As history has always taught us, it is the first encounter with innovation that scares people the most. Once we have overcome that discomfort, artificial intelligence-based systems may bring plenty of advantages and countless options for use by employers. But what about their impact on occupational health and safety?
The European Agency for Safety and Health at work requires AI-based worker management systems to be carefully implemented in order to successfully guarantee their essential goal: higher standards of health and wellbeing for the entire workforce. Indeed, now (and in the foreseeable future even more), AI technology offers an opportunity to reduce risks from potential and actual dangerous situations. It is now possible to prevent outages and disruptions through the development of so called ‘predictive maintenance strategies’, greatly minimising the number of work-related injuries and casualties.
Moreover, further applications of AI-based systems are possible: drones and robots could be integrated with AI software and used directly as key players, fully automated, in remote maintenance interventions in areas that would otherwise be too dangerous, for example near electricity pylons, highway viaducts, bridges, slope risk areas, zones exposed to chemical or bacteriological contamination hazards, and more.
Facial recognition systems could also allow real-time monitoring of employees, so that the employer would be able to keep track of their vital signs and their general health condition and thus track possible contacts between infected staff, preventing the spread of viruses and bacteria. However, recent developments in European legislation are headed in the opposite direction, disallowing the use of such facial recognition systems at the workplace.
On the other hand, the use of AI may also entail a number of potential negative issues for employers to deal with, such as an increase in employees’ stress and fatigue levels, anxiety over potentially losing a job, and possibly a significant decrease in creative, intellectual and even cognitive abilities.
For these reasons, the European Agency for Safety and Health encourages approaches that focus on prevention, ensuring accountability, transparency and taking into account all of the needs of the employees.
We are unable to predict all the features that artificial intelligence-based systems will offer in the future, and the relevant benefits and risks. But we need to get ready for the implementation of this upcoming technology, not forgetting that we are still human.