By Ben Ziomek
Workplace safety can be a serious challenge and business expense for any organization. The scope of risks to workers is varied—from personal protective equipment (PPE) compliance and accidental falls, to intruders and violent threats—and the task of monitoring, identifying, and responding to incidents adds up quickly, both in terms of labor and costs. The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that workplace injuries in 2019 cost the country, employers, and individuals $171 billion in lost productivity, medical expenses, and administrative expenses.
What most employers don’t realize is that they have already laid the groundwork for a holistic solution through their security camera systems. About 90% of organizations already have security cameras—yet many are unmonitored, resulting in the compounding costs of missing a safety incident and slow response times.
With security cameras already generally ubiquitous at workplaces, employers can leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) video analytics technology to cost-effectively turn their existing surveillance systems into a smart tool for protecting employees and bottom lines. Computer vision software, an AI technology that processes visual data from video or images, can continuously and automatically monitor security feeds, detect potential threats to safety, tag incidents when they occur, and issue real-time alerts to security staff.
For employers, AI video analytics can help bridge the gap between incident and response by quickly identifying and addressing hazards before they become problems. The ability for employers to respond proactively, or more rapidly when incidents occur, can make all of the difference for preventing or mitigating risks for their employees.
The Costs of Noncompliance
One of the most common workplace safety challenges is PPE compliance. In industries with extensive health and safety risks like construction, manufacturing, hospitals, and chemical plants, PPE is commonly needed throughout most, if not all of the workday. However, in reality, workers don’t always comply. A 2010 Kimberly-Clark Professional survey found that 98% of respondents had observed workers not wearing safety equipment when they should have been. On top of this, the same survey found 30% of respondents claimed this was a common occurrence for the same individuals.
The link between PPE noncompliance and workplace injuries is extremely strong. For example, the Kimberly-Clark Professional survey quoted above found that categories of high PPE noncompliance included head protection, protective apparel, and eye protection. Reports have found troublingly high numbers of workers who suffered injuries were not wearing the appropriate protection at the time; specifically, in a 2005 study presented by the Environmental Health and Safety department of New York University (NYU), “hard hats were worn by only 16% of those workers who sustained head injuries; only 1% of approximately 770 workers suffering face injuries were wearing face protection; … about 40% of the workers with eye injuries wore eye protective equipment.”.
Safety experts agree that PPE compliance would help prevent nearly 100% of certain workplace injuries, particularly eye and ear injuries. And with the average cost per medically-consulted injury estimated at $42,000—along with potential Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fines as high as $136,532 per violation—businesses simply can’t afford to let workers fail to comply with PPE protocols.
Proactively Address Safety Violations
With such high costs of workplace injuries and PPE compliance offering such an effective remedy for many incidents, the key for businesses to ensure workers remain safe is proactivity and vigilance.
Security cameras equipped with AI-powered analytics software continuously monitor PPE usage on the job. These analytics collect data on compliance, spotting trends and protracting insights to create better safety protocols, and alert safety personnel of safety violations in real time, allowing them to intervene and be proactive in preventing injuries. The simple difference between missing an incident of PPE misuse and spotting the noncompliance is all it takes to correct a liability and prevent potential injury and costs.
In addition to PPE, workplaces often have other safety protocols, including those that restrict who or what is allowed to be in specific zones, or how certain equipment is used. Hazards in these cases can generally be seen and detected before they become hazards—a piece of equipment in the wrong place or being used incorrectly, or a heavy object leaning against a ledge.
Preventing these risks from causing damage is as simple as spotting them and correcting them. AI analytics tools can identify and flag these issues for security personnel, so they can address them or recommend instituting better occupational health and safety protocols.
Responding to Incidents Quickly and Effectively
Slip and fall incidents make up another large and costly category of workplace safety risks. In 2019 alone, there were 244,000 workplace slip and fall incidents reported that resulted in injuries requiring days off from work, with 880 resulting in fatalities. The average cost of a single incident ranged from $30,000 to $40,000, according to the NSC.
Building security and management personnel often miss detecting slip and fall incidents in a timely manner, leading to poorer safety outcomes and costly legal claims. Identifying the incident, documenting and reporting it, and investigating its cause are all important steps towards reducing claims and the likelihood of similar events.
AI analytics can detect and flag slip and fall incidents and hazards, allowing staff to review video and address potential risks. The same software can also reduce risk by archiving evidence and retaining important data when necessary in cases of litigation. The ability to instantly retrieve footage, rapidly analyze data, and automatically tag incidents with a high degree of accuracy can save dozens of operator hours per month.
Security personnel also face challenges around rapidly responding to workplace violence incidents. The issue is widespread—OSHA reports that some 2 million Americans are victims of workplace violence each year, with higher risks to certain industries, including healthcare. Workplace violence in hospitals and other workplaces with extensive, complex facilities can be difficult to manage, given security teams have limited resources and can only monitor a fraction of the workplace at a given time.
Security systems empowered by AI analytics monitor entire facilities in real time and can identify intruders, weapons, and violent behavior. This technology helps security teams to identify threats in real time and drastically reduces response time when incidents do occur, resulting in greater safety outcomes.
Improving Safety Through Smarter Monitoring
While it may be impossible to completely eliminate safety hazards and threats in the workplace, maintaining a more vigilant security program can save organizations considerable money and in some cases, human lives. AI safety solutions work in tandem with compliance and security teams, offering them a tool to improve their outcomes and work smarter.
For businesses with existing security camera systems, adopting AI analytics can be a seamless integration. AI tools can transform workplace safety from a costly, difficult, and wide scoping challenge into a data-driven and automated process that rapidly improves safety and mitigates costs of lost labor, compensation, or litigation.
Ziomek is co-founder and CTO of Actuate, a provider of automation and intelligence software for smart security camera systems. Ben started his career at Microsoft, where he led teams of engineers and data scientists leveraging AI to identify high-potential startups globally, driving nine figures of cloud revenue. He has worked as an AI consultant in Chicago, San Francisco, and Tel Aviv, and as a VC investing in AI and gaming startups. In 2020, Ben was recognized on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List. Ben holds a BA from Bowdoin College and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.