Technology has advanced at a rapid pace in most sectors over recent years and so it has inevitably changed the way in which businesses operate. The health and safety sector has benefited considerably from this technological innovation, partly because it is constantly in focus as managers look for better ways to protect their employees.
Although health and safety in the workplace is improving, in part due to advances in technology, there are still a concerning number of incidents, with around 1.4 million people suffering from a work-related illness in the UK according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). A total of 111 workers were killed at work in 2019/2020.
“systems utilising CV can identify a wide range of health and safety breaches, such as incorrect wearing of PPE”
The single largest impact made by technology has been the ability to digitise the health and safety sphere, helping businesses move from a manual based approach using visual observation to digital. This revolutionary change goes beyond simply moving away from paper recording systems because Computer Vision now facilitates real-time reporting, cloud access, data analysis, and compliance auditing. The benefits are improved health and safety outcomes, along with an ability to make the business more productive, effective and reduce the cost of compliance. In terms of cost, it can also avoid the hefty financial penalties that follow after an incident has occurred.
Computer Vision can monitor workers throughout the entire business and feed the data it captures back to a centralised platform where it is stored, assessed and acted upon. Systems utilising CV can identify a wide range of health and safety breaches, such as incorrect wearing of PPE, failure to use safety harnesses when working at height as well as monitoring hazardous areas, designated walkways and forklift monitoring. They can also help support employee wellbeing programmes by monitoring for fatigued workers and lone worker protection.
The really exciting aspect of Computer Vision is that they convert vast amounts of data gathered from multiple sources into useful and effective management information. These support businesses in making improvements to working practices, which ultimately transform health and safety performance.
Take for example, forklift and pedestrian-related risks, which are one of the major areas of concern for most construction and manufacturing sites as well as warehouses and logistics depots amongst others. Computer Vision is proving extremely effective in digitally monitoring these vehicles and people movements over very large sites. If any dangerous behaviour is identified, such as speeding forklifts, parking in designated walkways, or pedestrians not following routes, plus any other instances of non-compliance that can lead to accidents, an alarm is raised.
To put this into context, forklifts alone in the UK account for over 1200 employees being hospitalised each year with serious injuries. Unless more companies embrace technology such as Computer Vision, this number will rise as the growth of e-commerce and warehouse space creates more of these potentially dangerous scenarios. In the construction sector, too, the growing use of vehicles on site and continued focus by the HSE on working at height, amongst others, is prompting businesses to look for better ways of approaching health and safety.
Within manufacturing, and besides transforming health and safety, the scope of Computer Vision extends to product counting on a process line, which can form an important part of a quality control process. This is done at speed and unlike manual observation, it achieves consistently high results without the ‘lag’ that occurs when people carry out this task. The fact that Computer Vision can perform defect identification along the production lines makes it an even more compelling proposition.
EPCL leverages Computer Vision AI to enhance health and safety monitoring
EPCL, a subsidiary of Engro Corporation, is involved in the manufacturing, marketing and distribution of PVC and other Chlor-Vinyl allied products.
Challenges: Like many organisations around the world, EPCL faced significant challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. The nature of its work required core staff – control room engineers – to be present on site round the clock to manage, monitor and maintain the plant and to ensure the company remained operational. Naturally, the organisation had to implement immediate and effective measures to keep employees safe at work, mitigating the spread of the virus and containing any potential outbreaks.
With engineers working across day and night shifts the need to monitor their adherence to social distancing, mask wearing, and occupancy levels was paramount; the organisation needed to identify with pinpoint accuracy any breaches on a 24 x 7 basis. Any breach had the potential to spread the virus across both shifts, creating the need for both shifts to isolate and therefore shutting down the control room and the plant for that duration. The ability to identify behavioural patterns and adjust SOPs accordingly was also critical to ensuring the company and its staff always remained protected and productive throughout the pandemic.
“with engineers working across day and night shifts the need to monitor their adherence to mask wearing, and occupancy levels was paramount”
Solution: EPCL implemented a Computer Vision (CV) based, Artificial Intelligence (AI) application that detects incidences that match or violate agreed parameters to help them meet the challenges posed by COVID-19. It leverages EPCL’s existing CCTV systems to recognise and interpret said incidences more reliably and accurately than manual spot checking conducted by health and safety personnel.
EPCL’s primary objective was to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection in the most critical areas of the plant. The software helped EPCL monitor occupancy levels and adherence to social distancing and mask wearing within EPCL’s plant control rooms and engineering areas and provided insights on areas for improvement on safety.
Results: Following the implementation of Computer Vision AI, EPCL’s monitoring capability (manual spot checks vs Computer Vision) improved multi-fold, providing them a much more accurate view of risk. In addition, they witnessed more than 80% reduction in social distancing violations and up to 90% reduction in mask noncompliance within the first six weeks of deployment.
The rapid and targeted insights, and the ability to constantly monitor and detect non-compliance in real-time has allowed EPCL to identify areas that needed improvement in real-time. EPCL was able to identify trends (overcrowding during shift change over), isolate specific issues (individuals not correctly wearing masks) and improve SOPs to keep workers protected and the plant operational.
Monitoring health and safety beyond COVID: The versatility of Computer Vision AI is one of its major benefits to organisations. The same technology used to identify mask wearing, occupancy levels and social distancing violations can be trained to look for other health and safety aspects of process safety programs. For a large-scale industrial plant that has numerous potential hazards, Computer Vision AI has the capability to improve the safety of workers across the entire site and to improve operational efficiency.
In addition, it can detect when potential hazards are arising to alert staff to act. It’s able to identify smoke and fire, and to look for chemical spills and leakages. Spotting these hazards in time will allow decisive action to be taken and will prevent them from harming workers and causing extensive damage to the site and would reduce or halt operational capacity. Beyond personnel safety, EPCL is also exploring the use of Computer Vision AI to monitor process conditions, such as flame pattern of furnaces installed at site to detect anomalies and generate early warning alerts.
EPCL has already tested the efficacy of Computer Vision AI on their quality assurance process and safety headcount system to count the number of product bags being loaded into the container and to count the number of people entering/exiting their plant premises respectively.
Platform for the future: Computer Vision AI has given EPCL a more comprehensive view of its workplace safety and a platform from which to make data-backed decisions that not only protects its employees and assets but is being considered for many other uses.
Speaking about the success of the project, Jahangir Piracha, CEO at EPCL said: “The software has proven to be a very effective tool for EPCL. A useful feature is that it provides us with high quality pictorial evidence of infringements, which is a very effective method to reinforce COVID guidelines and carry out targeted training to avoid future lapses and to ultimately keep our workforce safe.”
Mahmood Siddique, VP Manufacturing at EPCL, added: “We are delighted with the results from deploying the software. The solution has provided prompt analytics for managing COVID SOPs effectively in the workplace and greater awareness of maintaining social distancing.”
“Computer Vision AI has the potential to digitise and significantly improve areas such as monitoring PPE compliance”
Salman Chaudhary of EmpiricAI concluded: “EPCL has demonstrated how Computer Vision AI and Advanced Analytics can help keep its staff safe and avoid business disruption.
“Computer Vision AI has the potential to digitise and significantly improve health and safety inspections, quality control processes, and overall productivity in manufacturing plants, in areas such as monitoring PPE compliance, monitoring safe operation of machines and vehicles, detecting potential hazardous emissions, monitoring machinery health, inventory counting, monitoring quality control and many more.”
“Organisations that do so, will have the opportunity to improve health and safety, drive higher quality, reduce costs, and ultimately transform their operations.”
More and more health and safety procedures in the manufacturing and construction sectors are being performed by Computer Vision. These are often repetitive, non-value-adding tasks, where replacing people can free them up to carry out more productive roles (unlike their human counterparts, Computer Vision doesn’t get tired or make errors or get sick, and it doesn’t make bad decisions due to stress).
Against this background, Computer Vision has exploded onto the health and safety scene over the last few years and has made a steep change in organisations that have embraced its benefits. These benefits extend across multiple sectors.
Another important consideration for those businesses looking at the merits of Computer Vision is the fact that investment can have a positive impact on employee productivity. That is because workers that feel safe in their roles and can see that management are taking steps to improve safety makes them more productive, meaning it can directly affect your company’s ROI. In addition, not only does Computer Vision reduce risks but it also ensures health and safety compliance for your business, avoiding sizeable fines for non-compliance. Computer Vision based health and safety systems create a real-time digital workplace that is highly effective at monitoring and analysing a site and protecting workers against potential hazards. From employee well-being, through to PPE compliance and vehicle movement, Computer Vision gives us a glimpse of what today’s workplace should be like.