Inside Microsoft's AI & people-centric approach to workplace safety

'This is just the beginning' says EHS manager at tech giant

Inside Microsoft's AI & people-centric approach to workplace safety

Dealing with complex multi-billion-dollar projects is all in a day’s work for Chandan Uprety. The Area EHS Manager at Microsoft Canada – and speaker at our upcoming Canadian Safety Summit – tells Canadian Occupational Safety that his experiences in the challenging environments of northern Alberta's oil sands and time at Microsoft has instilled the belief that fostering innovative, out-of-the-box thinking is pivotal for tackling forthcoming challenges in his current role and in the industry at large.

Talking about one of his innovate solutions in his time in Northern Alberta to get transient workers up to speed on the work culture, “We had an influx of new workers coming into the site for a turnaround – and these were workers that typically on site for a short period. They're only there for a 6-week project and then they're off site. [As such], we’re creating this additional risk because usually most of the folks here on our project site have been operating here for a long time. They’ve had more time to understand and be embedded in our culture. Our transient workforce does not.”

Vision for AI-Driven safety at Microsoft

To address this, Uprety spearheaded an initiative that went beyond traditional safety measures: conducting realistic incident walkthroughs. This approach involved creating live demonstrations at various stations across the facility, vividly recreating past incidents to enhance situational awareness and learning.

“We thought that visual and scenario-based learning would be much more impactful than traditional methods,” Uprety tells COS. “On each different station, there was a scenario. We actually went through what was the tool being used - what was the process? How did it occur? What was the level of disruption? What was the potential state of mind of that worker? This way we encourage our workforce to emphasize that human performance focus and come up with mitigation strategies to prevent similar occurrences.” Uprety says this program was very well received by the workforce.

How AI enhances workplace safety

The use of AI and cloud technology in enhancing workplace safety is another area where Uprety says Microsoft is a leader in. And at Microsoft, he has leveraged these technologies to foster a proactive safety culture that goes beyond compliance to genuine care for workers’ wellbeing.

“At Microsoft, and in my personal career, one of the terms we use is customer obsession. We want to be customer obsessed. In our roles, we have lots of senior management, and a lot of stakeholders to please but ultimately, for me, who I work for is the worker. That’s my primary customer. And everything that we design is for them - any tool, any equipment, any process and anything new we rollout, we must do so with worker input.”

Predictive analytics and AI

One innovative application of technology Uprety highlighted is the development of early alert systems that utilize AI to predict potential safety hazards.

“When we use AI not just as a crutch but as a catalyst for change it could become actionable intelligence - where we're able to spend a lot of time in the field now because we've automated so many of those tedious, time consuming tasks like data entry, analysis and replying to emails. We’re also able to use AI to get more reliable leading indicators and move away from a solely lagging indicator focus. This allows us to stay one step ahead, gaining a competitive advantage of predicting the next incident. While AI operates on machine learning principles, I firmly believe it can actually positively influence more time spent developing human connections. Rather than feeling intimidated by its capabilities, used correctly, I think AI affords us more time than ever to spend in the field and nurture deeper connections with our workforce.”

Empowering workers through technology

And the ultimate goal, according to Uprety, is not just to prevent accidents but to empower every worker to actively participate in their own safety. This empowerment is facilitated by Microsoft’s technology but grounded in a philosophy of deep respect for human factors.

“I know there's some concern in the industry around AI replacing jobs but I really that while some jobs might be lost, new ones will be created. And I think the ones that do exist will be so optimized that we get to focus more time on the things that really matter. [AI} is definitely here to stay  - we’re just scratching the surface of what’s to come. The exciting thing is that this technology is the worst it will ever be today, I think of it like comparing the first iPhone to our latest model, it’ll only improve. And though it’s nowhere as good at it will be, I think it’s important that we embrace it and think creatively about how we use it to optimize our jobs and unlock new opportunities for growth and efficiency, regardless of the industry or application. Individuals and organizations that do so will be a step ahead of the competition”.

Panel discussion preview: AI's role in the future of safety management

Just like the Industrial Revolution, the AI Revolution is set to change the makeup of the safety sector in general. As Uprety predicts, his industry will be ‘unrecognizable’ in 10 years – with tech being fully embedded in everything they do.

Uprety will be delving deeper into this topic at our Canadian Safety Summit panel discussion titled "Leveraging the latest technology: Role of artificial intelligence, connected wearable technologies, and smart robots." This session will explore how safety professionals can use AI to automate safety tasks, enhance communication, and utilize predictive analytics. The exclusive panel also covers advancements in wearable devices and smart robots, assessing both risks and rewards, and the pivotal role of data analytics in maximizing safety outcomes.

Afterall – in safety – it’s a case of adapt or die. Because, if you’re not constantly staying ahead of new safety regulations and industry trends, at best you’re being left behind – at worst you’re facing legal action.

Join Uprety and other esteemed panelists such as Olubunmi Alabi from HelloFresh Canada, and Shilo Neveu from Valard Construction Group and Quanta Services, Inc. The discussion will be moderated by Jimmy Vassilopoulos, Director of National Health and Safety at Purolator.

Book your ticket, and check out our agenda, here.