Digital Transformation: Risks and opportunities for occupational safety.

The digital transformation occurring in virtually all aspects of human life becomes especially important when the evolving concept is how we will work with new tools and production processes. From a competitive standpoint, the leitmotif driving nearly all private and public initiatives is the pursuit of optimization based on the transformation and appearance of new capabilities and processes.

Production chains and plants, logistics cycles in shipping, operations and distribution, and retail management will reap the benefits from the new capabilities of ubiquitous sensorization and communication afforded by the Internet of Things (IoT), analysis of business indicators and big data predictive models, artificial intelligence and the explosion in popularity of robotic platforms and wearables.

Analysts all concur in portending a brilliant future in which, thanks to technology, we will be capable of production that is more efficient, sustainable and environmentally friendly. Concepts already common and present in the vast majority of investment and development plans across the different sectors include Industry 4.0, Connected Industry, Smart Store/Retail, Autonomous Drive and the Digital Connected Worker.

In addition to the aforementioned improvements in instruments, measures, processes and capabilities, one further aspect should not be overlooked: the equally sweeping transformation affecting the concept of occupational safety and risk management. While our priority seems to be rooted in clarifying what we will be capable of doing in the coming years and what areas of activity will be capable of assuming ITC systems gradually, assuring that this can be done securely in the short and long terms has presented itself as a further challenge. All new technological capabilities entail new risks, redefine already existing ones, and even occasionally afford an opportunity to mitigate them disruptively.

Without addressing the full breadth of the application of these new capabilities with a particular reflection on safety, we can focus on two concrete areas: the Digital Connected Worker and Collaborative Robotic Platforms. In the first area, wearables are by far the devices that are generating the most interest. Given that some of them are already present in our daily lives, we tend to assimilate wearables with smart watches or straps currently in vogue for checking messages and weather forecasts. However, a responsible application of these devices in the professional context provides hitherto unfathomable advantages and opportunities, including safety and risk mitigation. Straps, rugged professional watches, sensor-equipped work overalls, smart helmets and visors capable of providing information regarding, e.g., the current status of the workforce at the facilities, could become a worker's most faithful companions to reduce work accident rates and ensure safe working conditions in high-risk environments. Large companies such as GE, Honeywell, Intel, Fujitsu, TATA and highly specialized entities such as DAQRI, META PRO and RECON have begun rolling solutions out onto the market for continuous online contact between workers and operating centers, yielding new ways of remotely accessing information, for instance queries regarding equipment characteristics and manuals, standard operating procedures, equipment condition/status verification, centralized helpdesk chat, etc. These devices can also provide new ways of perceiving the work environment with which current workers are not yet familiar. In other cases, workers operate equipment that is heavier or less integrated than wearable to achieve the same objective such as real-time thermal cameras to detect heat sources, radiation sensors or air quality analyzers for ATEX atmospheres. With the field data available through the advanced sensorization elements in wearables, field teams can also be trained with augmented or virtual reality, and the use of serious games, training techniques that let workers navigate through a simulated environment to deal with critical situations.

While not as popular as wearables with the general public, Collaborative Robotics, which is called on to transform production in handling chains and fine component assembly, is an application already present in Industry 4.0. Collaborative robots operate in parallel with the actual worker, providing greater precision and the capability of guiding and moving parts that are large, heavy or in special conditions. Equipment endowed with artificial intelligence can learn simple tasks under supervision and execute them in coordination with the worker. Natural language interfaces and artificial vision processing enable more fluid and efficient interactions nearby a human worker. Companies such as ABB, Kuka, Bosch, PAL-Robotics, Universal Robot and Fanuc have a range products for a market with a growth outlook of approximately US$ 95 billion in the next 7 years. In light of the elevated degree of interactivity and autonomous processing that these pieces of equipment have begun to have, it is no wonder that the safety conditions necessary for human-machine collaboration constitute one of the aspects that regulatory organisms are attempting to establish. In this regard, a clear and innovative example was the initiative of the UK's British Standards Institution (BSI) (ISO member body) embodied in standard BS 8611 (Robots and robotic devices. Guide to the ethical design and application of robots and robotic systems), which regulates the design and use of robots in different scenarios, with a privileged importance given to industrial applications.

The Digital Connected Worker and Collaborative Robotics are both areas poised to transform the way in which we work. These news tools require some minimum conditions to be able to operate safely and confidently. These basic conditions include the prominent role of cybersecurity. Properly implemented cybersecurity that ensures the integrity of physical and digital assets, secure communications among all actors, privacy of the data employed and the use made thereof (in terms of a worker at the facilities, up to signs of fatigue in an operator of heavy machinery). Preventing the various forms of hacking is essential to build the environment of trust necessary to preclude accidents and situations that could compromise the overall wellbeing of workers.

At Minsait, Indra's business unit for meeting the challenges of the digital transformation, we persistently strive to always provide our customers with an end-to-end approach, tools and strategic business vision so they can tackle their complex challenges. In this exciting journey, we endeavor to place the people we are assisting and their wellbeing at the core of this profound and disruptive change.

 

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