Are "high-tech tradies" the future of work safety?
Researchers are developing cutting-edge digital tech to help the tradies of tomorrow stay safe on the job.
CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, has joined forces with five Aussie universities in an 18-million-dollar project to revolutionise workplace safety.
The Tech4HSE program will unite leading experts in emerging technologies such as generative and immersive artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality and cybersecurity to develop tech to help those working in dangerous environments.
Professor Aaron Quigly, Science Director of the program's leading organisation, Data61, said the technologies developed will support health, safety and environmental (HSE) objectives across a wide range of industries.
"Whether they're working with electrical equipment, heavy machinery or on our roads, millions of Australians put themselves in harm's way every day to help and serve others," said Professor Quigley.
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"We're bringing the best researchers in the nation together to help get everyone home safely, by creating advanced digital tools for training, identifying and monitoring hazards, and planning responses and actions."
All participating institutions are contributing funding and research expertise to the program, with UQ administering the funding.
The Australian construction sector has long suffered high rates of workplace accidents and fatalities, with the industry recording 24 fatalities from 2022-2023.
Statistics from Safe Work Australia also show that tradies, labourers, machinery operators and drivers are very vulnerable to site accidents, with workers in those professions making up a whopping 50 per cent of serious workplace insurance claims.
UQ Tech4HSE Science Lead Dr Mashhuda Glencross said these projects present an exciting opportunity to make an impactful difference.
"The innovative technologies we are researching and developing in this initiative are aimed at supporting the safety of Australians during disasters and when working in potentially hazardous environments," said Dr Glencross.
Prototypes will be built over five years and trialled in real-world job scenarios, focusing on developing commercially viable products that are "responsible by design".
In the first project currently underway, researchers from Data61 and UQ say they are developing technologies to support "crisis preparedness and response for workers" in the energy industry.
Data61 Tech4HSE Science Lead Dr Matt Adcock said one example of the technology being developed will combine state-of-the-art augmented reality technology (think Apple's Vision Pro headset) and 3D generative AI.
"Our aim is to take smart glasses to a new level by enabling the placement of helpful digital holograms within the physical work environment to support emergency response safety training and assisted decision-making under heightened stress levels," said Dr Adcock.