June 15, 2023 / Ed Rutkowski

Three Thoughts on Technology and OEHS

Three Thoughts is a new SynergistNOW series based on episodes of the Healthier Workplaces Show, an AIHA video podcast.

Poppy Crum's opening keynote at AIHce EXP 2023 in Phoenix was a tonic for those who are skeptical about digital technology and worried about artificial intelligence. Who isn't amazed by the potential of devices that identify early signs of Alzheimer's by analyzing speech patterns or highly stressed employees by detecting dilated pupils? But what stands out the most from her presentation is the imminence of change: these devices and the benefits they promise are almost here, Crum was saying.

After her keynote, Crum joined Mwangi Ndonga, who serves on AIHA's Technical Initiatives Strategic Advisory Group, and host Bob Krell on the Expo floor for a live episode of AIHA's Healthier Workplaces Show. Ndonga asked Crum to further explore some of the ideas she introduced in her talk. Here are some key points from their discussion:

1. Acknowledge concerns about technology but embrace its upside. It would be hard to find a more enthusiastic proponent of digital technology than Crum. That doesn't mean she minimizes concerns about loss of privacy or the potential for an AI-ruled dystopia. It just means that she believes technology's benefits are far greater than most people realize. The public conversation, she suggested, overwhelmingly skews negative, and a concerted effort is needed to educate people about how technology will improve their lives. "We've got to embrace these things and find the route forward as opposed to being concerned about the other polarity only," she said.

2. A little data goes a long way—if it's the right data. IHs are masters of "small" data: using half a dozen air samples, for instance, to protect entire groups of similarly exposed workers. But today's sensors feed a vast data ocean. Workers, and people in general, not only don't need all that data, they can't make sense of it even if you give it to them. The human brain isn't built for it. The key to designing beneficial technology is finding the most useful drops in the sea, the predictive data, to use in what Crum calls "forecasting." The right data will allow forecasting of health and safety on an individual level.

3. Context is essential when communicating the lessons learned from data. Ndonga observed that IHs, like many scientists, often struggle to explain their findings to workers. In certain contexts, the correct form of communication may not necessarily be verbal or even visual—think of audible alarms on real-time detection instruments. Crum offered another example: GPS technology makes it possible to send workers on a construction site an audio warning when they approach a restricted area.

The episode is available at the Healthier Workplaces Show webpage. Here is some further reading on related topics:

Ed Rutkowski

Ed Rutkowski is editor in chief of The Synergist.


Fantastic summary

Ed, you captured this very succinctly. Poppy Crum spurred on lots of food for thought for our membership.

By Susan Marchese on June 15, 2023 2:49pm

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