This week at the 2018 National Safety Council (NSC) Congress the speakers on this executive forum noted that “automation, wearables, augmented reality, virtual reality, drones, big data, machine learning, the internet of things – emerging technologies are now almost too numerous to keep track of.” This Executive Forum offered an in-depth look at the tools and trends that organizations are beginning to adopt and provided some practical comments for the EHS professionals who need to prepare themselves for a changing safety environment. The session was presented by Michelle Garner-Janna, CSP, CPE, Executive Director – Corporate Health & Safety, at Cummins, and Lydia Boyd Campbell, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer, at IBM.

In her presentation Garner-Janna noted that Cummins is a global power leader with 60,000 employees spread around the world in 190 countries. The company has worked to develop its health and safety programs for what she deemed “Industry 4.0”, advanced systems which incorporate (1) a secure network; (2) standard safety core systems; (3) Internet on Things (IoT) connectivity; (4) advanced technology mobile virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR); and (5) big data advanced analytical sytems. An example of the Industry 4.0 at work is the company’s Powered Industrial Vehicle Positioning System, known as Essensium. The Essensium System is an automated and augmented reality system used to move unmanned powered industrial trucks through warehouses in materials handling and storage functions.

Garner-Janna explained the Industry 4.0 systems being explored are exoskeletons and wearable technology. The company is also currently trying out a VR system to provide health and safety training at a facility in China.

Campbell indicated that IBM has 380,000 employees. Health and Safety personnel represent less than 6% of those employees onsite, and there is one H&S employee for every 1000 employees. To compensate for reducedsafety staffing, , IBM’ss H&S services group has been developing an integrated artificial intelligencesystem based on its “Watson” application. With this system, the company has set-up a World-wide H&S call center in India that receives telephone calls and emails relating to safety and health concerns, translates the many languages, and routes the issues to “the right people” to work on resolution. The Watson based system is also analysing the “tone” of callers’ voices to make sure that potentially high level of stress or problems are escalated appropiately. The system is also now being reprogrammed to flag and handle personally sensitive data that employees may try to submit.

The issues raised by speakers from Cummins and IBM demonstrate the changing nature of the safety environment and opporutunities for safety professionals and employers to incorporate changing technology and big data into their approaches to protect employees. These developments should be closely monitored by employers.

We have previously blogged on automation and issues related to the future of safety technology, including Future Enterprise – Workplace Safety Compliance Comes to the Forefront for Expanding Healthcare Industry, A Global Perspective on the Future of Wearable Technology, An Aging America and the Future of Paid Family Leave, and Robotics, Automation, and Employee Safety for the Future Employer.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) or Workplace Policies and Handbooks Teams.