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Is Artificial Intelligence the Future of Workplace Safety?

By Avetta Marketing
June 08, 2020
4 minutes
Is Artificial Intelligence the Future of Workplace Safety?

In most workplace environments, the human factor is the most dangerous one. While humans usually have the best intentions, it’s also all too easy for them to be overly confident, careless, or complacent on a long enough timeline. And even if the human element is monitored by other humans, there’s only so much humans can see and react to. Sooner or later, someone is going to get hurt because of human limitations. But what if less burden was placed on humans and shifted to an artificial intelligence? Could the workplace be made safer by an all-seeing, all-knowing computer?

At Microsoft’s 2017 Build conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella marveled at how modern search engines can consume all the text on the internet and reason over it to return meaningful information back to the user. “Just imagine if we can do that with any physical place,” Nadella mused. “Suppose we can create these digital twins of a hospital – of an industrial setting, a factory floor.” He asked the audience to imagine a system that could identify people and could reason their relationships with other people and the objects in the environment. Through this system, policies could be set, and violations could be identified and corrected almost immediately. The goal, of course, was a safer work environment.

Azure IoT Edge Automates Workplace Safety Compliance

Using a combination of existing and emerging technologies, including Azure IoT Edge, Azure Stack, commodity cameras, and more, Microsoft has developed a demo system that can identify people and objects in real-time and compare them against set policies. In the demo reel they showed at Build, a hospital could identify a patient who was over-exerting himself, locate the nearest wheelchair, and alert a nurse to resolve the situation. Similarly, workers could be alerted to a hazard and given a detour on the site.

The live presentation showed great potential. Not only could the system identify people and objects, but it could also check them against polices that dictated if those people could handle those specific objects – essentially vetting them in real-time. The system could even identify if the objects were oriented in a safe position, e.g. heavy objects should be placed on the ground, not leaning against a table.

MSFT Workplace Safety

While the current system may just be proof of concept, it also proves that the future of workplace safety is in technology. Organizations cannot rely wholly on human abilities to ensure sustainable environments or completely vet potential partners, vendors, and contractors regarding their safety standards and compliance. Instead they should look to pair human resources and expertise with proven technology solutions to get a complete and accurate picture of risk in their supply chain.

“There was a survey that was done by the Council of Occupational Safety and Health,” Nadella said. “And basically it said that pretty much all of the accidents in the workplace can, in fact, be prevented if you were able to detect these anomalies before they happen.”  Supply chain risk management solutions can help achieve this goal by enabling businesses to identify and mitigate risk, and improve overall safety performance.  Avetta’s supply chain management technology was recently recognized for innovation and value by CIO Review and Insights Success.

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