Taking an overview of the developments in workplace technologies, we can see that they can be grouped according to the ways they impact the workforce. They can be categorized as:
- Robotics to eliminate or substitute manufacturing processes
- Technologies to support and enhance the connected worker
- Internet of Things (IoT) applications to align multiple levels and functions
These seismic shifts in the interrelation and interaction of mechanical process and human and artificial intelligence are set against a backdrop of big data that can be harnessed to monitor, assess, and direct all aspects of connectivity and production.
We are truly witnessing a fourth industrial revolution.
Technological Changes Have a Massive Impact
The impact of these changes will be on a global scale. Some estimate that there will be 20 million jobs lost to artificial intelligence by 2030. Previous industrial revolutions have dispossessed and displaced entire communities with the attendant social unrest and turmoil.
Global movements require global solutions. Standards and regulations are a means of protecting the workforce from the worst negative effects of the changing workplace.
The advances being made to support, inform, and monitor worker performance are associated with devices that can be considered intrusive and raise privacy concerns. This issue must be addressed by the employer and the employee’s representatives, and data protection protocols should be adhered to. National and international laws such as the EU General Data Protection Regulations and the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act should be enforced and extended to cover these new technologies.
(Learn more about Using Wearable Tech to Enhance Worksite Safety.)
In the event of accidents and incidents, recording worker activity will provide vital insights into causality. Legal liabilities will be easier to assess, and damage to a worker's health will be more readily provable. These are positive benefits for the individual and the workforce as a whole, as well as a deterrent to bad practices on the part of the employer.
The Connected Worker
Replacement technology in the workplace has hitherto centered on automation and robotic substitution of the labor force. This has resulted in increased production, productivity, and predictability and control of output. There have also been gains in safety and welfare. However, substituting machinery for people has decreased the availability of a skilled workforce.
The focus is now instead on the connected worker. Namely, on technological aids that support and train workers in carrying out their functions.
Connected workers who use intelligence enhancing devices, such as headsets with smart overlays of maps, schematics, and thermal imaging, will see the positive aspects of this technology. Support for lone workers with over-the-shoulder remote coaching will give added confidence and real-time telemetry that will document evidence of safety standard compliance.
Smart glasses that provide overlays of translation will improve communication. Wearable and portable devices can aid planning, training, support, and emergency response. Using drones for inspection and servicing will protect workers from the hazards of working at height, in confined spaces, and in remote locations.
(See It's a Bird. It's a Plane. It's... An OSHA Inspection Drone? for related reading.)
Manufacturing and construction are major sources of accidents. Introducing automated lifting and moving on site removes some of the major hazards. The use of IoT can control dangerous sites with the use of geofencing and real-time alarm systems.
There are application in the health and caring sectors, with A.I. capable of performing medical assessments and, surgical procedures. With an aging population, functional caring is an obvious growth area for applied technology. So, consumers as well as employees should see the positive benefits of physical, medical, and support care delivered by a range of robots monitoring supported through the IoT.
The application of such technology spans all sectors of industry and provides workflow solutions across a spectrum of activities. Connected driver solutions, connected retail solution for directed work, connected worker solutions, operational intelligence, search and rescue, track and trace, distribution, field service – the range of technological support is extensive and growing rapidly. Scanners, printers, computer devices, and software support systems connect the worker to workplace systems in order to integrate and harmonize planning, implementation, and delivery of products or services, ensuring a uniform and informed process structure. Rapid response to emergency situations and stress monitoring for the workforce provide enhanced health and safety provision in the workplace.
ISO 45001: A Global Solution to IoT Challenges
The Internet of Things brings together the observation, control, and monitoring of workplace activities. It provides oversight and interconnectivity, allowing employers and supervisors to react and provide solutions to problems, situations, and emergencies without relying on manual reporting or a poor chain of communication to alert remote management of developing situations.
Dangerous areas of work, such as chemicals, ship building, and the oil industry, can use devices to gain the control and visibility needed for a safe workplace. Connection devices can improve worker and plant productivity, reduce downtime, and ensure regulatory compliance. Reducing or eliminating paperwork minimizes errors and the data generated provides an audit trail of safety performance. Maximizing accuracy and efficiency can save costs by preventing accidents and occurrences that can result in costly shutdowns and lost production.
However, the growth and development of industries are driven by the profit motive. It is well documented that the previous surge of globalization had attendant evils of worker exploitation and the destruction of the environment. Mining, oil exploration, and the dumping of toxic waste had a huge toll on humans as well as the natural world.
Governments and organizations colluded to hide the worst excesses of their disreputable practices. With concerns about the environment and climate change mounting, a high-profile visible agency like NASA which can show real-tome environmental impact of human activity and make such activities highly visible. But it is only through concerted international co-operation that accountability, leadership, worker protections, and environmental protection can be ensured.
The ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management System standard, published in 2018, has been adopted by most nations. ISO 45001 sets out the obligations of an organization to deliver a safe place for workers as well as extended obligations to interested parties impacted by its activities. This is a standard that holds organizations and their leaders to account.
The future will see an exponential growth in devices and interactions between humanity and A.I. in all its forms. To ensure global stability there must be an internationally recognized and adhered to standards to ensure that there are only winners and not losers in this new technological and industrial revolution.