Can AI Reduce Human Error?

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For any of us that have worked in a manufacturing environment, we have witnessed many levels of automation that have helped improve worker safety, whether it’s a conveyor belt, a lifting table, or a robot-welding cell.

These improvements over the decades since the industrial revolution have reduced repetitive strain injuries, exposure to workplace chemicals, and have taken away some truly unpleasant manual jobs. Will today’s technological advancement of AI, Machine Learning, and sophisticated robots continue to improve workplace health and safety? 

Many individuals say they will.

Here is an article that says collaborating robots can reduce lost time injuries by 35 percent. This is a significant decrease to WCB costs as well as to workers’ suffering. However, many HR professionals have never heard of this term “collaborative robots” or “Cobots.” Here is the overview of the definition a collaborating robot. According to WHATIS.com, a Cobot is:

“A robot that is capable of learning multiple tasks so it can assist human beings. In contrast; autonomous robots are hard-coded to repeatedly perform one task, work independently and remain stationary.”

Cobots can work alongside humans and have the ability to scan their environment and learn by demonstration and repetition. This could be very helpful in the homecare setting for a Personal Support Worker or RN. They could bring a Cobot with them to the home visit and the Cobot could do the heavy work of lifting or transferring the non-ambulatory patient, thus reducing the risk of a lifting injury to the caregiver. On the other hand, a construction worker could give the Cobot all the work above a certain height. These technological interventions could drastically reduce work-related injuries.

Will Artificial Intelligence (AI) and working robots make the workplace safer?  This is an interesting question to ponder. For centuries automation and robotics have had a positive effect at reducing workplace injuries while increasing efficiency, but will robots that are AI enabled help workers reduce human errors?

Discussion Questions

Read the article Brave new world from OHS Canada, click here to read the article.

What does the article say about Risk Management and AI?

What solutions does the article state to avoid malfunction of AI Robots?

What does the article say about introducing AI Robots into the workplace?

 

 

 

 

Upholding The Reasonable Rule of Law

As Human Resources professionals, we work within very specific legislative parameters.

This applies directly to the need for compliance with health and safety legislation. Our role is not just to ensure that the employer and the organization adheres to the principles and practices of safety requirements – it is to ensure that all persons (including employees) keep the workplace safe for everyone.

The concept of ensuring a safe workplace for everyone, seems to be one that is reasonable within the eyes of the law. A recent legal decision in Saskatchewan outlines and confirms that reasonable safety requirements from both the employer and employee perspective must be followed. In this case, an employee was dismissed for just cause, by the employer, for failing to comply with numerous safety practices.

The former employee filed a claim for wrongful dismissal. This claim was rejected by the courts. The former employee filed an appeal, which was also rejected by the courts, and the termination of employment for just cause was upheld.

Click here to read about the case: Balzer v. Federated Co-operatives Limited.

What becomes very clear, through this brief case analysis, is the fundamental role of ongoing training and monitoring by the employer to ensure safety compliance in the workplace. This is not a case of a single incident leading to tragic consequences due to an accidental error on the part of the employee. All too often, employers do not act until there has been a critical workplace incident or even a fatality before taking action against the employee.

This case shows us that the courts look for the direct trail of evidence. One that proves whether or not the employer acted in a reasonable fashion to guide, monitor and direct the employee in order to keep the workplace safe and in order to avert the reality of potential tragic consequences.

Feeling and being safe at work is reasonable for everyone.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As the Director of Human Resources in this situation, what additional actions would you take to ensure that safety requirements are met by all employees?
  2. Do you agree with the termination for just cause in this case? Explain your rationale.
  3. Why do you think some employees do not report safety infractions? What are the risks and benefits to employees for ‘keeping quiet’ about safety concerns?

 

The Deadliest Catch of All

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The start of lobster season, known as “Dumping Day,” is traditionally the last Monday in November. It’s the day fishers head out off the southern coast of Nova Scotia and set their traps for a potentially lucrative lobster haul.

It’s a way of life for many easterners, but it also comes with its inherent dangers out on the rough north Atlantic Ocean.

In 2015, a 53-year-old man died after going overboard in his vessel while setting traps, and in a separate incident, two other men went overboard doing the same thing, but were ultimately rescued.

It is always heartbreaking for the family, as well as the community, following a death of a worker.

Unfortunately, the sad reality is, it’s not unusual for fatalities to occur in the workplace in Canada.

According to a Globe and Mail report, the fishing industry is the deadliest sector of all occupations in Canada. It has almost 70 deaths per 100,000 workers (covering a period from 2011 to 2015), which is seven times higher than the fatality rates in construction.

This is unacceptable, and the fishing industry needs to take action to lower that rate.

Another article by the CBC sheds light on the discrepancy in workplace fatality statistics in Canada.

The Association of Workers’ Compensation Board of Canada has the official number at 1,000 deaths per year, but according to a study, the rate is much higher – almost 10,000 fatalities during that same time frame.

The lowball figure occurs because of the way that we collect statistics on workplace fatalities. Our reporting method is way too narrow and should be adjusted to reflect the real toll on workers lives.

What factors are affecting this under-reporting of fatalities in Canada? There are many factors, including:

  • Workplace fatalities where the worker is not covered by a provincial workers compensation system and therefore not counted
  • Fatalities occurring on farms may not be reported
  • Many deaths caused by vehicles may be categorized incorrectly.

HR and safety departments need to ensure that systems are in place that focus on safety prevention. They also need to make certain that their organization does not add one of their workers to the workplace fatality number.

Discussion Questions

What can industries due to help improve the collection of workplace fatality statistics?

What role should the federal and provincial governments play in reducing the number of workplace deaths in Canada?

 

Safe and Stoned

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In case you missed it, the use of cannabis for recreational purposes will no longer be a criminal act in Canada, effective October 17, 2018. While this is a good news story for many recreational marijuana users, it has raised numerous questions and concerns for employers across the country. From an occupational health and safety perspective, employers must continue to ensure that all workplaces are hazard free and that workers work safely.

Why? Because it is the law.

Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, has not been amended. It will continue to prevail with regard to both employer and employee obligations to ensure hazard reporting, injury reduction, and the mutual requirements for ensuring safe workplaces. Even though the use of marijuana for recreational purposes will be legal, its use in the workplace will continue to be illegal.

Click here to access Ontario’s rules about the implementation of marijuana legislation.

While the requirements under OHSA are clear, the use of marijuana for medical purposes seems to be muddying the water. Under Human Rights legislation, employee medical requirements fall into the reasonable accommodation category regarding issues of disability or illness. For example, there is no restriction for an employee who consumes a prescribed ‘traditional’ drug for chronic pain relief and is still able to perform the duties and responsibilities of the job safely. Using this example, if the traditional drug is replaced with prescribed marijuana, it seems that its use by the employee in the workplace would not be illegal.

The potential impacts, both positive and negative, of the legalization of marijuana from a workplace health and safety perspective were explored by Jeff Cottrill in a well written piece posted in the summer of 2017.

Click here to access Weed at Work.

While the date for legalization has changed since the writing of this piece, the workplace safety issues and concerns continue in all their complexity. The challenge is set for the health and safety practitioner to navigate these murky waters with the clear goal of ensuring that workplace safety is never compromised.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. As the Health and Safety practitioner for your workplace, how will you amend existing health and safety policies or procedures to ensure that employees continue to work safely once the recreational use of marijuana is legalized?
  2. What are your expectations as an employee with regard to your co-workers if they use marijuana for medical purposes?
  3. What are the health and safety risks in the workplace if a worker is intoxicated for any reason?

Crime & Punishment

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Every day we make choices; big choices and little choices, all of which are within our scope of control.

It’s the same with health and safety in the workplace. Working safely is a choice-based trajectory that individual workers follow on a daily basis. There are also rules, guidelines, structures, and requirements that help workers make the ‘right’ choice — which is to work safely.

However, no matter how much support is put in place, from time to time individual workers make the ‘wrong’ choice. It may be intentional or unintentional, but workers who make the choice to take a risk, choose to work unsafely. This choice all too often results in harm to themselves or to others in the workplace, sometimes with devastating consequences.

Besides the actual physical harm that can follow from unsafe work practices, other consequences include punishments imposed by provincially legislated health and safety sentencing systems. The judicial approaches to work-related health and safety violations have followed the traditional wisdom that penalties paid either with time (jail) or with money (fines) are sufficient to deter future violations and to compensate for harm caused.

But is the threat of punishment through these traditional methods enough to encourage individuals to make the decision to work safely? The province of Nova Scotia has decided it is not. In addition to the existing consequences, the province has introduced alternative sentencing options that focus on changing an individual’s behavior through “creative sentencing”.

Click here to read about Nova Scotia’s alternative approach.

Learning from those who have had to live with the consequences of their poor safety decisions is a powerful motivator. Let’s hope that these sessions lead to better choices, better decisions, and better safety practices for all.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. From your reading of this article, how do the creative sentencing alternatives impact the workplace?
  2. If you were the Health and Safety representative in your current organization, how could you change safety training sessions to incorporate some of the techniques identified in this article?
  3. If you had to choose between paying a fine and presenting a ‘lessons learned’ training session to others because your actions caused harm to someone in the workplace, which one would you choose? Explain your rationale.