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Newmetrix (formerly Smartvid.io) AI and ethics: Our perspective

The construction industry is one of the most dangerous in the world due to a “fatal accident rate five times higher than that of any other industry.” Unfortunately the fatality rate in construction has gone unchanged for close to 14 years, despite advances in technology, processes, and training. Now the industry faces a new threat to worker safety in COVID-19, adding to jobsite risk. AI can and should be used to help reduce this risk, if it can be done ethically.

In the context of a construction or industrial site, it is the ultimate responsibility of the general contractor and owner to ensure that workers are safe. Observational data plays a critical role in helping organizations understand the nature and effectiveness of jobsite safety culture and approaches.

Current best practice dictates that everyone — the safety manager, the project executive, the project manager, the field superintendent and foremen on the job — document both positive and risky situations and behaviors through observations that are collected in a safety management system. Newmetrix goes further, using AI to identify safety hazards in images and video of the jobsite, each of which can be converted into a safety observation. With the assistance of AI, these observations can be analyzed to act as a sort of automated, always-on “safety manager” that provides insights into workplace behaviors and the presence of specific risk factors.

Improving safety without violating privacy

But safety observations and monitoring must be conducted with privacy in mind.

Our AI-based safety analytics system does not attempt to identify specific workers. There is no facial recognition capability in our software, and there never will be. In fact, I’m proud to say we’re ahead of the curve on this — both San Francisco and Boston have joined a number of smaller cities who have rejected the use of this technology for the purpose of law enforcement.

You see, our goal is not to evaluate and “nail” a worker for an infraction; quite the opposite. We want to help our customers understand the risk factors at each jobsite and take action to mitigate that risk in order to prevent incidents before they occur. The observations made by employees and the images our AI analyzes help generate trend data that is used to focus attention, not to target individuals. In fact, many of the risks we help identify have nothing to do with workers and their behaviors. For example, our AI can identify the presence of standing water as a slip hazard. Finally, as evidence of our commitment to privacy, the Newmetrix platform has been certified to be in compliance with the strict requirements of GDPR, the European privacy standard.

COVID-19 trends
Covid-19 safety dashboards help identify at risk jobs

But we’ve gone further than not providing the ability to identify individuals. We’ve purposely designed our platform to minimize the potential for misuse, with specific project-level guidelines on how the data will (and won’t) be used.

To illustrate, here’s a sample project-level guideline for sharing data with project teams:

Newmetrix is designed to make a company and project safety program even stronger. Newmetrix will not be used to single out individuals or to take unfavorable job actions against particular people but instead it will be used to inform the safety, project & leadership teams where measured results can be improved and where good results can be reinforced. The Newmetrix tool will not be used to identify individuals for any kind of job action, the tool is to inform project teams how their job benchmarks against standards of safe jobs. The jobsite superintendents remain unquestionably empowered to act to make the safety program successful. They obtain teachable examples from Newmetrix’s automatic analysis of photo and video images to know the trends on their jobsites, and they can use the trend data to make safety meetings more directly useful.

Finally, we’re not trying to replace people: AI augments the ability of managers; it doesn’t replace them. By capturing new risk information and expressing it as trends and predictions, we can use AI to improve the health and safety of one of the most dangerous industries in the world. The purpose of using AI is to provide better insights into risk and a stronger understanding of what actions will be most effective to ensure everyone goes home safe and sound at the end of every workday. The system helps people make better decisions about where to focus their attention. Because when it comes to safety, people, not the AI, make the decisions. AI is most effective when its insights are filtered through a human’s perspective.

Interested in learning more about how Newmetrix can help your organization sharply reduce its recordable incident rate without violating your employees’ privacy? Get in touch.


Written by Josh Kanner

Josh Kanner has been involved in enterprise-focused software startups since 2000 with a focus in the AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) industry since 2005.

Most recently he was co-founder of Vela Systems, a pioneer in the use of web and tablet workflows for construction and capital projects. There he led the company’s product, marketing, and business development functions. Vela Systems grew from bootstrapped beginnings to include over 50% of the ENR Top Contractors as customers and deployments all over the globe. The company was successfully acquired by Autodesk in 2012 and has been rebranded as BIM 360 Field.

Prior to founding Vela Systems, Josh was responsible for product management and strategy at Emptoris (now part of IBM), a web-based strategic sourcing software company with customers including Motorola, GlaxoSmithKline, Bank of America, and American Express.

Kanner graduated from Brown University and earned an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He still gets excited to put on a hard hat and walk a job.

View more posts by Josh Kanner.

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