Artificial Intelligence and Occupational Health and Safety – Opportunities and Risks


This article looks at both the opportunities and risks presented by using artificial intelligence with regard to occupational health and safety.

AI has become an integral part of the modern working world and is affecting many areas, from automation in manufacturing to data analysis in marketing. It increases efficiency, improves decision-making and makes it possible to solve problems in new ways. Integrating AI into occupational health and safety has the potential to make workplaces safer and prevent accidents. However, the integration of AI also poses challenges, including physical risks and psychosocial burdens such as the pressure of being monitored and fears of losing one's job due to automation. This article looks at both the opportunities and risks presented by using AI with regard to occupational health and safety.

Possible applications of AI in occupational health and safety

AI systems range from simple learning algorithms to advanced technology and can improve occupational health and safety by more effectively monitoring behaviour, proactively identifying hazards and taking preventive measures. Examples include fatigue detection among employees, automated risk assessments and wearable devices for monitoring people's health. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work emphasises that AI-based systems can reduce accidents and illnesses at work by better identifying and assessing hazards. AI also makes detailed risk assessments possible by analysing existing data and transferring them to new assessments, which can be used to identify risk factors and initiate preventive safety measures. In addition, AI systems support mental health by identifying signs of being overworked and enable adaptive e-learning. Collaborative robots (cobots) and personal protective equipment (PPE) equipped with AI can perform hazardous tasks and continuously monitor health risks, further improving occupational safety.

Psychological hazards

The use of AI in a company brings with it both mental and physical challenges. Constant monitoring by AI can lead to employees feeling like they are always being watched and judged, which can lead to high performance pressure, anxiety and burnout. In addition, automation through advanced AI systems is causing many people to worry about being replaced by machines, which can cause psychological stress and a fall in productivity. Furthermore, constantly having to adapt to new technologies and working methods requires a high level of mental flexibility and willingness to learn, which can be overwhelming and lead to symptoms of stress.

Physical hazards

In addition to traditional risks, AI-controlled machines create new physical hazards due to their ability to act autonomously, which can lead to unpredictable actions if they are not monitored sufficiently closely or are operated using faulty algorithms. This can put the physical safety of employees at risk, for example through incorrect machine operation or uncontrolled interactions with robots. In addition, reliability issues of AI systems harbour the risk of systems failures and malfunctions, which can lead to business interruptions and physical hazards, especially in highly automated environments. Psychological stress caused by AI can also manifest itself physically, leading to symptoms such as headaches, cardiovascular problems and other stress-related illnesses that further impair quality of life and mental health.

Measures to reduce mental and physical hazards

To minimise psychological effects, transparent communication, further training and retraining as well as measures to counteract adjustment stress are important. Transparent communication helps to address employees' concerns regarding the introduction of AI and promote a culture of trust. Further training and retraining programmes are crucial for preparing employees for the changes brought about by AI and alleviating their fears of losing their jobs. Strategies to combat adjustment stress, such as sufficient training opportunities and promoting a healthy work-life balance, are also essential to meet the demands of modern working life and create a healthy working environment.

Overcoming the physical challenges posed by the use of AI requires a comprehensive risk analysis and risk mitigation strategies to be developed. Physical security is ensured by developing specific security standards, performing regular maintenance and technically monitoring the AI systems. This includes risk analyses, real-time monitoring and alarm systems, regular safety training and a continuous improvement process. Maintenance includes hardware and software checks, updates, system optimisation and the implementation of early detection systems for malfunctions.

Take advantage of opportunities, minimise risks

The progressive integration of AI into everyday working life poses both revolutionary opportunities and significant risks. AI has the potential to significantly increase occupational health and safety through innovative technology and improved hazard detection, but at the same time it imposes new demands on the mental and physical resilience of the workforce. Successful implementation of AI in occupational health and safety therefore requires not only technical adaptations, but also comprehensive considerations to be made for human factors. Proactive training, clear communication and prudent management practices must be used to create a culture that takes both technological and human aspects into account. The only way we can ensure that the benefits of AI are fully realised without compromising the safety and wellbeing of employees is by striking a balance between human beings and machines.