Worker safety: what, why and how IoT and AI can help

By | 3 minute read | October 25, 2018

Accidents in the workplace are a well-documented problem, with potentially devastating consequences for employees and employers alike. Despite clear safety regulations and procedures, risk management remains a huge challenge for employers in many industries.

Today, we’ll look at the role that the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) play in addressing this issue.

The size of the worker safety problem

Did you know that 178 work-related accidents happen every 15 seconds? Or that more than 2.78 million people die as a result of work-related diseases or occupational accidents per year? It’s a staggering number with potentially devastating effects on employees. Businesses pay a high price, too. The United States Department of Labor estimates that the annual costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses total USD $170 billion.

The bottom line: risk of injury in the workplace is a serious problem, and it affects all of us.

Why do accidents happen?

To find meaningful solutions for worker safety, we need to look at why accidents happen in the first place. Some of the repeat offenders include:

  • Human error: taking shortcuts, overconfidence, lack of training
  • Acting on incomplete information
  • Neglecting safety procedures / improper use of equipment
  • Working when unwell / sleep-deprived
  • Lack of preparation

Essentially, these five categories can be divvied into two major ones:

  1. Internal factors (worker well being, preparedness and training)
  2. External factors (working conditions, equipment)

To prevent accidents from happening, we need to address both. And here, the IoT can go some way towards helping to keep workers safe.

How IoT helps monitor those internal and external factors

The IoT excels at keeping an eye on things; collecting data by means of connected sensors that help us understand our working environments. Connected sensors can monitor everything from factory equipment to the location and well being of human beings. This makes them a great tool for monitoring potentially hazardous environments when it’s impossible to do so manually with any consistency.

When it comes to monitoring both internal and external factors, sensors make perfect sense. For example, you can collect IoT data from wearables (like helmets, jackets and watches, for instance) and combine that with environmental sensors to monitor both workers’ wellbeing and the state of their working environment. By tracking indicators of physical fitness like heartbeat and skin temperature, sensors can help watch out for employees who are starting to show strain or other signs of potential problems, and preventative action can be taken.

The use of an IoT solution also enables companies to monitor potential hazards within the working environment. For example, sensors can capture carbon monoxide levels, weather events, temperature and vibration, plus many others.

AI: The next piece of the technology puzzle

Using sensors to gather and monitor vital information is the first step to improved worker safety. Adding AI to the mix takes you the next level. By combining real-time IoT data with advanced analytics, you gain valuable insights and can use predictive information to address issues before they become problems.

Creating a safe, secure working environment is the responsibility of everyone. While the IoT and AI can’t counteract all the complex factors impacting worker safety, together, they can be useful tools to help keep companies informed, better prepared and positioned to reduce risk.

Learn more about the IBM IoT Worker Insights solution.

About the author

With a constant perspective of utilizing the latest technology to impact customers and our world, Brian has spent the last 15 years an Offering Lead for IBM focused on bring solutions to the market that make a difference. He has always had to ability to fuse technology with market and customer needs to help customers realize the art of the possible.  In his current role his focus is in Watson IoT Industry Solutions, where he is bringing solutions to market that allows customers to utilize connected devices to capture the needed insights on their employees such that customers can be proactive in creating and maintaining a safer workplace.