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Ensuring PPE compliance through the use of artificial intelligence

12 February 2019

The safety of employees in the workplace is integral to any business, and with tighter government legislation, workers are better protected by the law than ever before. Nevertheless, workplace accidents still pose a serious threat to businesses’ financial viability. This article from Cortexica Vision Systems looks at how video monitoring, the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning can help.

The threat is particularly acute in industries that operate in potentially hazardous environments where Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for employees is often a necessity. Companies may well have extensive rules and regulations governing the use of such equipment, but it can be difficult to enforce correct usage. No matter how many times you run through safety drills or training talks, some workers will always forget basic precautions, including their PPE.

With a background of a £14.9 billion per year overall cost of work-related injury and 31.2 million days lost due to non-fatal accidents and ill health (source: hse.gov.uk), we undertook some research, surveying 100 board-level and C-suite professionals who are directly responsible for the health and safety of workers within construction, manufacturing and high hazard industries.

Setting the scene: What are the challenges facing businesses that need to stay compliant in terms of personal protective equipment (PPE)?

Our survey shows that traditionally, the key challenges businesses have faced with regards to PPE have been:

• 43 % - Meeting legal obligations of PPE

• 38 % - Employee non-compliance

• 36 % - Educating the workforce in the correct use of PPE

• 36 % - Monitoring correct use of PPE

From this we can see that compliance and the correct use of PPE is a serious issue among the workforce. As new tech solutions make their way on to the market to address these issues, do health and safety professionals predict these challenges will continue in the future, or are they expecting a new set of difficulties?

Future challenges involving PPE

According to respondents, employee compliance will continue to be a big concern moving forward, with over a third (35%) believing that their main focus in the next 1 to 5 years will need to be the continued monitoring of their growing workforce.

Increasing standards and stricter legislation involving PPE is the greatest worry to respondents (51%), as they try to minimise their liability for workplace incidents. After all, if those responsible for implementing PPE are unaware of the latest legislation, it could cost the company hundreds of thousands in injury claims and insurance.

Solutions to the challenges

With the speed of technological progress, there are now an array of industry-ready automated solutions that are available to address PPE-related concerns.

The most popular solution, at 35%, comes in the form of AI video-monitoring which can identify PPE non-compliance in real time. These kinds of systems can provide a single answer to a lot of PPE challenges in one go; whether these be issues with employee non-compliance, workforce monitoring or legal obligations.

The other favoured solution to prevent workplace injuries, at 32%, is wearable technology (think Fitbit, but for high-risk environments) that can monitor vitals including heart-rate and body temperature.

Away from specific technological solutions, respondents indicated that the development of new PPE materials (30%), and safer workplace equipment (27%) will help by making the general working environment safer and increase PPE effectiveness at a basic level.

How many injuries are preventable?

According to our survey, we found on average 27 injuries lead to days off work for each business interviewed, of which 29% (that’s almost 8 injuries per business) could have been prevented through the proper use of PPE.

Most of these accidents are a result of human error when dealing with industrial machinery, as well as heavy lifting and handling. Those responsible for the health and safety of their workers should be aware that these areas in particular are where companies can do better to prevent injuries and save the business money.

How much money does PPE failure cost?

According to our survey we found:

• 84% of businesses lost money from injuries due to PPE non-compliance in the last year

• 30% of businesses lost more than £250,000 through improper use of PPE in the last year

• 5% of businesses lost over £1m through improper use of PPE in the last year

The damage from PPE failure

* Where is the money being lost?

The biggest financial hit businesses take following a workplace injury is compensation pay-outs to injured employees, with 30% of businesses surveyed stating that they lose the greatest amount of money via the courts. Not forgetting the vast amounts spent on legal representation in these situations, 29% of respondents said legal fees were just as much, or more than the pay-outs themselves.

* The hidden costs of workplace accidents

Workplace injuries have consequences that reach far wider than the direct costs. The hidden, indirect damage caused from PPE failure and resulting workplace injuries is also considerable.

For instance:

• 71 % say it makes it more difficult to recruit the right people

• 69 % say they lose new business opportunities

• 80 % say they lose productivity

Winning the PPE race

For businesses at risk of dealing with the fallout of workplace injuries and PPE non-compliance, video-monitoring systems which take the human error out of PPE monitoring can be the way forward. But how can businesses progress towards this goal?

Key barriers to the implementation of automated systems

The key issue preventing large-scale adoption of new products seems to be lack of awareness of available solutions. According to our feedback, health and safety professionals are most concerned about the following when adopting new AI solutions:

• 74 % - Investment of time and money

• 65 % - Employees finding continuous monitoring intrusive

• 65 % - Cyber-crime and hacking

• 63 % - Malfunctioning AI

Although the talk of AI technology may seem complicated to those who are unfamiliar with it, the truth is that products such as PPE compliance monitoring systems have often been designed specifically to make life easy for both decision-makers and employees alike.

The Cortexica solution, for example, focuses on monitoring employee PPE while keeping workers anonymous. It focuses purely on what is being worn, not faces or behaviour. Systems using artificial intelligence and machine learning for object recognition and video analysis can offer levels of sophistication that overcome barriers to implementation.

The future of AI in PPE

Despite these concerns, respondents were nevertheless optimistic about the benefits current AI systems could bring to tackle the challenges previously highlighted with PPE. Some 81% agreed that these systems would increase the speed and accuracy of identifying potential dangers, and 77% said they would encourage businesses to invest in real-time, video-monitoring technology.

When looking to the future of their own businesses, nearly two thirds (64%) believed that their company would specifically benefit from AI PPE video-monitoring and would be actively looking to invest in an automated system of this nature within the next 1-5 years.

Humans make mistakes – particularly if they’re on long shifts and have to monitor hundreds of employees at the same time. Products like AI-based PPE compliance monitoring systems, which can monitor any number of people continuously and constantly, never get tired or bored and are more accurate at spotting issues. Additionally, the time that AI can save collecting and analysing data allows Site and Safety Managers to focus on new strategic and innovative ways to improve safety for everyone in the workplace, instead of constantly checking in on employees.

In industries where employees are putting themselves in harm’s way, simple errors can lead to serious consequences. This is why Health and Safety is a sector that is ripe for disruption and technological evolution.


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