The world is facing one of the biggest crises of all time, and the economy of most countries has been affected. According to the definition of health by WHO – “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Governments and organizations have put enormous effort into quickly adapting to the situation and making sure people are healthy and safe. In this state of lockdown and maintaining social-distancing, most industries like finance, manufacturing, and especially retail, have been affected. Healthcare workers, government officials, police, etc. are working extra hard to mitigate the severity of the outbreak. I hope this situation comes to an end pretty soon, but everything will not be the same again instantaneously. We need to make sure that people get back to their positions stronger than ever, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to play a major role in making sure that after COVID-19 pandemic, the safety of people is not compromised. Businesses that require the presence of physical workers, like manufacturing, construction sites, etc. need to take additional precautions.
COVID-19 and its Impact on “Brick and Mortar” Businesses
I am sure people are interested to know what role technology will play in the post-COVID world. Before that, I want to highlight the facts related to the pandemic. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which originated in early 2000 and caused the 2000-2004 SARS outbreak, still does not have a vaccine or proven treatment. There are no new cases of the early SARS after 2004, but we cannot say the same for new coronavirus due to a larger incubation period. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist of Vanderbilt University, said, “I think it’s unlikely that this coronavirus—because it’s so readily transmissible—will disappear completely” and it “might turn into a seasonal disease, making a comeback every year.” We must hope for the best but be prepared to face the worst situation. In the field of infectious diseases, there is a concept of herd immunity, which says that the spread of contagious disease is contained when a larger population gets immunized (generally 2/3rd of the population). We can’t afford that due to the high mortality rate. Even when the situation stabilizes, there can still be many asymptomatic carriers of the virus, and the number of cases may rise again.
We also can’t afford a permanent lockdown as “Brick and Mortar” businesses can’t afford to operate from home, especially manufacturing. They are the ones that have a significant contribution to the economy. They will have to increase the output to make up for the losses. They can’t possibly do that without workers. In the next section, we will see how AI in technology can help organizations to ensure the safety of workers after the relief in the lockdown.
AI Adaptation for Employee Safety
There are several ways in which AI can help organizations bring back the continuity in work, along with ensuring the safety of workers in various aspects. These aspects range from making sure employees are safe at home, at the workplace, and while traveling to and from the workplace.
Travel Safety of Employees
A lot of people use public transport services like buses and local trains to travel to the workplace. It is essential for an organization to ensure the safety of employees in those scenarios as well.
- Maintaining social distancing norms while traveling is the first and foremost thing to do. Vehicles provided by an organization can be installed with cameras that can track and identify people if they violate social distancing.
- Identifying people who are seen coughing and sneezing from videos and audios, further identifying contaminated areas and possible transmissions from one person to another.
Physical Health Protection of Employees at Workplace
All the employees must be physically fit to continue their work, and using AI organizations can make sure that proper measures are taken for the safety of an individual and the protection of the entire community.
- Installation of cameras with AI solutions at the workplace to track and identify people who violate the social-distancing norm. In case of violations, contaminated areas and possible transmissions can be identified.
- Using AI, detection of facial masks, protective gear like PPE, gloves, safety shoes, etc. in the workplace is made possible.
- Detection and identification of people coughing and sneezing in the workplace through computer vision technology and making sure they get proper treatment for their conditions.
- People can take a virtual appointment with an AI assistant that can help diagnose ailments and inform if the person actually needs to visit a hospital or not.
- Based on the work that happens in the manufacturing plants, for example, exposure to extreme temperatures, exposure to chemicals through physical contact or breathing, etc., AI can suggest the frequency and time of sanitization. It can also make sure that the suggested steps are being followed through, via Computer Vision.
Mental Health Protection of Employees
Apart from physical health, mental health, and psychosocial well-being of the individual is also essential.
- Organizations must also look after the mental health of the workers. A lot of people will be likely to have depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fear of public places (agoraphobia), etc. Early symptoms can be detected through facial expressions, speech, work efficiency, etc.
There are a lot of standard operating procedures (SOPs) that must be followed when work resumes. A lot of those procedures can be monitored, and a better way can be suggested to reduce physical contact.
- Tools powered by AI can allow workers to control lights, machines, equipment, etc. through voice and gesture, which will reduce the chances of physical contamination.
- There might also be a rise in sickness-absenteeism, which is considered as a major occupational hazard resulting in loss of work-hours, decrease in productivity as people will be resuming work after a long time. It is important to keep sickness-absenteeism in check by recording and analyzing working hours, stress symptoms, and designing an effective work schedule.
All industries, especially manufacturing, with the support of the government can help the economy to bounce back. This could be achieved only when workers’ safety is ensured.