In Part 1 of this article I considered potential knock on effects for health and safety in the event that industrial AI systems used in workplaces get it wrong and offered a perspective on key considerations in attempting to mitigate such risks. In Part 2 and Part 3 of the article, I consider other health and safety related challenges associated with the rise in use of industrial AI systems in workplaces and industry 4.0 technologies more generally; these include for example:
- the emergence of new health and safety risks stemming from the use of the technologies
- the challenges of judging whether any risks to health and safety arising from the use of the technologies are as low as is reasonably practicable
- the big data and data security challenges when working with the technologies, particularly those associated with extremely large flows of data and sensitive data
- the challenges of dealing with cyber security risks when technologies have connections to the internet
- the challenges of investigating serious accidents when the technologies are implicated as factors, particularly those controlled by complex algorithms
- the challenges of understanding who is legally liable when complex AI technologies go seriously wrong
- the challenge of striking a balance between capitalising on the benefits that AI can bring in this context and ensuring its use is ethical
Challenges 1 to 4 are considered in Part 2, challenges 5 to 7 are considered in Part 3.
The health and safety regulatory system in GB, often described as goal, risk, or performance based, is founded on the principle of allowing employers certain freedoms as to how best they mitigate health and safety risks in order to meet their statutory health and safety responsibilities. HSE, the regulator of health and safety in GB, supports employers legal duties in this regard through the provision of suitably scoped industry guidance, informed in part by learning accrued from investigations carried out following serious health and safety accidents. It monitors that industry is meeting its statutory responsibilities by undertaking a programme of targeted workplace inspections. When serious material breaches in health and safety legislation are observed in workplaces then commensurate prosecution action is taken. Two well recognised merits of the health and safety regulatory system in GB are that it is readily responsive to changes in best practice, and it encourages innovation on the part of employers, including in both respects, how health and safety risks are managed. So when a disruptive technology such as AI emerges which has the potential to change the way industrial operations are delivered for the better, the GB industrial landscape is naturally very receptive to it being adopted across workplaces.
Emerging industry 4.0 and industrial AI technologies deployed in workplaces have the potential to impact health and safety in two main ways, either directly, through their direct use as part of the measures an organisation uses to control health and safety risks within workplaces and the challenge of deploying them effectively; or indirectly, through their use as part of operations more generally, for example to enhance operational efficiency, and the potential for them to introduce new health and safety risks requiring control. Both of these present practical challenges from a health and safety perspective.