complex, high-speed manufacturing chains introduces a new set
of hazards for machinery operators and maintenance personnel.
In fact, in a 2015 tragedy, a maintenance technician performing
routine duties on an auto-parts assembly line was trapped
by malfunctioning robotic machinery and crushed to death.
Trials are well advanced with driverless vehicles, not only for the
trucking industry but also for mining. While this may eventually
reduce highway fatalities (at least by removing the truckers
altogether), not all trucking jobs will vanish. Many truckers,
particularly on construction sites, do more than just drive. Even if
construction site vehicles were to be fully automated, they would
then constitute a new risk for other workers at the site. Similarly,
at open cast mines, driverless vehicles may cut accidents around
the pit, but they also pose a new hazard for the remaining human
workforce, during mining operations or maintenance.
As yet, it remains unclear what system would be used to manage
a pool of driverless vehicles and what failure scenarios could
arise. There are proposals to manage fleets as a cloud-based
service. Apart from the potential for human tragedy, who do you
sue in the event of a bug or hack on the cloud?
If there is a general moral to be drawn from these examples, it is
this: technological change may mean that zero harm is ultimately
unachievable since the goalpost is ever shifting. But at the same
time, the benefits of these technologies to worker health and
safety also enable us to get closer to the zero harm goal. Even
now, with decades of experience behind us, and heroic attempts
by various governments, regulators, unions and employers,
there remain many questions to be answered, and there is still a
long way to go before the goal of zero harm in the workplace is
This article is an excerpt from Zero Harm – Health and Safety
in the Workplace white paper, authored by Dr Jan Noordhof.
You can find the complete paper here.
“… with decades of
experience behind us,
and heroic attempts by
regulators, unions and
employers, there remain
many questions to be