In last month’s message, I noted some key trends related to the changing world of work. I have since learned more about these issues and want to further explore how they will impact us as safety professionals.
Artificial intelligence (AI) may seem like something out of science fiction, but it is not. It is here and growing exponentially. Initial uses of AI focused on performing simple repetitive tasks, but its applications have rapidly progressed. It is now being used to replicate a human’s physical abilities or drive a car. However, these are often narrowly focused items such as voice-controlled digital assistants; navigation devices on our smartphones; or tracking systems used to identify our interests and serve us pop-up ads.
Interestingly, once algorithms are designed to allow AI to complete a certain task, the AI continues to learn and perform that task better. What does this mean to us? We need to ensure that we continue to learn and adjust to our changing workplace rather than take the view that once we have learned to do something, we know all we need to know and need not keep learning.
Consider consensus standards as an example of this concept. Consensus standards are designed to be updated on a regular basis because what worked 5 years ago may no longer be applicable to the current work environment. Even OSHA recognizes that many of the controls it specified long ago do not account for better and more efficient controls that have developed over time, many related to advanced technologies.
As we all know, to continue to provide value to our employers and our workforces, we must do more than stay on top of current regulations and standards. It is likely that algorithms could be developed based on historical data to create AI that can develop effective compliance-related policies and procedures. What does that mean for us?
Fundamentally, safety is about people. How do we help employees stay safe and remain productive at work? Does a focus on compliance accomplish that objective?
Across the global OSH community, we are hearing increasingly more about human capital and how it fits within the world of sustainability. How can an organization be sustainable if it does not include the people needed to operate the business? Yet, it can be difficult to see where safety professionals fit in to the conversation. I believe part of this disconnect is related to the term human capital, which often strikes me as a cold term. So let’s look at it another way.
An organization needs people to provide services, manufacture goods and produce whatever product is the output of that organization. By investing in people (human capital) through education and training, and by providing a safe workplace and an environment in which employees can be their best and most efficient, the returns on those investments increase. Companies experience less absenteeism, higher productivity, lower turnover and fewer employee injuries. When we are part of these conversations as safety professionals and find opportunities as a result to collaborate with human resources and other company leaders, we demonstrate our value and move beyond outdated perceptions that we are “just the safety police.”
As we provide data on workplace injuries, we need to tell the story behind the data and turn the data into useful information on which our leaders can act. We need to look at other information we can provide our management team as they decide where to make investments. I urge you to participate in the discussions happening in your organization about sustainability and human capital. I also encourage you to review the information we have developed in conjunction with our partners at the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability.
As you develop a deeper understanding of these topics and learn how they are being addressed in your workplace, you will more readily see the connections to your roles and responsibilities as a safety professional. That will enable you to more readily adapt as our world of work continues to change.