The Role of AI in workplace safety - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

The Role of AI in workplace safety

Despite the many safety requirements that are in place, workplace safety remains a huge challenge. In 2017, the US Department of Labor recorded 5,147 workplace fatalities and 2,811,500 nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses.

As a result, artificial intelligence (AI) technology is increasingly becoming an essential tool for monitoring potentially hazardous situations when it’s too difficult to do so manually with any consistency.

How AI can Lower Workplace Accidents

AI can monitor everything from the state of factory equipment to the location and wellbeing of workers. Data is collected from sensors placed on wearables (work jackets, helmets, watches, etc.). This data is then combined with information from environmental sensors (carbon monoxide readings, temperature recordings, weather events, machine vibration levels, and more).

Also, by monitoring indicators of physical fitness such as heartbeat rates and skin temperatures, sensors can alert management to employees who are beginning to show signs of potential problems.

  • Case Study: In 2018, Cisco and Cortexica Vision Systems joined forces to develop an AI system to improve workplace safety. The AI-SAFE (Autonomous Intelligent System for Assuring Safe Working Environments) project uses video cameras at workplace entrances and AI software to judge whether the correct eyewear, headgear, or footwear is being worn, as well as warn of potential contamination risks. If non-compliant equipment is detected, the system issues an alert, provides advice, or restricts access to working areas.

Do Robots Increase Worker Safety?

Many workers are now working alongside robots so safety considerations related to the use of robots is an important issue. The following are two trends in AI and manufacturing expected to increase over the next several years:

  • The use of collaborative robots (co-bots) where robots and humans share the same workspace.
  • Increased factory mobility using Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) technologies.

Safety Standards for Robots

Stringent safety standards for industrial robots exist. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has safety guidelines that include the placement of safety cages around industrial robots. Co-bots are capable of safely sharing workspaces with human beings without being placed behind barriers.

More About Co-Bots

Small co-bots can take over menial and repetitive tasks. They are embedded with sensors such as:

  • Image sensors that act as “eyes” for image recognition software.
  • Force sensors that enable the robot to “feel” how hard they hold something or measure the impact of a collision.

Businesses involved in logistics and warehousing have begun to deploy SLAM technologies for their mobile co-bots. These robots can build dynamic maps and navigate around factory floors without causing safety hazards for human workers.

The Future of AI in Workplace Safety

Currently, co-bots are not very “dexterous” and, therefore, are only capable of carrying out extremely simple, repetitive tasks such as moving a pallet from one area to another. Safety regulations relating to speed and force also limit co-bots to handling light loads.

However, robotic technologies are continuing to evolve and safety systems for bigger industrial robots will be possible using 2D and 3D machine vision technologies. In the future, robots will continue to ensure a safer workplace for humans.


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