A New Wave of Technology: Are We Ready?
Sponsored by SKC Inc.
During 2018, I was amazed by the wave of game-changing technology that hit the market, the likes of which I have not seen in my 35 years in industrial hygiene.
Following are a few examples:
Artificial intelligence (AI). At the 2018 conference of the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists in December, I learned of a new phase-contrast microscope that uses AI to perform fully automated asbestos fiber counts or mold counts in 3 to 4 minutes. The only thing the xRapid Environment microscope requires from a human technician is sample preparation. Costs involve initial purchase of the microscope and recurring fees for each sample. Complete photo traceability of samples and comprehensive reporting for accurate auditing are included.
Connected worker. Blackline Safety has introduced complete connected worker technology that includes wearable safety devices with sensors, connectivity, and cloud-hosted software, data storage, and analytics. The product gives you the tools to manage workers, improve safety, and administer the system efficiently.
The pricing concept is also new. Companies pay an instrument cost and recurring subscription fee (annual, three-year, or five-year) that includes new sensors as needed, connectivity services, cloud data storage, and analytics. Add-ons include live online monitoring, text messaging or phone call, and/or two-way radio through the device.
3M is launching connected worker solutions as well. A new Hearing Conservation Program Manager allows users to maintain all aspects of their program in one cloud-based application. For a recurring fee, users access a central database for details on training, calibration, monitoring results, hearing protection, and other controls.
Remote pump monitoring and mobile device apps. Some newer technologies, such as remote monitoring and pump control via an app on mobile devices, are being integrated into new air sample pump designs. These new features greatly expand functionality and convenience for industrial hygiene air sampling.
As a profession, are we ready to embrace these turning-point technologies? Change, while inevitable, can be unwelcome to corporations, corporate attorneys, and even to health and safety practitioners themselves who have long-standing procedures and historical data in place.
Michael Censurato provided a list of further concerns with new technology in his Nov. 8, 2018SynergistNOW blog post that I have summarized below:
- Employee privacy
- Development of worker complacency—possible increased reliance on technology, creatingincreased risk
- The admissibility of collected data in legal proceedings
- Provisioning, rollout, and training efforts
- Cybersecurity risks
Change also requires money in equipment and training. Are the companies for which we work willing to invest and implement? Historically, the price of ownership for monitoring instruments has been limited to purchase price, maintenance, repair, and annual recalibration. Much of today’s technology involves recurring subscription-type fees for software licenses, cellular/satellite service, live monitoring service, and/or usage fees. The pricing structure appears to cost more at first blush.
These are pivotal and exciting times for our industry and our science. It is my hope that the concerns can be addressed quickly, so that, as industrial hygienists, we can learn and incorporate these technologies into our professional practice.