What do people know about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can support managers to gather useful information to improve the management of environment, health and safety (EHS)?
To find out, ProtexAI carried out a survey in October 2022. Nearly 400 people responded to the survey. A broad range of sizes and types of industries were represented from all over the world.
Around four out of ten respondents represent companies with fewer than 200 staff, while three out of ten are from companies with more than 1000 staff. Our respondents include people from higher risk industries such as construction, energy, mining and manufacturing, as well as from education, retail and health care. While over half of the respondents are from European countries, including the UK and Ireland, 25% of contributors are from Asia, Australasia and the Middle East, and 14% from Africa. The remainder are from the Americas, including the Caribbean.
More respondents report having a proactive or extremely proactive safety culture (65%) than a reactive one (8%). The North Americans claim to have the best safety culture (although it should be noted that European countries generally have lower work-related fatality rates).
In a self-selected sample, it’s not surprising that most people rate themselves as more than averagely confident at adopting new technology (72%). It is encouraging that people with less confidence are also keen to find out about the benefits of technology. Respondents are slightly more confident in using AI if their organisations are currently using some other software to manage some EHS information. Existing use of AI in the organisation for EHS improves confidence further.
Most respondents are positive about the benefits that AI could bring to EHS management. For example, three-quarters or more agree with statements that AI can identify areas of risk, contribute to safety culture and improve the quality of EHS information. A similar proportion don’t see AI as a threat to EHS jobs. There is less certainty about some of the other benefits suggested in the survey. Six out of ten people believe that AI might eliminate human error in collecting EHS, and just over half feel it could be used to report on staff behaviours. Nervousness about appropriate monitoring (using it to learn and improve, not to punish) might play a part here.
In relation to specific areas of use, the most popular choice is for monitoring the speed of vehicles (over three-quarters of respondents), with detecting near misses between pedestrians and vehicles also in the top five. Being able to detect whether PPE is being worn is the second most popular choice, with nearly seven out of ten people selecting this. The two least popular choices are to reduce manual handling errors and to tackle slips, trips and falls, although even these were selected by more than half the sample.
Less well-developed uses of AI were also considered. The most popular future use of AI to reduce risk is to provide better training. AI is already being used to help provide individual routes through training content, based on knowledge and confidence, so this is an area that could well grow in the next two years. AI combined with other technologies, such as virtual reality, could be another area for growth to improve EHS training.
Despite seeing the value themselves, only one in five respondents are confident that their C-suite managers will see the value of AI to EHS. Which leads us to consider the barriers to using these new tools.
Only 1 in 5 respondents stated that they are using AI technology to assist with capturing information for EHS management. Most workplaces use some form of AI for some tasks – even if it’s just searching on Google. The EHS profession needs to make sure it is not left behind by this technology.
Of the 4 in 5 not using AI for EHS management, by far the most common barrier identified is not having the budget for AI. The second most common barrier explains the reason for lack of budget – lack of senior management buy-in. ProtexAI are working on advice to help you overcome this problem, and to get a commitment from management to provide the resources you need to make the best use of AI.
Despite the barriers, over half of those not currently using AI technology to capture EHS information intend to use it in the future, a quarter within the next three years. A small number of respondents had much longer timescales, believing they can wait ten years or longer to adopt AI. As organisations adopt AI technology in HR, production, procurement and marketing, we need to make sure EHS isn’t left behind.