With a push towards using technology more in the workplace, including artificial intelligence, it is important to understand the benefits and limitations with respect to safety.
There is no doubt that the use of technology can help to reduce the huge compliance burden faced by businesses in managing safety, particularly if you have a large number of subcontractors and/or supply chain participants.
For example, subcontractor pre-qualification screening can be completed and recorded electronically. Also, electronic management can assist improve subcontractor performance, manage incident notification and response/resolution close out for multiple subcontractors.
But the use of artificial intelligence (AI) is also a greater concern for safety regulators looking at the supply chain. Recently, Australian safety regulators commissioned research into the potential health and safety risks related to the use of AI in the workplace. This research was done in the context of the potential impact AI has on role design, task allocation, time management, organisational structure, and communication between management and workers, all of which have an impact on the safety of systems of work.
SafeWork NSW employees interviewed for the project noted it was often difficult to understand and anticipate the health and safety implications of AI, especially dynamic AI (dynamic AI systems continually learn and adapt while being used). The operational behaviour of dynamic AI was considered unpredictable, which would have consequences for attributing accountability and identifying the root causes of accidents involving dynamic AI. The prospect of AI receiving periodic updates that fundamentally changed how the AI operated was also concerning for SafeWork participants who were unsure about how to keep pace with continuously updated technology.
The uncertainties of technology in managing safety in the workplace will also be impacted by the skills shortage that Australia may face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A skills shortage may mean reliance on less experienced contractors which can, and often does, lead to increased risks to health and safety and potential incidents. Therefore, as we exit slowly from the pandemic, the focus for businesses should be on how they can best position themselves to use limited resources, including technology, to maintain the highest level of safety possible.