Implications of Artificial Intelligence to the Safety Professional

Whats the big deal?

Kraftwerk,_Manchester_International_Festival_2009_(3)

Machine ethics and robot rights are quickly becoming hot topics in artificial intelligence/robotics communities. Using this literature review I will argue that the attempts to allow machines to make ethical decisions or to have rights in the workplace are misguided. Instead a new science of safety engineering for intelligent artificial agents is proposed. In particular we issue a challenge to the scientific community to develop intelligent systems capable of proving that they are in fact safe even under recursive self-improvement. (Hall, J)


Introduction to Artificial Intelligence:

Artificial.intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the aptitude demonstrated by machines or software. In academia it studies the goal of creating intelligence. Researchers in the field and textbooks define this field as “the study and design of intelligent agents”, where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chances of success. John McCarthy, who coined the term in 1955, defines it as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines”. (McCarthy, 1955)

AI research is technical and specialized, and is severely divided into subfields that often fail to converse with each other. Some of the separation is due to social and cultural factors: subfields have grown up around specific organizations and the work of individual scholars. AI research is also divided by several technical issues. Some subfields focus on the explanation of specific problems. While other fields focus on one of several possible approaches or on the use of a particular tool or towards the accomplishment of particular applications.

The central goals of AI research include rational, knowledge, planning, learning, natural language processing, perception and the ability to move and control objects. General intelligence is still among the field’s long term goals. Currently popular approaches include statistical methods, computational intelligence and traditional symbolic AI. There are a large number of tools used in AI, including versions of search and mathematical optimization, logic, methods based on probability and economics, and many others. The AI field is interdisciplinary, in which a number of sciences and professions converge, including computer science, mathematics, psychology, linguistic, philosophy, and neuroscience, as well as other specialized fields such as artificial psychology. (McCarthy, 2006)

Recent developments in artificial intelligence are allowing an increasing number of decisions to be passed from human to machine. Most of these to date are operational decisions such as algorithms on the financial markets deciding what trades to make and how. However, the ranges of such decisions that can be compute are increasing, and as many operational decisions have moral consequences, they could be considered to have a moral component.

Imagine, in the near future, a company using a machine learning algorithm to recommend workers compensation for approval.  An unsatisfied workers comp.  applicant brings a lawsuit against the company, alleging that the algorithm is discriminating racially against workers compensation applicants.  The company replies that this is impossible, since the algorithm is intentionally blinded to the race of the applicants.  Indeed, that was part of the companies’ rationale for implementing the system.  Even so, data show that the company’s approval rate for black applicants have been plummeting.  Submitting ten seemingly equally qualified genuine applicants’ shows that the algorithm accepts white applicants and rejects black applicants.  What could possibly be happening?

Finding a solution may not be easy.  If the machine learning algorithm is constructed on a complicated neural network, or a genetic system produced by directed development, at this point it may show things almost impossible to understand why, or even how, the algorithm is judging applicants based on their race. Additionally a machine learner based on decision trees or Bayesian networks is much more transparent to programmer inspection (Yampolskiy. 2012), which may enable an inspector to discover that the AI algorithm uses the address information of applicants who were born or previously resided in predominantly in stricken areas where nuclear disasters had taken place.

AI algorithms play an increasingly large role in modern society, though usually not labeled “AI”.  The scenario described above might be transpiring even as you read.  It will become increasingly important to develop AI algorithms that are not just powerful and scalable, but also transparent to inspection, to name one of many societal concerns with safety of constantly advancing machines. Unfortunately the perceived abundance of research in intelligent machine safety is misleading. The great majority of published papers are purely philosophical in nature and do little more than reiterate the need for machine ethics and argue about which set of moral convictions would be the right ones to implement in our artificial progeny. (Yampolskiy. 2012) However, since ethical norms are not universal, a “correct” ethical code could never be selected over others to the satisfaction of humanity as a whole.


Artificial Intelligence Safety Engineering:

Even if people are successful at designing machines capable of passing a Moral Test, human-like performance means some dishonest actions, which should not be acceptable from the machines we design and employ. In other words, we don’t need machines which are Full Ethical Agents debating about what is right and wrong, we need our machines to be inherently safe and law abiding. As Robin Hanson has sophisticatedly put it: “ In the early to intermediate era when robots are not vastly more capable than humans, you’d want peaceful law-abiding robots as capable as possible, so as to make productive partners. … Most important would be that you and they have a mutually-acceptable law as a good enough way to settle disputes, so that they do not resort to predation or revolution. If their main way to get what they want is to trade for it via mutually agreeable exchanges, then you shouldn’t much care what exactly they want. The later era when robots are vastly more capable than people should be much like the case of choosing a nation in which to retire. In this case we don’t expect to have much in the way of skills to offer, so we mostly care that they are law-abiding enough to respect our property rights. If they use the same law to keep the peace among themselves as they use to keep the peace with us, we could have a long and prosperous future in whatever weird world they conjure. … In the long run, what matters most is that we all share a mutually acceptable law to keep the peace among us, and allow mutually advantageous relations, not that we agree on the “right” values. Tolerate a wide range of values from capable law-abiding robots. It is a good law we should most strive to create and preserve. Law really matters.” (Yampolskiy. 2012)

Consequently, we propose that purely philosophical discussions of ethics for machines be supplemented by scientific work aimed at creating safe machines in the context of a new field we will term “AI Safety Engineering.” Some real work in this important area has already begun . A common theme in AI safety research is the possibility of keeping a super intelligent agent in a sealed hardware so as to prevent it from doing any harm to humankind. Such ideas originate with scientific visionaries such as Eric Drexler who has suggested confining trans human machines so that their outputs could be studied and used safely. Similarly, Nick Bostrom, a futurologist, has proposed  an idea for an Oracle AI (OAI), which would be only capable of answering questions. Finally, in 2010 David Chalmers proposed the idea of a “leakproof” singularity. He suggested that for safety reasons, AI systems first be restricted to simulated virtual worlds until their behavioral tendencies could be fully understood under the controlled conditions. (Yampolskiy. 2012)


The Challenges Ahead:

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As for the challenge of AI safety engineering, I believe that developing safety mechanisms for self-improving systems will be the most difficult. If an artificially intelligent machine is as capable as a human engineer of designing the next generation of intelligent systems, it is important to make sure that any safety mechanism incorporated in the initial design is still functional after thousands of generations of constant self-improvement without human interference. Ideally every generation of self-improving system should be able to produce a verifiable proof of its safety for external inspection. It would be disastrous to allow a safe intelligent machine to design an inherently unsafe upgrade for itself resulting in a more capable and more dangerous system.

Some have argued that this challenge is either not solvable or if it is solvable one will not be able to prove that the discovered solution is correct. As the complexity of any system increases, the number of errors in the design increases proportionately or perhaps even exponentially. Even a single bug in a self-improving system (the most complex system to debug) will violate all safety guarantees. Worse yet, a bug could be introduced even after the design is complete either via a random mutation caused by deficiencies in hardware or via a natural event such as a short circuit modifying some component of the system.


My Two Cents:

We would like to offer some broad suggestions for the future directions of research aimed at counteracting the problems presented in this paper. First, the research itself needs to change from the domain of interest of only theoreticians and philosophers to the direct involvement of practicing computer scientists. Limited AI systems need to be developed as a way to experiment with non-anthropomorphic minds and to improve current security protocols. Some preliminary work has begun to appear in scientific venues which aim to specifically address issues of AI safety and ethics, if only in human-level-intelligence systems. One of the most prestigious scientific magazines, Science, has recently published on the topic of Roboethics and numerous papers on Machine Ethics and Cyborg Ethics have been published in recent years in other prestigious journals.

With increased acceptance will come possibility to publish in many mainstream academic venues and we call on authors and readers of this volume to start specialized peer-reviewed journals and conferences devoted to the AI safety research. With availability of publication venues more scientists will participate and will develop practical algorithms and begin performing experiments directly related to the AI safety research. This would further solidify AI safety engineering as a mainstream scientific topic of interest and will produce some long awaited answers.

In the meantime we are best to assume that the AGI may present serious risks to humanity’s very existence and to proceed or not to proceed accordingly. A quote from a paper by Samuel Butler which was written in 1863 and amazingly predicts the situation in which humanity has found itself :

“Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; … Every machine of every sort should be destroyed by the well-wisher of his species. Let there be no exceptions made, no quarter shown; let us at once go back to the primeval condition of the race. If it be urged that this is impossible under the present condition of human affairs, this at once proves that the mischief is already done, that our servitude has commenced in good earnest, that we have raised a race of beings whom it is beyond our power to destroy, and that we are not only enslaved but are absolutely acquiescent in our bondage.”

Vincent Muller

These challenges may seem visionary, but it seems predictable that we will encounter them; and they are not devoid of suggestions for present‐day research directions.


References:

Allen, C., Wallach, W., & Smit, I. (2006). Why Machine Ethics? IEEE Expert / IEEE Intelligent Systems. doi:10.1109/MIS.2006.83

Hall, J. S. (2007). Self-improving AI: an Analysis. Minds and Machines. doi:10.1007/s11023-007-9065-3

International Conference in Information, Communication, and Automation Technologies 2011 : Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina. (2011). 2011 XXIII International Symposium on Information, Communication and Automation Technologies, ICAT 2011: 27-29 October 2011, Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina. Piscataway, NJ: IEEE.

International Symposium on Neural Networks (8th : 2011 : Guilin Diqu, China). (2011). Advances in neural networks–ISNN 2011: 8th International Symposium on Neural Networks, ISNN 2011, Guilin, China, May 29-June 1, 2011, proceedings. Berlin: Springer.

McCarthy, J., Minsky, M., Rochester, N., & Shannon, C. E. (2006). A Proposal for the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence, August 31, 1955.

Muller, Vincent C. (2013). Philosophy and theory of artificial intelligence. Berlin: Springer.

Yampolskiy, R. V., & Govindaraju, V. (2012). Artificial Intelligence Safety Engineering: Why Machine Ethics Is a Wrong Approach. doi:10.1504/IJBM.2008.018665

Top 10 most frequently cited OSHA standards violated in FY2013

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The following were the top 10 most frequently cited standards by Federal OSHA in fiscal year 2013 (October 1, 2012 through September 30, 2013):

  1. Fall protection, construction (29 CFR 1926.501) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
  2. Hazard communication standard, general industry (29 CFR 1910.1200) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
  3. Scaffolding, general requirements, construction (29 CFR 1926.451) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
  4. Respiratory protection, general industry (29 CFR 1910.134) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
  5. Electrical, wiring methods, components and equipment, general industry (29 CFR 1910.305) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
  6. Powered industrial trucks, general industry (29 CFR 1910.178) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
  7. Ladders, construction (29 CFR 1926.1053) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
  8. Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout), general industry (29 CFR 1910.147) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
  9. Electrical systems design, general requirements, general industry (29 CFR 1910.303) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
  10. Machinery and Machine Guarding, general requirements (29 CFR 1910.212) [related OSHA Safety and Health Topics page]
*This information was taken off the OSHA homepage

Are Dietary Supplements Safe?

What the Heck is a Dietary Supplement:

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A dietary supplement is intended to provide nutrients that may otherwise not be consumed in sufficient quantities. Supplements as generally understood include vitamins, minerals, fiber, fatty acids, or amino acids, among other substances. U.S. authorities define dietary supplements as foods, while elsewhere they may be classified as drugs or other products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments. The FDA is responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the regulation and supervision of food safety, tobacco products, dietary supplements, prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs, vaccines, bio-pharmaceuticals, blood transfusions, medical devices, electromagnetic radiation emitting devices, and veterinary products (Tao, Jiang).

In October 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) were signed into law by President Clinton (Tao, Jiang). Before this time, dietary supplements were subject to the same regulatory requirements as were other foods. This new law, which amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, created a new regulatory framework for the safety and labeling of dietary supplements (Tao, Jiang). Under DSHEA, a firm is responsible for determining that the dietary supplements it manufactures or distributes are safe and that any representations or claims made about them are substantiated by adequate evidence to show that they are not false or misleading. This means that dietary supplements do not need approval from FDA before they are marketed. Except in the case of a new dietary ingredient, where pre-market review for safety data and other information is required by law, a firm does not have to provide FDA with the evidence it relies on to substantiate safety or effectiveness before or after it markets its products (Food).  In June, 2007, FDA published comprehensive regulations for Current Good Manufacturing Practices for those who manufacture, package or hold dietary supplement products. These regulations focus on practices that ensure the identity, purity, quality, strength and composition of dietary supplements (Hileman, Bette).


My Two Cents:

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Presently, manufacturers do not need to register their products with FDA or get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements. Manufacturers must make sure that product label information is truthful and not misleading. Current guidelines set by the FDA are too relaxed and in recent years have caused deaths that could have been prevented with stricter laws regarding dietary supplement safety.  The guidelines given by the FDA contains some useful information on the hazards of some dietary supplements, but for those familiar with the dietary supplement marketplace, the guidelines are far too complacent. The FDA fears the ability of the supplement industry to influence. Such fear is reasonable given the willingness of the health food and supplement industries to mount false campaigns and to influence congress with political contributions. I sympathize with the FDA having some background in the supplement industry, but still criticize the FDA for not pointing out the shortcomings of the new guidelines. The FDA’s collapse in principle was obvious when the guidelines on their website stated that “consumers need to be discriminating. FDA and industry have important roles to play, but consumers must take responsibility too.”(Food, 2012)  It is unclear to me how consumers can be reasonably expected to know when real dangers exist. How are consumers to know when ingredients are adulterated, contaminated or counterfeited? How are consumers to know how to properly apply dietary supplements when inadequate information is provided on labels? Why does the FDA tell consumers to check with their physicians when it knows that no information exists regarding food and drug interactions or on the effects of long term use?  How can consumers possibly know when poor manufacturing practices have been applied? Given the poor self-policing record of the dietary supplement industry, I am amazed at such naivety. It is fundamental to consumer protection that regulation is needed under circumstances in which consumers are unable to protect themselves. The FDA statement reflects the recommendations of the Commission on Dietary Supplements which sided with the dietary supplement industry’s position of having consumers bear responsibility for harm caused by supplement misuse (Tao, Jiang).

The FDA is able to do nothing except wait for the next incident to occur before other dietary supplement products have also caused serious effects. In the present the FDA needs to discuss regulations and laws of dietary supplements, and as a consumer I hope to see more new laws and regulations to assure people of continued access to high-quality natural healthcare products and dietary supplements.


References:

“Food.” Q&A on Dietary Supplements. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.             .

Hileman, Bette. “Fda Finalizes Rules For Dietary Supplements.” Chemical & Engineering News   (00092347) 85.27 (2007): 6. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.

Tao, Jiang. “Re-Thinking The Dietary Supplement Laws And Regulations 14 Years After The      Dietary Supplement Health And Education Act Implementation.” International Journal      Of Food Sciences & Nutrition 60.4 (2009): 293-301. Academic Search Complete. Web.     10 Sept. 2013.

My Opinions on The Tohoku Earthquake Disaster

Tohoku Earthquake:

Devastation_after_tsunami_in_Iwaki_2

Tuesday (March 11, 2014) marked the third anniversary of a devastating earthquake and tsunami that left nearly 19,000 people dead, destroyed coastal communities and triggered a nuclear crisis. The Tohoku Earthquake, also called the Great Sendai Earthquake was a severe natural disaster that occurred in northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011. The event began with a powerful earthquake off the northeastern coast of Honshu, Japan’s main island, which caused widespread damage on land and initiated a series of large tsunami waves that devastated many coastal areas of the country, most notably in the Tohoku region (northeastern Honshu). The tsunami also instigated a major nuclear accident at a power station along the coast.


Impact of the Earthquake:

As can be expected from the most powerful earthquake ever to hit Japan, critical infrastructure, environmental, compensation and disaster assistance, and population resiliency recovery efforts are still ongoing.  Japan’s national and local authorities have estimated that reconstruction will cost approximately ¥23 trillion ($290 billion) and take over a decade. While nearly all the rubble has been removed from affected areas, the country’s energy infrastructure is still recovering, as all but two nuclear reactors remain offline and the Fukushima nuclear reactor is still leaking large amounts of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean. Hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced, mostly from areas around the Fukushima nuclear plant, and the process to remove radiation from the soil may take decades. The economy took a massive hit, not only from the destruction and cleanup costs, but also from a loss of income from manufacturing, fishing, and tourism.


Response to Disaster:

Due to the large area of impact of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, a broad range of stakeholders were involved with disaster recovery efforts. The primary disaster recovery stakeholders were the citizens in the impacted area. Displaced people needed sheltering as their homes and communities were rebuilt. Short term shelters as well as long term solutions, such as public housing or temporary housing, were able to meet the needs of the people. The impacted region’s economy was also a key stakeholder during the recovery phase. Reconstruction was necessary to reestablish economic productivity as well as income streams for the thousands of residents in the disaster area. Employees were needed to keep businesses in operation. Finding workers was difficult due to population emigration from the disaster area. Another disaster recovery stakeholder was the local governments. Government facilities were damaged, infrastructure destroyed, and finances were strained due to the disaster. Financial support was needed to support recovery efforts. Lastly, the environment was a stakeholder in the recovery phase of the disaster. Millions of tons of debris needed to be removed. Radioactive contamination was and still is an issue in the Tohoku region. Funding and skilled personnel were needed for debris removal and to reduce the impact of radioactive contamination.


My Two Cents:

Satellite_image_of_Japan_in_May_2003

In my opinion the nation of Japan organized a massive, speedy response that helped mitigate damage. Immediately after the disaster, the government established an emergency response team headed by the prime minister. Within a day, the Ministry of Defense ordered deployment of all the available resources of the country’s military. Robust catastrophic planning, preparedness, and mitigation make a society more resilient to disaster. The Japanese people demonstrated a “culture of preparedness” which is a vital part to disaster preparedness.  The Japanese government had, prior to the disaster, worked to ensure that “all of Japan’s national territory is covered by early warning systems for storms, torrential rains, heavy snow, sediment disasters, tsunamis, tidal waves, high surf, inundation and floods….” (Jonathan A.)

Furthermore, in the aftermath of the disaster, the Japanese people demonstrated remarkable resilience and discipline with no reports of rioting or large-scale disruptions. I hope in a small way to contribute to continued learning from Japan’s tragedy and to prevent further tragedies resulting from similar disasters which occur elsewhere.


References:

“Earthquake, Tsunami, Meltdown – The Triple Disaster’s Impact on Japan, Impact on the World.” The Brookings Institution. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

Jonathan A. Lassa, “Japan’s Resilience to Tsunamis and the Lessons for Japan and the World: An Early Observation,” Ash Center, Harvard Kennedy School, at http://www.zef.de/module/register/media/b4d0_Japantsunami20resilience31mar2011.pdf (March 10, 2014).

“Recovery from the 2011 Japan Earthquake.” Welcome! N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.

Is Your Small Business Safe?

Small Businesses and Safety:

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Small businesses are normally privately owned corporations, partnerships, or sole proprietorship. What constitutes “small” in terms of government support and tax policy varies by country and by industry. In the United States the Small Business Administration establishes small business size standards on an industry-by-industry basis, but generally specifies a small business as having fewer than 250 employees for manufacturing businesses and less than $7 million in annual receipts for most non-manufacturing businesses. In the United States, some of the largest concerns of small business owners are insurance costs (such as liability and health), rising energy costs, taxes and tax compliance.


Some History About OSHA:

Since 1971, OSHA has worked to ensure the safety and health of America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach and education; establishing partnerships and encouraging continual process improvement in workplace safety and health. OSHA has numerous resources available to help small business maintain a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. According to the Small Business Administration, there are more than 25 million small businesses in the United States employing more than 113 million people. (Rowe, 2007)With such a large number of employees in the small business work force, OSHA has vested interest in doing everything possible to provide employers with the resources needed to protect all of those employees while they are at work. (Rowe, 2007) In 1996, Congress passed the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, or SBREFA, in response to concerns expressed by the small business community that Federal regulations were too numerous, too complex and too expensive to implement. SBREFA was designed to give small businesses assistance in understanding and complying with regulations and more of a voice in the development of new regulations.(“Employer rights and,” 2011)

Aside from SBREFA OSHA has numerous services that assist in the prosperity of small business in the modern world. The On-site Consultation Program’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) recognizes small business employers who operate an exemplary injury and illness prevention program. Acceptance of a worksite into SHARP from OSHA is an achievement of status that singles out the company among business peers as a model for worksite safety and health. Upon receiving SHARP recognition, OSHA exempts worksites from OSHA programmed inspections during the period that the SHARP certification is valid. OSHA gives incentive to small businesses to maintain exemplary injury and illness prevention with SHARP. SHARP provides protection, creates a culture, builds a reputation, and saves the small business money by lowering worker compensation insurance premium, improving worker retention, and reducing worker days away from work to keep operations and production running smoothly.


My Two Cents:

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It may seem as though OSHA is on the right path of achieving its overall goal: “to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women.” But federal regulations have two fundamental shortcomings: they cannot take into account differences among workplaces and workers, and they define only minimum standards that can be expected of every company. Treating a variety of companies with such a generic minimum as an end goal is an unwise decision for safe and healthful working conditions. People will argue that that’s why OSHA has the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, and other initiatives that encourage employers to exceed compliance. It’s why a growing number of industry groups promote more rigorous standards and best practices. And it’s why federal regulators should set higher standards and tailor processes to specific workplaces, rather than relying on what is spelled out (or left out) by regulations.

When employees operate under a comprehensive safety and health management system incidents of injury and illness go down, insurance costs go down and workers compensation payments go down. At the same time, employee morale goes up, productivity goes up and profits go up. This is a simple and logical process. Mathematically and economically this process shows that businesses can prosper when they invest in employee safety. (Foulke, 2007)  The bottom line: Government standards designed to ensure minimum levels of safety and health for the nation’s entire workforce cannot provide the details or performance goals that will be best for a company. If a company limits its safety and health programs to what the government can pass into law, it will fail to realize its full potential to protect people and improve overall business performance. Too much focus on regulations will shortchange workers and profits.


References:

Foulke, E. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, American Council of Independent Laboratories (2007). Osha – acil alliance achievements. Retrieved from website: https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_id=1042&p_table=SPEECHES

Rowe, K. (2007). Osha and small businesses: A winning combination. (3 ed., Vol. 69, pp. 33-35). Ipswich, MA: Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Retrieved from http://0-ehis.ebscohost.com.ksclib.keene.edu/ehost/detail?sid=19c48bf5-cdf0-4e0f-81fe-3de9073cc6fa@sessionmgr14&vid=1&hid=5&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ==

U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (2011). Employer rights and responsibilities following an osha inspection(OSHA 3000-09R). Retrieved from website: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3000.html

Reflection on Tower Deaths and Being a Safety Professional

What is a Safety Professional?

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Safety and health professionals are the critical link to assuring worker health and safety. Every workplace can benefit from the valued knowledge and experience safety professionals bring to an organization. Safety professionals not only help identify and reduce workplace hazards, they help reduce costs and optimize the contributions of all working men and women for the organization. The safety and health professional faces many challenges in the world. The biggest challenge in being a safety and health professional is being effective in your role. The safety and health professional has to change the culture of its workforce. They must be able to apply technology and work with top management to minimize risk and ensure that safety, health and environmental performance are fundamental measures of business success.

Professional safety practice today involves aspects of engineering, business, health, education, laws and regulations, human behavior, education and training and computer and internet technologies. They use qualitative and quantitative analysis of simple and complex products, systems, operations, and activities to identify hazards. They evaluate the hazards to identify what events can occur and the likelihood of occurrence, severity of results, risk and cost. Besides knowledge of a wide range of hazards, controls, and safety assessment methods, safety professionals must have knowledge of physical, chemical, biological and behavioral sciences, mathematics, business, training and educational techniques, engineering concepts, and particular kinds of operations (construction, manufacturing, transportation, etc.).


Cell Tower Deaths:

A video preview about “Cell Tower Deaths” by FRONTLINE PBS:

The video showed the current state of the telecommunication industry. In order to satisfy the ever-increasing demand for cell phone service, tower climbers install and service cell antennas, a dangerous job that requires them to ascend hundreds of feet. The video showed the phenomenon happening across the country, these workers have fallen to their deaths from cell phone towers because of unsafe practices.  An investigation by ProPublica and FRONTLINE shows that the convenience of mobile phones has come at price: Between 2003 and 2011, 50 climbers died working on cell sites, more than half of the nearly 100 were killed on communications towers. Yet cell phone carriers’ connection to tower-climbing deaths has remained invisible. The carriers’ outsource the dangerous work to subcontractors, a practice that is increasingly common in dangerous businesses from coal mining to trucking to hazardous waste removal. If one were to look up the major cell carriers in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s database of workplace accident investigations, there would not be a single tower climber fatality listed.

A big reason for all of these accidents happening is because of the lack of a proper safety program. These accidents would have never happened if these tower climbers were properly educated on work safety, given the proper equipment, and had a safety professional on site.  Most workers do obey safety regulations when a safety professional is on site, but with a weak safety culture the workers tend to look the other way when an enforcer is not present. The safety and health professional has to change the culture of its workforce in order to have truly safe work place. In an ideally safe workplace the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and values that employees share in relation to safety are a reflection of how safety is managed in the workplace. If the employees had a stronger safety culture they would be more likely to obey safety regulations without constant supervision.


My Two Cents:

The video stated that OSHA’s ability to hold carriers accountable when workers are injured or die was insufficient. According to OSHA, carriers can be held accountable only if they exercised direct control over subcontractors’ work or were aware of specific unsafe conditions. The difficulty is that subcontractors are sometimes separated by a chain of other contractors from the companies that ultimately pay for tower projects so the carriers are never held accountable for accidents. When federal lawmakers passed legislation creating OSHA, they intended to protect workers by imposing clear, uniform rules on their employers. The law assumed that the relationship between companies and the people they hired for jobs would be direct. Law makers did not give enough flexibility to organizations like OSHA to do its job correctly. The problem found in OSHA prosecuting large carriers is fundamentally the same dilemma faced by a safety professional in the workplace, but on a grander scale. Management not devoting enough power into the safety professional is comparable to the law makers making OSHA laws strict. Both the safety professional and OSHA do not have the flexibility required to continually improve to the modern world, while minimizing risk and ensuring that safety, health, and environmental performance are the fundamental measures of business success.