KUALA LUMPUR: Industry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), presents both opportunities and challenges.
Alliance of Safety Community chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said with a mixture of cloud computing, artificial intelligence, the industrial Internet of things, machine learning, human machine interfaces and advanced analytics, 4IR could transform how employees, equipment and processes interact for a better, safer and more efficient working environment.
“Business processes will be simpler and more accessible than before. Employees’ tasks are more flexible and safer with the use of automated machines and robots.”
However, Lee said, while technology was an important tool of trade in 4IR, focusing on the technological aspect alone would not warrant seamless digital transformation of a business.
“Organisations must ensure that employees understand the changing landscape and how they can fit in. They must be equipped with the essential digital or other skill sets to adapt to the ever-changing work environment.
“Employers must look at how training and capacity building can improve employees’ skills and prepare them before adopting and implementing new technologies.”
Lee said the emergence of artificial intelligence to automate various tasks could lead to loss of jobs and introduce new ones that would involve creativity and complex problems, and thus required employees to be trained.
“Employees must be equipped with the skills that will prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow. Developing the competencies of employees should be one of the top priorities for organisations.”
Lee said employers should not overlook the potential for new safety and health risks in the workplace with the advent of automation.
“Risks posed by 4IR tools should be assessed to promote and protect employees’ safety and health, such as new sources of physical risks and hazards; long-term health risks from exposure to new hazardous substances; and, psychosocial risks from new sources of work-related stress should be addressed.
“They must also be trained based on the understanding of the new emerging risks. For example, wrong gestures or misinterpreted commands sent to the wrong machine will lead to safety incidents.”
Lee also warned that over-reliance on collaborative robots (cobot) or exoskeletons for manual tasks might affect the employee’s physical health, such as loss of muscles or bone density.
“Other potential occupational safety and health issues may include psychosocial risk factors if people are instructed to work at a cobot’s pace instead of the employee’s, and potential collisions between a cobot and a person.”
Lee added that security and privacy issues, such as stolen data, disturbance of interaction, paralysed system structure and external attacks on the cloud-based storage, would be among the threats faced by organisations.
“Cybersecurity is a real concern as most organisations are not prepared for cyberattacks. Employees will also have to contend with privacy issues as everything will be recorded and analysed.”
However, Lee was positive that the advantages of 4IR outweighed its challenges.
“The advent of the latest technologies won’t exactly replace employees or safety professionals. It will allow employees to perform their task efficiently, increase productivity while reducing risks and injuries.”
Lee said big data would also make safety professionals become better at what they do, which was to create a safe and healthy work culture that kept people safe, reduce incidents and prevent accidents.