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SLC 2023 Preview: Work Smarter, not Harder—and Safer

Sept. 13, 2023
Artificial intelligence can help your organization work more effectively and safely. The technology can also help you achieve safety outcomes you only dreamed of.

Technology can get a bad reputation for replacing humans, attempting to replicate our ability to think critically and being devoid of emotions. But these very aspects of technology can also make it easier for safety professionals to have an even greater impact on their organization. That’s because technology can keep working in the background, including when you’re off the clock or confined by the limits of space and time.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing the way we approach workplace safety. And, when AI is combined with natural language processing (NLP), it allows safety professionals to accomplish things we didn’t think possible, such as analyzing language and thousands (if not millions) of data points to help predict—and possibly even prevent—injuries.

EHS Today caught up with Barry Nelson, CEO of FactorLab, who will be speaking about how AI and NLP can help build and improve workplace safety culture at the Safety Leadership Conference, which will be held September 18-20 in Orlando, Florida. Nelson will present a case study of how one construction company saw a 60% reduction in OSHA recordables over a four-year period when AI was used for daily pre-task planning.

More information about the conference, including registration, can be found at www.safetyleadershipconference.com. Below is a preview of what to expect from Nelson’s presentation.

EHS Today: What can safety professionals do to make workers feel more comfortable using technology?

Recognize that it is natural for most workers to be hesitant when new technology is introduced. Safety professionals can become tech ambassadors and inspire trust through a deep understanding of technology’s role and improving outcomes in safety performance, as well as production goals and quality workmanship. Purpose driven communication and daily planning conversations provide clarity on roles and responsibilities. [They also help inspire] confidence that it will be a good day at work for the whole team.

Demonstrate, don’t just tell them [what safety technology can do]. Show them by asking permission to join their meeting and act the roles of leader and crew member. Develop your skill to show how the things they usually talk about can be enhanced by a little more detail, a few questions and new thought generation from other points of view. Let them know you are there to assist. Pretty soon, you will join them in celebrating great conversations for a great workday.

Can you give some examples of how AI and NLP can improve safety?

AI and NLP have given organizations the ability to look in the mirror. Videos, recordings and translated conversations provide insight into the depth of conversations, relationship of the conversation to the job, engagement of the leader and crew, etc. The organization can determine if the field activities align with the organization’s vision and values. So, AI and NLP are really tools to gauge the culture every day.

Another development is generative text. This feature of ours gives leaders the ability to get information on a topic relative to the work of the day. It’s really an assist type of feature to expand on the leaders’ knowledge and quickly obtain information to use in the daily briefing. When you ask for information on a topic, you get a description of steps to consider in the job, hazards and controls. There are also three questions that can be asked to validate that the information has been understood by the crew.

What has been your biggest surprise with using AI and NLP?

There are a few. What stands out is the energy and desire of leaders and crews to do what they think is expected of them. There are different styles of meetings, but there is consistency in execution.

Some meetings provide good value and others, not so much. The more that there is good linkage to the scope of work, active listening and participation by the crew, and overall engagement, the better the meeting. The other end of the spectrum is a meeting that only discusses hazards and controls. When the hazards and controls are discussed in the context of the job, more engagement takes place and more information is shared. Remember, the information shared can affect decisions made later in the day.

These are not really surprises. Our research with the University of New York in Buffalo as well as other research partners shows that when four core elements of a conversation—care, engagement, planning and hazards—are present, the more effective the daily planning meeting will be.

How has technology changed the way safety professionals do their jobs?

It offers an opportunity to see a larger perspective on the inter-relationship of the people, their work and their approach to a safe workday. Sometimes, safety professionals see their jobs as compartmentalized; that is, conducting training, performing inspections, researching topics or some other independent activity. Our tool provides the safety professional, and for that matter the organization, the ability to assess, evaluate and assist field crews in becoming better.

You might think of it as organizational safety. The idea is to increase collaboration, minimize barriers and seek improvement in overall performance safety, productivity and quality. A safety professional can become integrated with the project and be more proactive in assisting operations based on what the data is showing.

AI and NLP are tools to be used by an organization. There is a link between language and behavior. A more effective and engaged conversation can have a positive effect on behavior for that day. It’s great when everything goes according to plan, but it usually doesn’t. Workers end up having to make decisions. Those decisions are based on the information they have. So, the daily planning meeting serves to prepare everyone for the work of the day.

Safety professionals can observe many conversations and make determinations on where their assistance is needed. They can view videos or conversations, review transcripts when they are conducted in Spanish, and evaluate if the leader and crew did enough to positively affect the outcome when unplanned events or circumstances cause disruption to the work plan.

The safety professional is more integral to the success of the project or job when they have increased knowledge and insight into the thinking (behavior) of field crews.

Unstructured language provides many data points that the safety professional can identify to seek out problems or issues before they become large or, on the other side of the coin, validate that planning, engagement and hazard controls are sufficient for the project.

Technology can create a lot of data points! How do you analyze the raw data to develop new workflows, create value and demonstrate ROI?

Lots of data points are good! You have to frame your question or issue and then query the data. For example, a project will soon move to another phase. New hazard exposures will occur. Is there any discussion of the new phase in daily planning conversations? If so, are they talking about the right things? Are they prepared? What can the safety professional do to assist? Is the safety professional working with the project manager to prepare for the next phase? This is another way of thinking about organizational safety: the integration of leaders, crews, managers and safety to make for a successful project. Data points can help navigate the project to a great conclusion.

Our methods allow you to quickly analyze and compare performance outcomes of the user. With this information, an organization can help one to improve as well as celebrate those that are model performers within the organization for others to emulate.

What’s one thing you hope attendees learn from your session at the Safety Leadership Conference?

I really hope everyone will recognize their own opportunities. That’s to say, you have new tools to become more effective in your work. Tackle that issue that keeps creeping up on you. Be confident in collaborating with colleagues at work as well as peers in the industry. New technology and safety data expands the opportunity for new solutions and other options you may not have recognized, or even realized, where a factor relating to the issue.

You are only limited by your mindset. Choose the growth mindset during this innovative period in our lives, and see safety differently!

About the Author

Nicole Stempak

Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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