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Protecting the workforce with technology

24 April 2024

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE is making a significant impact on many professions and industries. But what about when it comes to safety?

According to the 2023 HSE annual statistics report1, being struck by a moving object ranks among one of the most common cause of workplace injury in the UK. This has led to advances in AI-powered collision avoidance technology to mitigate the risk. 

Today’s workforce can’t be protected effectively with yesterday’s solutions. And while deploying new technology to create safer operating environments is a step in the right direction, can you really rely upon the decision-making capabilities of machines to protect your teams?

In South Africa, the highest level of collision avoidance technology has been mandated within the Mining industry. Level 9 Collision Awareness (CAS) vehicle intervention technology automatically slows down heavy plant when the driver fails to react to an impending hazard.  

When it comes to proximity warning systems, how does AI problem-solving compare with wearable technology and human intervention?

Proximity warning systems are technologies that help to keep people at a safe distance from moving vehicles, machinery, or unsafe areas using real-time alerts.

In its simplest form, the technology involves establishing an exclusion zone around vehicles. The driver is alerted when the perimeter of this exclusion zone has been breached by a pedestrian worker.

AI-powered collision avoidance systems often use camera technology for object recognition. Cameras can provide a 360 degree-view of a driver’s risk environment, including vehicle blind spots. However, AI-camera detection systems fail to recognise objects in human form when that person is working in an unnatural position (such as crouching down or standing in a ditch for example).

Furthermore, does AI-camera technology recognise when a nearby worker is protected by other physical safety barriers, such as bollards or fencing?

Wearable technology can enable workers to tag in and out of enclosed safe zones to prevent false alerts, which would otherwise distract the driver.

To be truly effective, there is a reliance on wearable technology to always be worn by employees or any visitors on site. To ensure usage, some employers have mandated the use of body worn risk monitoring devices for specific sites, with the same repercussions as if the worker failed to wear PPE.  

AI-technology does not require workers to wear monitoring devices. Although the ability to identify an individual worker is a distinct advantage of using wearable technology. 

For instance, recording risk data on the who, where and how often near-misses occur, can not only identify opportunities for improved safety, but also provide a paper-trail to monitor if an individual’s ongoing behaviour is aligned with the site safety culture. 

When it comes to proximity warning systems, it’s important to consider the interdependency between people and plant.

It’s crucial for proximity warning systems to be configurable to real-world scenarios and cater to dynamic operating environments, where people and plant activities intrinsically overlap.   

With the ability to identify individual workers, wearable technology can be configured with permissions for different job roles and responsibilities to facilitate a hierarchy of control. 

Wearable technology can be used to allocate different access permissions for machine operators or drivers, when they operate equipment, without incurring false proximity alerts.  

Wearable technology can also enable drivers to authorise a worker to approach their vehicle for close-working activities, on a case-by-case basis. 

Ultimately, choosing a proximity detection system that works for your organisation depends upon the unique workplace requirements and scope of work, which every team must balance to determine the best path forward.

Reactec combines connected worker technology with cloud-based data analytics to prevent workplace health and safety risks.

For more information, and to continue our discussion on proximity warning technology visit our website: www.reactec.com 

[1]. HSE’s annual statistics on work related ill health and workplace injuries 2022/23. https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/overview.htm