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Human factors in safety control: epidemiological safety at risk

Apr 13, 2022

8 minutes read

Organizations in every industry must ensure a safe working environment for employees and achieve safety compliance enterprise-wide. However, despite stringent regulations, regular safety drills, and safety management systems, non-fatal and fatal injuries in the workplace are still an issue for businesses.

According to National Safety Council research, the total cost of workplace injuries in 2018 reached $170.8 billion, or $1.100 per worker; the price per medically consulted injury was $41,000. The cost per death was $1,190,000.

The reasons for accidents happen many. A significant portion of them, however, can be attributed to the so-called human factors (also known as human reliability) — a wide range of conditions affecting human performance and decision-making, including age, state of mind, physical health, attitude, emotions, propensity for inevitable common mistakes, errors, and cognitive biases.

Humans make mistakes — it is well-known — but we also “operate” in environments designed, built, and managed by us, which only contributes to accident potential. That is why every one of us needs oversight by a third party in one form or another. Traditionally, it is carried out by health and safety personnel.

With the advance of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), intelligent process automation and safety control systems can provide such oversight as well, to minimize risks, reduce fatal and non-fatal injuries, streamline safety procedures, and look into data to come up with new ways to improve health and safety in the workplace.

This article will explore why businesses automate safety control and why over-reliance on safety officers and manual routines can be dangerous to employees. We will talk about safety in healthcare organizations, including epidemiological safety. Finally, we will provide an overview of AI-enabled PPE detection solutions for epidemiological protection.

What does it look like? The conventional approach to employee safety

It is in every business’s best interest to keep employees healthy and safe at work. Over the years, a significant number of various safety practices have been designed and implemented across different industries, yet none of them managed to eradicate worker injury.

The conventional approach to worker safety is that workers must follow specific rules like wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), staying sober at work, using mechanical aids when necessary, and taking regular breaks. In theory, a specific set of rules designed for every practice area should help avoid occupational safety hazards.

Most common occupational safety hazards in the workplace

The problem is that we as species tend to break rules rather than follow them. Not on purpose, but intuitively, at-risk behaviors regularly occur in the workplace. Bad decision-making, unintentional mistakes, and disregard for procedures that we consider unjustified are factors that cause injuries and accidents.

Safety rules breaches: how should managers react

To solve this “human” problem, businesses should act proactively and holistically adopt two safety strategies, which are:

  1. Explore and better understand human factors as motivational factors, i.e., figure out what motivates (or pushes) workers to violate rules, enhance existing, and develop new safety management practices over time.
  2. Shift focus from a human overseer to AI-enabled, automated safety systems, i.e., free up safety managers to let them design new ways of preventing rather than reacting to workplace accidents.

These two strategies offer a radically different approach to stringent but ineffective control by supervisors and safety managers and perfectly complement regular safety drills and training to help workers follow safety rules and regulations as part of their daily routine.

In other words, organizations in pretty much every industry can’t help but automate safety control in one way or another. No amount of talking and reading about safety helps. In contrast, the effectiveness of safety drills must be supported by someone (or something) — be it a safety manager or an automated system — who offers corrective action in real-time. And in that context, deploying a system that never needs a break but surveils all workers all the time seems a more effective and cost-efficient solution.

Human factors vs safety control automation in healthcare

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, it becomes clearer how important safety control and epidemiological safety, specifically, are. As of May 2020, no less than 90,000 healthcare workers globally were infected with COVID-19. Since physicians, nurses, and medical staff still lacked PPE and testing kits, it could be twice that number.

In the United States, as of April 2020, around 10,000 healthcare workers were reported to have COVID-19 by the Center for Disease Prevention. At least 130 of them died from the contagious virus.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought numerous problems of the US healthcare system into sharp focus, such as rising costs, administrative inefficiency, lack of proper coverage, and unethical, restrictive practices of for-profit insurance companies.

Related: COVID-19: how to provide a safe work environment

Most importantly, however, the crisis revealed how reckless humans could be when it comes to the health and well-being of other people and their own. While some people “forget” to wear masks and follow social distancing rules, others openly disregard them. No wonder both governments and businesses have to respond with facial tracking solutions capable of mask detection.

In the context of epidemiological safety, human factors and certain human behaviors cannot and must not be ignored. Violations of safety rules like not wearing PPE result in faster infection transmission and a much higher incidence rate among staff. Human factors demonstrate the limitations of manual control, and automating safety control and PPE compliance becomes a top priority for healthcare organizations on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Epidemiological safety: automate your safety control easily

Most importantly, however, the crisis revealed how reckless humans could be when it comes to the health and well-being of other people and their own. While some people “forget” to wear masks and follow social distancing rules, others openly disregard them. No wonder both governments and businesses have to respond with facial tracking solutions capable of mask detection. Ensuring PPE compliance amidst the pandemic is one of the most critical objectives for governments and healthcare organizations. To flatten the curve, it is necessary to reduce the virus transmission rate, which personal safety gear helps.

The automated PPE detection uses computer vision, image analysis, and advanced analytics to detect, monitor, and track how medical staff, or lab workers, comply with safety regulations such as wearing face masks or respirators, protective glasses, gloves, and coats. It processes live video streams from high-resolution cameras, evaluates the item’s missing probability, and reports violations to safety personnel should any be detected. Processing and analysis are performed in real-time to make it easier for safety staff to address violations as soon as they occur.

In addition to that, the solutions for automated PPE detection are designed to measure body temperature and to report to safety personnel if any anomalies are identified. Because the software sports a face recognition feature, all violations are registered with an ID attached, which means corrective action can be taken individually. VITech has experience in developing such solutions. If you want to know more, just contact us.

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