BY PROFESSOR ROBIN BURGESS-LIMERICK, SUSTAINABLE MINERALS INSTITUTE, THE UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND
In addition to improving productivity, increased automation has considerable potential to reduce safety and health risks by removing people from hazardous situations. Automation, however, does not remove people from the system – it just changes the tasks that they undertake. For the system to function safely and effectively, these new tasks must be designed with human abilities and limitations taken into account.
The choice of which functions should be automated requires consideration of the capabilities and limitations of humans. People are good at perceiving patterns; they adapt, improvise and accommodate quickly to unexpected variability. People are not good at precise repetition of actions or vigilant tasks. System design requires more than allocating functions to person and machine; rather, the challenge is to identify how the operators, supervisors, maintainers and automated components can collaborate effectively to perform the functions required. The impact of automation on current and potential future employees also requires examination to ensure that the change is managed for optimal safety and health outcomes.