Worker safety is a huge concern in the world of underground utility construction and repair. A new wave of safety protocols and instruments has not provided wholesale change, and according to BLS statistics, each year sees between 39 and 47 lives lost to accidents while repairing the critical infrastructure underpinning the country. Technological advances are providing a ray of hope, however, just as they have for many other industries, and artificial intelligence is chief among these new tools that will help to improve safety across the board. However, work must be done first to ensure these tools work as intended.
Artificial intelligence is already making its mark with the national grid. Smart Energy International reports the use of sophisticated worker safety tools across the USA to provide a further safety net for construction workers involved with power lines and other dangerous utilities. There is a sticking point, however. For AI to work properly it requires absolute definition and clarification as to every risk point in a network, whether that be a gas line, electricity pylon, phone line or water-based risk. Full renovation and assurance of classification across new construction and renovated networks is a must for any construction or utility firm, with the use of tags to give a clear definition of elements key to managing risk. Risk management is, as always, key, and that’s where AI will excel.
Artificial intelligence experts DLabs cite one huge factor in the operation of AI as crucial in reducing risk – the elimination of human error. This is essentially what the years of training, mentoring and on-the-job experience contribute to in non-digital work. They provide ways for employees in dangerous fields like maintenance and construction to ensure their safety and help those installing the first safety barriers to remain protected, even at the forefront of safety efforts. This is where AI can step in. Using trends and pattern-spotting, it can identify larger risks before they ever have the opportunity to become a serious threat to the personal safety of a worker on the network. This can help to create reforms in the long term. Providing world-class data is the precursor to enabling AI to work in this fashion.
Surveying and safety
Construction surveys bring about ever-more ambitious projects as the materials and expertise are required to advance to new levels. This is sadly not always inclusive of the needs of the workers who will be involved with such projects. As USA Today notes, utility and construction workers remain one of the most at-risk groups in the nation when it comes to workplace fatalities. Using AI can help to ensure that construction never gets off the ground without an absolute holistic view of the safety of the workers that will be involved in the project, and that of maintenance and repair workers in the future.
Ultimately, AI is the future of safety. It can spot issues that were never presented at the time of the survey, it can mitigate active risks, and it can suggest halts before risks become problems. It may be the ultimate tool in effective risk management.
The article was written by Jennifer Axley.