NSC Executive Forum: New Technologies Showing Promise

The participants, top EHS people from Cummins, IBM, and United Rentals, discussed their companies' use or testing of technologies such as AI, virtual reality, drones, wearables, cobots, and more.

HOUSTON -- Today's safety products may be connected, giving managers a lot more data about the personnel and equipment they have deployed. Safety manufacturers are introducing such products more and more and looking for ways to harness technologies that the new generation of workers is already likely to embrace. At the 2018 National Safety Council Congress & Expo's Executive Forum on Oct. 22, the 11th such forum in the series, three top EHS leaders discussed their companies' use of many new technologies and why some of them seem especially promising.

Michelle Garner-Janna, director of corporate health and safety for Cummins, spoke first about her company's Industry 4.0 initiatives at facilities around the world. Cummins is using 3D printing to create safety devices, including machine guards, quickly and efficiently. The company is trying out wearables to detect workers' fatigue and also for postural assessments, hoping to better understand the essential tasks of some jobs and to prevent ergonomic injuries, she said. She said Cummins is using a big data tool named COMET for root cause analysis and another named ANVL that allows operators to conduct job safety assessments on site. Cummins also is exploring the use of collaborative robots (cobots), virtual reality, and QR codes, using the latter on machines in a Mexican plant. When an operator scans one of the codes, it calls up machine-specific training and LOTO steps on his or her device.

Lydia Boyd Campbell, MD, MPH, chief medical officer for IBM and head of its corporate safety and health program, discussed the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive systems. "I believe we're just scratching the surface, just seeing the tip of the iceberg" for what such technologies can accomplish, she said. What IBM has learned so far is that technologies it has tried make staffers more efficient and allow the ability to collect and analyze data globally, but they have downsides, as well: Employees share personal data even after being warned not to, local regulations can present limitations, and there is poor IT infrastructure in some countries, she said.

Jim Dorris, CSP, vice president of environment, health and safety for United Rentals, discussed the company's interest in autonomous vehicles and virtual reality for training. United Rentals has telematics on every piece of equipment it rents, he said, and is working with a large company to use facial recognition technology on machines to check in real time on the training that operators have received. "We're now in the process of trying to prove out the efficiency of VR," he said.

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