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How can automation reduce safety and productivity?

For many industries, including Mining and Oil & Gas, there are a lot of headwinds at the moment. This situation has a range of our clients talking about automation as a ‘solution’ to reduce costs while increasing safety and company performance.

While technology enhancements can deliver the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, our experience is that they rarely do without careful (but not difficult) considerations. When things don’t go to plan you can almost hear people screaming “But, how could the spreadsheet plan be so wrong!?”.

From our experience, there are a three key questions that are best asked before considering technology changes involving people:

  • Would the technology be expected to reduce workload (i.e. increase monotony & boredom) and/or increase workload (e.g. by adding complexity)? If so, then there is an early red flag for the possibility of increased fatigue impairment, which may demand different risk controls that the ones already in place.
  • Is there a reason that the risks within the system will increase for a period, before the benefits are obtained? This could simply be due to the change process itself, or the fact that parallel systems have to be maintained for a time. If so, then don’t expect a linear accrual of benefits but plan for the likely reality until the system data suggests stability exists.
  • Could the workforce see the technology as a threat to their job security? If so, don’t under-estimate the very human ability to make achievement of success very difficult or impossible. If their jobs are safe but their role now has higher order purposes for quality and assurance then communicate that. If the technology will provide them feedback to help them enhance their own personal safety and team productivity then explain how that is possible.

The good news is that change can be managed well, and often with a lot less investment and drama than people fear. In practice, a little bit of forethought, planning and communication can go a very long way. If you have your own successes or lessons about any of this please share them. Regards, Adam

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