelihood of similar incidences occurring in the future as a more accurate prevention plan can be developed.
Implementing AI within a manufacturing environment has several advantages as highlighted above, however people have begun to question the safety of human and robot interaction and the risks associated. Despite this, it has been reported that incidents which occur do not usually take place during work hours usually happen during programming, maintenance or adjustment sessions. Some companies have started using cages and guards to minimise this interaction, and the Health and Safety Executive has observed that new collaborative robots are being developed specifically to be used in the same workplace as humans.
Efficient HSE is critical within the workplace and failure to comply with legislation not only risks reputation but more importantly employees’ lives. It is clear that manufacturing businesses are now looking to other measures to ensure HSE compliance and although AI is still a relatively new concept and there are still obstacles to overcome, it is one of the top new trends and has already been shown to benefit HSE within manufacturing businesses.