In a hurry to get to an important family event I might be tempted to drive a little too fast and put my safety and the safety of others at risk. At-risk behaviors like this are all around us and finding ways in the workplace to ignite a transformation to safer habits pays great dividends. Utilizing what we know and behaving more intelligently can keep us out of harm’s way. Observing human behavior and documenting risk, in a helpful non-threatening way, is one method of preventing injuries and incidents in the process industry. Today, there is an even better way; it’s what happens when Artificial Intelligence (AI) meets safety.

A Plant Manager Gets Checked

In the 1990s our plant safety team, with the help of an expert facilitator, created a critical behavior inventory based on the most common at-risk behaviors that contributed to injuries and incidents over the previous five years.  We then narrowed it down to the “top ten” list of behaviors that could get us in trouble and get people hurt.  This list was put onto a paper form and used by employees to periodically observe each other, voluntarily and anonymously. The data was keyed into a database for later analysis.

Eager to show off our new approach to my new boss, our VP of Manufacturing, a couple of our safety team members and I met him for breakfast before heading over to the plant for his first visit.  One of our maintenance mechanics, while explaining our critical behavior list said, “Oh, by the way, Bill, I noticed that when you walked down the steps into the dining room area, you didn’t grab the handrail. That’s on our list. When ascending or descending stairs or ladders make sure you have three points of contact with your two feet on the steps, while your hand is on the railing, to catch you if you lose your footing.”

I thanked him of course, and when I went back to the plant, I took his comments to heart. Being the Plant Manager I wanted to set an example. Wondering who might be watching me and wanting to show I was personally invested in implementing a safer workplace, I developed a new habit of grabbing handrails. Thanks to my teammate taking a risk to give me feedback, I now behave more safely.

The New Safety Horizon

We continued on with our behavioral safety process at the plant and captured tons of safety observation data. At the monthly safety team meeting, we looked at what the data was saying. We relied on human analysis and a spreadsheet to highlight areas of concern that allowed proactive measures to be taken to prevent injuries. That was as good as it got – until new technology materialized, which has changed everything.

Something much more powerful is emerging as Artificial Intelligence (AI) meets safety.  Advanced sensor technology, plus use of electronic handheld devices, allow the capture of detailed real-time data making it immediately visible without an army of people keying in data and creating spreadsheets. Data inputs in multiple orders of magnitude are processing in exponentially greater quantities in nanoseconds. This, plus advances in data storage and distribution, have brought us into a new era of information. When it comes to safety, AI means fewer OSHA recordables and significantly improved life-saving technology. We’ve only just begun to explore the applications.


These advances have given rise to breakthroughs and new approaches to the science of automation. Simply put, automation allows computing to do the work that humans do by mimicking the same processes that the brain uses to make decisions.  We’ve now gone beyond the crude, seat-of-our-pants manual “caveman” analysis done during our paper and clipboard days.

Envision this: A plant manager speaks to his PC, “Hey Alissa, are there any behavioral safety trends this month requiring action?  “Yes, Master.  Percent safe for hand protection is trending significantly down.  Without appropriate intervention there will be a hand injury very soon.  I recommend you ask the Plant Safety Team to look into this and report back.”

We can now analyze data continuously in ways not imagined before, parse it instantly in new ways, use it to make predictions, and even recommend actions.  Moreover, as you no doubt realize, safety is not the only domain that is data is rich and ripe for an AI harvest of fruitful benefits when it comes to problem-solving and improved competitiveness.

I’ll punctuate this with a quote from George Danner, Author of An Executive’s How-To-Guide to Automation, and a member of our team.

“We sit at a unique moment in history. The past has brought us technological innovations that allow us to very closely mimic the complex decision-making processes of humans. It has also produced organizations with vast numbers of complex problems to solve every hour of every day.  Up to now, most organizations operate with a vast army of humans somehow making it all work by the end of the day. The future will be different. Very different. Because we possess the potential for automation that we did not have before, we are set to embark on an unprecedented wave of automation for organizations of every shape and size.” (Danner 2019 11)

When it comes to safety in your industry, wouldn’t you want to incorporate the benefits of Artificial Intelligence to help navigate you through longstanding problems and systemic failures? By harnessing the speed and power of AI, you’ll not only improve profitability, but you’ll show your workforce that you are investing in the future. How long should you wait to act on what you now know is possible? We’re ready to take that leap with you. Hold onto your hats!  Here we go!


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