How AI is changing the game for health & safety with Position Partners

The compact in-cab alert system features bright LED light alerts, audio beeps and vibration when an object or person is detected.
The compact in-cab alert system features bright LED light alerts, audio beeps and vibration when an object or person is detected.

Blindsight, an artificial intelligence vision technology, is creating a new standard for health and safety in construction and other heavy industries. Roads & Infrastructure reports.

There are roughly 150 fatal accidents and 100,000 serious injuries in the Australian workplace each year.

Heavy industries, including construction, logistics and warehousing, agriculture and forestry, manufacturing, and mining, disproportionality contribute to these statistics, with about 65 per cent of all fatalities.

Vehicle-related accidents are by far the leading cause of fatalities, accounting for about 65 per cent of all workplace fatalities.

The national-level costs of these fatalities and injuries are estimated at $61.8 billion and $17 billion for associated property damage, representing 4.1 per cent of GDP.2

Australian businesses spend more than $100 billion annually on prevention, insurance, and compensation.3

However, the real state of health and safety in the construction sector remains unknown. Current manual reporting relies on lag indicators of actual accidents rather than real-time or even lead indicators of near-misses and unsafe behaviours.

Near-misses and unsafe behaviours are far more common than accidents but are rarely captured by current manual, and generally paper-based, processes. This means that health and safety reporting is incomplete and there is no real understanding of true safety, the risk factors, how well interventions really work, and where attention should be focused.

From cameras to proximity measuring sensors, location-based safety systems, tags and thermal systems, there are currently several technical approaches available to improve worksite safety. But these technologies are all limited in their ability to automate accident prevention, and more importantly, to provide insight to help improve safety practices in construction sites.

The modern artificial intelligence (AI) system is helping resolve that. This system, which has only been possible in the past few years, thanks to increases in processing power, can quickly and accurately detect any object that the system has been trained on, without relying on any tags or markers, certain poses, or server connection.

What is Blindsight?

Blindsight is a simple, pre-trained AI safety system for mobile plant and fixed infrastructure. It stops accidents by alerting vehicle operators to people and other specified objects in their blind spots. It also automates health and safety reporting and even includes videos for further analysis of near miss accidents.

The technology was developed by Presien, a start-up company spun off of multinational construction and engineering company Laing O’Rourke. The system is now available to customers across Australia through a supply partnership between Presien and Position Partners.

Kieran MacKenzie, one of the Co-Founders of Blindsight, explains why the current human and technical approaches are not adequate when it comes to accident prevention.

“The hierarchy of controls has been very successful over decades to bring accident rates down. It looks to eliminate or substitute the task, then works through engineering and administrative controls, and finally PPE as a last resort to improve workplace safety. The problem with that is that what people do in the real-world is very different,” he tells Roads & Infrastructure.

“A common approach to improving safety is passive devices, such as reversing cameras. But as more and more screens get put into cabs, with more and more beeping noises, you can’t look out the front and look at the screens at the same time. So, what often ends up happening is the machinery operators run into something and then look at the screen, and not the other way round.”

Blindsight’s automated reporting ensures that any encroachments are fully documented.
Blindsight’s automated reporting ensures that any encroachments are fully documented.

The most common proactive technology approaches are proximity measuring devices and tag-based systems. But even with these technologies, there are limitations, MacKenzie observes.

“Most proximity devices can tell you that something is there, but not necessarily what the object is. And that becomes problematic in cluttered and congested environments, like a rail corridor for example. Also, they often detect the ground when you are going on the slopes,” he says.

“Tag systems, such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) or magnetic based tags are ideal for controlled environments like warehouses. But on a construction site, they mean that unless you have a tag, you are invisible. The victims in roughly 25 per cent of construction accidents are the general public, who would never have a tag. Another 25 per cent are people who work in construction companies but are not commonly onsite.”

So, how does Blindsight’s AI system overcome those limitations?

Blindsight is an AI vision safety system to help stop accidents by alerting the operator and people around to high-risk scenarios, such as a person or vehicle in a blind spot. It does this without requiring any special tags, markers, high-vis clothing, or movement.

But the “game-changing” feature, according to MacKenzie, is the ability to automate health and safety reporting, including video before, during, and after the detection.

“Health and safety have previously relied on accident data, which is a lag indicator. Fortunately, accidents are relatively infrequent, but this means that there is limited data to understand what’s really happening,” he says.

“Blindsight automates reporting, including the video, so that health and safety becomes near real-time. Users can see near-misses and unsafe behaviours as they happen. This allows users to baseline the real risk profile, understand when, where, how, and why these are happening, implement interventions and critically measure change.”

Blindsight can be installed on mobile plant, fixed infrastructure, or split across both. This allows a range of different configurations to be created, depending on the requirements.

Being an edge device, Blindsight also requires no 4G or Wi-Fi to operate. This is critical, MacKenzie says, as heavy industries rarely have guaranteed connectivity due to their remote nature.

Ease of use is another key feature with Blindsight, MacKenzie points out.

“The AI is pre-trained to detect people, vehicles, and cones. There is no complex AI knowledge required by users. Blindsight allows users to easily customise their alerts, so they are optimised for their operations,” he explains. “Blindsight has over-the-air updates (when 4G is available) and is constantly improving and providing new features. In addition to health and safety reporting, Blindsight also provides commercial reporting, like machine operating hours and location data.”

Position Partners’ role

As Presien looked for a partner with national expertise to support Blindsight’s sales, installation and support, they found the perfect match in Position Partners, MacKenzie says.

“Position Partners was a perfect fit. They have operations in every state and territory and already service the construction and mining segments with lasers, machine control, survey, etc. These are our target customers, so it made sense to partner,” he comments.

Josh Allan, Business Manager Construction at Position Partners, says safety within the construction industry is a key area of focus for Position Partners. This has already been demonstrated through the company’s distribution and support of systems such as Topcon machine control and its development of Tokara, a remote access service. With the ability to login and send files to machine and rover devices without visiting them in person, Tokara drastically reduces the interaction between people and plant to increase site safety.

“We see the Blindsight system as an important product for the industry and a great value add to the other systems Position Partners provides, including slew and height limiting systems on excavators,” he says.

Allan is also excited about the opportunities the company’s partnership with Presien offers for improving the safety culture within the industry.

“We have a very close working relationship with the Presien team. We work together to educate the civil, quarry and mining markets on the benefits of being able to report on and influence safe behaviours on site with fact-based data enabling behavioural change and real-time reporting to multiple stakeholders,” he says.

“Position Partners’ role in this partnership includes [providing] education to the market, sales, installation, training, support and customer reporting. We are constantly increasing our capability with our sales, field and support teams’ knowledge, to bring the benefits of the Blindsight systems to our customers.”

Blindsight is an AI vision safety system to stop accidents by alerting the operator and people around to high-risk scenarios.
Blindsight is an AI vision safety system to stop accidents by alerting the operator and people around to high-risk scenarios.

The industry’s response

Allan says major construction companies have already successfully implemented Blindsight in their infrastructure projects, with positive feedback.

“We have had great success with the likes of BMD, Holcim, Fulton Hogan, Laing O’Rourke and V/Line. The systems are being implemented over a variety of different jobsites and applications, including rail construction and maintenance, major road construction projects and quarries,” he says.

“The feedback has been very positive. The system’s standalone ability, ease of installation and user-friendly configuration for operators have been noted by a number of our customers. The desktop management tool’s ability to look over and analyse the whole site or down to an individual machine or location on site has really hit a high note with the safety teams within these businesses,” he adds.

While Presien is currently focused on the construction, rail and mining sectors in Australia, MacKenzie says expansion to other markets is on the cards.

“We will be expanding into New Zealand with Position Partners shortly, and then Europe and North America,” he says. “Safety is a horizontal market, in that the risk of people and vehicle accidents occurs in almost every industry. Blindsight is creating a new standard in health and safety, but one that remains simple for users. This is just the start of what can be done with the technology.”

Sources: Safe Work Australia, Work-related traumatic injury fatalities Australia 2019, released 20 November 2020.Safework Australia, Cost of injury and illness statistics, May 2017. Safework Australia, The cost of work-related injury and illness for Australian employers, workers, and the community, November 2015.

This article was originally published in the May edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.

 


 

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