As companies continue to search for ways to maintain healthy workplaces and reduce costs, a rising focus on artificial intelligence has some organizations looking to the digital realm for answers. Opinions on the use of AI range from suspicious to optimistic – the technology carries significant implications for how businesses operate, so the debate is understandable. Prominent voices like Elon Musk have spoken out in warning against large-scale adoption of AI, but regardless, the business world appears ready to start investing. We are still learning how AI technology might be implemented across the economic landscape, but what’s clear is that it will be tremendously valuable as a resource for supplementing the human workforce, for better or worse.
There are reasons to be optimistic about how AI might affect the workplace. Last year, Gartner, Inc. predicted that AI will save 6.2 billion hours of worker productivity simply by streamlining processes and removing the intensive, but distracting labor of sifting through data and maintaining records. Removing the inefficiencies in a worker’s job can actually allow the employee to focus on tasks that require direct human engagement. Most importantly, though, machine learning has the potential to help companies identify risk areas in the workplace, which could dramatically reduce costly issues like injuries, chronic pain, and absenteeism or presenteeism.
How Will AI Be Used in the Workplace?
Much of the conversation around artificial intelligence revolves around legitimate concerns that the technology could replace human jobs, putting people out of work and reducing employment opportunities across industries. However, thought leaders have expressed optimism that rather than replacing jobs, AI will replace tasks. This paradigm shift will have far-ranging implications for how businesses operate. In fact, research by PwC reported that applying AI technologies in the background of processes like supply chains, sales, and marketing, businesses nationwide could drive an increase of up to $15.7 trillion in economic value by 2030. Clearly, there is money to be saved, much of it related to how AI allows companies to collect data – that’s where the connection to workplace safety lies.
Using AI to Understand Workplace Risk
Companies are increasingly looking to machine learning to record and collect data across virtually every facet of the organization. For instance, consider a workplace in which a department of employees is tasked with monitoring the overall health of the company’s workforce. Under normal circumstances, those employees would have limited access to useful data, and wouldn’t have the time or ability to distill the observations to helpful suggestions. Now, companies are introducing AI technology that helps them monitor the workplace from all angles, using security cameras, facial recognition, and other tactics. It’s no longer reasonable to expect full safety and wellness in a workplace that isn’t properly understood by its managers. That’s where AI comes in.
AI carries a major advantage in its ability to discover patterns, detect statistical outliers, and sort data into nuanced information that can prevent injuries. Companies like Microsoft have developed AI platforms that are capable of collecting vast amounts of data in real-time, through the use of pre-existing cameras in the workplace. Their platform observes the work environment in unparalleled detail, incorporating their Computer Vision API image analysis program to recognize potential sources of risk on the job floor. From ensuring that employees are wearing the required safety equipment to identifying spills and tripping hazards, Microsoft’s AI platform provides rapid-response injury prevention and overall safety improvements that will ultimately keep workers healthy and worker’s comp claims down.
Technology that incorporates AI solutions can solve a variety of workplace wellness issues. Some systems can monitor the amount of time an employee spends seated, and recommend standing breaks or a standing desk. Alternately, machine learning can help organizations identify large-scale patterns of employee behavior or workplace risk and suggest major opportunities for improvement, such as implementing more effective machinery, identifying danger points on the job floor. So the cost reduction isn’t limited to reducing the work hours dedicated to tedious tasks – it also includes the human benefit of healthier, more productive workers.
Companies are also learning to utilize practical new technologies like wearables, which can be assigned to individual workers to help monitor for physiological changes and notify management if an injury has occurred. Likewise, wearables can be used to conduct ergonomic assessments, which supplements human observation with data on the body’s reaction to how a worker executes their job. Even if the observation portion of the ergonomic assessor is eventually replaced by automation, the job will evolve toward interpreting the data and developing algorithms to predict the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and recommend solutions. DORN has been exploring these technologies over the last year, and we have found that they will provide organizations with better tools for identifying and predicting injury risks, helping companies to avoid or eliminate risk factors as well as the worker’s compensation and healthcare costs that inevitably follow injury.
AI as Wellness Assistant
Artificial intelligence has already proven itself useful on the back end of the worker’s compensation process, too. Take the recent example of Chronwell, a worker’s compensation technology company that has developed a platform for managing the claims process. According to Chronwell CEO and founder Joe Rubinsztain, the software is built “to bridge between the employee, the employer, and the insurance company.” In this example, artificial intelligence is used to streamline the claims workflow, connecting workers to health care providers based on the worker’s specific needs. The process becomes more efficient in all phases, allowing workers to receive the care they need and accelerating the recovery period. Here, the initial investment in AI technology will pay dividends in saved costs and reduced absentee or presenteeism.
How to Begin Implementing Artificial Intelligence in Your Workplace
As with any major technological advance, machine learning will bring ample social resistance and vocal opposition as workers fret over losing their jobs to machines. That’s why it will be essential to focus on education and training once your organization begins to invest in artificial intelligence solutions. A Pew Research survey indicated that 87 percent of workers believe that ongoing training will be essential as they work to keep up with technology. Machine learning technology will be most effective if human workers know how to work with it. Your training program should start with C-level executives and move down through IT departments.
It’s also highly advisable to bring on personnel who have experience and expertise in working with artificial intelligence. Your employees will doubtless have concerns about AI integration—after all, machine learning may soon have a major impact on their wellbeing, and they may have genuine fears about being replaced by computers. Demonstrate your commitment to your workers by hiring an expert who can lead the transition into an AI-enabled work environment.
Perhaps most importantly, companies must be aware of the privacy concerns that surround the implementation of AI. Cameras, wearables, and apps all collect data on virtually every facet of the employee’s experience. We’re still learning how to balance the benefits of data analysis with the right and desire for privacy, and neither the economic landscape nor the legislation has fully caught up with AI’s ability to capture information digitally. As these laws evolve with technology, it’s essential that employers keep their workers informed about how their data is being used and where the company’s control over that data ends.