A new use-case suggests AI could have a significant impact on workplace ergonomics in vehicle manufacturing. Matthew Hart at Soter Analytics explains more.
An alarming reality confronts the UK’s economy, with preventable workplace injuries leading to an annual loss of a staggering £18.8 billion, equating to 1.2% of its GDP. The numbers underscore the scale of the issue: 123 work-related fatalities and 565,000 employee injuries in 2021/22 alone. Half of these injuries are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which exacerbate the economic strain by draining an additional £2.3 billion annually. These statistics underline the urgency for innovative, effective solutions to safeguard workplace safety.
The automotive industry, though known for embracing automation and advanced technologies, is less recognised for innovations in workplace safety. Yet, this crucial aspect of operations has recently seen ground-breaking improvements through the strategic integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and wearable technology. ADVICS North America Inc., an automotive brake system provider, provides a compelling case study.
To achieve effective injury prevention at a greater level, ADVICS recognised the limitations of traditional methods. While overall injury rates had been declining over the years, ergonomic injuries remained stubbornly persistent. Acknowledging the need for a proactive, behavioural-focused approach, ADVICS turned towards technological solutions.
The cornerstone of this new strategy was leveraging AI in two unique ways: a sensor-free video processing software programme and a wearable device that offered real-time feedback. The former utiliszed human motion analysis to evaluate angles or risks, while the latter attached to the worker’s shirt collar or arm strap, identifying high-risk movements of the spine or shoulder. Importantly, all movement data was funnelled into a management dashboard and a worker companion app for insightful hazard tracking.
The goal ADVICS’ endeavour was not just about integrating technology, it was about transforming mindsets. The organisation successfully tackled a significant challenge – convincing engineers of the impact of small, repetitive worker motions. An illustrative example of this is when a team member struggled with reaching the empty bin return conveyor, a task required hundreds of times per shift. Safety and engineering collaborated, tested multiple configurations, and eventually achieved a 23% overall risk reduction by merely moving the conveyor 3 inches closer to the operator. This AI-driven approach also enhanced the speed and effectiveness of ergonomic assessments, transforming the company’s job hazard analysis program.
The process, initially a time-consuming endeavour, became streamlined, with the software able to complete an ergonomic assessment in just 5-10 minutes. This practical application of technology reinforced the validity of changes based on actual ergonomic data and feedback, rather than assumptions.
The impact of the wearable devices on workplace safety with real-time feedback led to a 61% reduction in spine risks and a 41% reduction in shoulder risks and served as an educational tool, helping both new and long-standing employees gain a better understanding of daily ergonomic risks and how to avoid them. The wealth of data these wearables can amass is a powerful resource, allowing for the identification of potential risks and facilitating proactive measures to prevent injuries and bolster safety. While the use of this device is not mandatory at ADVICS, it is highly recommended, with workers giving positive feedback on the coaching and acknowledging the benefits of the program.
The company also intends to implement a rotating system to ensure that all employees use the device annually. This innovative step aims to eliminate bad habits that might develop over time and use the program as an ongoing educational tool, rather than a one-time initiative.
Wearable technology stands as a burgeoning solution to mitigate workplace hazards, with its market poised for substantial growth. However, according to a recent conversation between Work to Zero and AIHA, adopting a human-centered approach when deploying wearables, including employees in the piloting process, is essential to foster enhanced acceptance and engagement. Choosing the right technology is not a task to be taken lightly. It calls for careful consideration of factors such as employee needs, compatibility with the organiszation’s existing systems, and crucially, data privacy concerns.
ADVICS’ approach to workplace ergonomics underscores the transformative potential of AI in enhancing workplace safety. By utilizing technology to monitor and modify everyday behaviours, they have successfully bridged the gap between traditional safety protocols and the dynamic realities of modern workplaces.
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