AI has the potential to improve workplace safety in some of the world’s most dangerous jobs. From hazardous electrical work to risky life-saving surgeries, AI can help in many fields. This technology becomes more advanced and more capable year after year. How can AI be applied to high-risk jobs to create safer workplaces?
1. Mining and Underground Vehicle Operations
Mining careers have long been among the most dangerous in the world. People in this field face hazards like air pollution, chemicals, tunnel collapses and machinery accidents. Miners are at exceptionally high risk of developing pneumoconiosis, a lung disease caused by exposure to respirable dust. It can be worsened by exposure to diesel engine exhaust, such as that created by mining machinery.
Robots can reduce this risk by taking over many high-risk jobs. Instead of working in tunnels themselves, mining workers could remotely control robots from a safe environment. Robots can help out on the job in many ways, including automated excavation, self-driving vehicles and AI safety monitoring technologies.
For example, autonomous drones can patrol mining tunnels to monitor air quality and pollution. If airborne hazards exceed a certain safety threshold, employees can evacuate from the area. Similarly, AI self-driving technology could be applied to mining vehicles to take over high-risk manual tasks. Autonomous robotic excavators and rock drilling machines are already in development for this exact purpose.
2. Commercial Truck Driving
In recent years, self-driving vehicle technology advances are making driverless trucks a real possibility. Truck driving is one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. due to the prolonged time drivers spend on the road. They naturally face a higher-than-average risk of getting in a motor vehicle accident and often have to drive in adverse conditions.
Self-driving vehicle technology could reduce or remove the need to put drivers’ safety at risk. Most of the time truck drivers spend on the road is highway driving, sometimes even cross-country. The most complicated part of the journey is typically only the last few miles, though. This “last mile” leg usually includes navigating more traffic and getting around parking lots and loading bays.
AI may soon be able to automate most road hours, allowing truck drivers to take over just for the last few miles. This reduces the time drivers spend on the road and the distance they have to cover, reducing the risks they face. Multiple companies are working to make self-driving trucks a reality. For example, developer TuSimple successfully completed a fully-driverless test drive of its self-driving truck program in 2021.
3. Utilities and Energy Maintenance
People in the utilities and energy industry face many workplace hazards, including electrification and falls. These jobs can be difficult to automate since they typically require high skill and adaptability. However, there are still ways that AI can improve safety for utilities and energy industry employees.
For example, utility companies can reduce the risk employees are exposed by to using more precise predictive maintenance. With the help of AI-powered digital twins, they can closely monitor power grids to predict precisely where and when attention will be necessary. Predictive maintenance allows personnel to concentrate their efforts only on the points of the grid that need attention most.
Additionally, manual processes in electrical pole inspections can minimize with the help of LiDAR, photogrammetry and AI. Maintenance technicians can use these technologies to inspect electrical poles, minimizing the number of manual tasks they need to perform. This reduces the likelihood of injuries due to electrical accidents.
AI robots can even help out in utility maintenance roles. Multiple developers worldwide are working on robots that can inspect high-voltage power lines autonomously or via remote control. These robots roll along the power lines using cameras and sensors to search for issues. Meanwhile, human maintenance technicians can safely review the data and imagery from the ground.
4. High-Risk Medical Procedures
Surgeons have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. While the surgeons themselves may not be in immediate danger on the job, their work is high risk due to the sensitive nature of surgery. If medical staff make a mistake, it could negatively impact the patient’s well-being immediately.
Robots and AI can offer support in the operating room, improving patient outcomes and reducing risks. Both of these technologies are already in use in hospitals worldwide today. For example, robotic assistance reduced incidents of life-threatening complications to 0%–2% in gastrointestinal surgeries.
AI-powered robots can help doctors by performing high-precision surgical tasks. Surgical robots may even allow doctors to oversee procedures remotely. This would enable people to get safe, high-precision surgeries from doctors anywhere in the world. Additionally, AI can help surgeons predict post-op complications and identify patient risk factors by analyzing medical data.
5. Farming and Agriculture
Careers in agriculture often involve working with large machinery, working with animals and going out in adverse weather conditions, such as high temperatures. AI-powered robots can make the agriculture industry safer by automating high-risk jobs. This will also help address labor shortages in farming roles.
Students at Monash University in Australia have developed an AI robot that can harvest apples autonomously. The robot uses camera vision to determine whether an apple is ripe. It uses a robotic soft gripper to delicately pluck apples from orchards at a rate of one apple every seven seconds. Robots like this could keep farm workers out of the sun and heat, reducing exposure to sunburn, heat stroke and other temperature-related illnesses.
This type of robot isn’t just for picking apples, either — the same technology could apply to harvesting nearly any kind of produce. Having a robot around to cover labor shortages would also reduce strain on understaffed teams. This could further reduce the likelihood of injuries and workplace stress.
AI and Robotics Improve Workplace Safety
Many people today are worried about losing their jobs to a robot. However, AI and robotics can actually make careers safer by automating high-risk tasks. The strategic use of AI in dangerous career fields could reduce rates of work-related injuries and illnesses. Employees would get to stay safer, healthier and more comfortable on the job with their AI co-workers.