How WHS professionals can stay ahead of the AI governance curve

There are important governance considerations for WHS professionals and their organisations in developing and rolling out artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, according to Schellie-Jayne Price, an expert in the area.

While many organisations are at different stages of the AI adoption curve, Price said she has yet to encounter any organisation that believes it has fully mastered AI governance. 

“Many are on a steep learning curve, knowing they must do something but unsure exactly where to start. Others already have a suite of professionals looking AI governance documents,” said Price, who is a partner at Stirling & Rose, a boutique law firm that provides specialist legal and corporate advice on emerging technology such as artificial intelligence.

“There is a significant difference between having governance (documentation and detailed procedures) and doing governance (people taking practical, sensible steps on the ground to capture opportunities and mitigate risk).”

Price, who was speaking ahead of the AIHS National Health and Safety Conference 2024, which will be held at the Melbourne Convention Centre from 21-23 May, said her observations referred to machine learning (a sub-branch of AI which underpins the recent ground-breaking developments in AI such as generative AI).

“There are murmurs that excessive focus on governance documentation may overshadow practical implementation considerations,” said Price.

“Governance documentation is important, no doubt. But the process to get there and to keep current in such a dynamic area matters – a lot.”

Good AI governance is about people, according to Price, who observed that three things stand out in the organisations that fare better at AI governance.

“Firstly, their leaders support the AI journey with an honest and open approach, candidly sharing their own learnings and experience with AI. They turn up to events and workshops and engage with the ideas and experiences of their workforce,” she said.

“Second, they encourage their workforce to get hands-on AI experience, to ‘just play’ with AI technologies in controlled circumstances, and they provide dedicated time to do so. They deliver ongoing AI education and opportunities to share ideas and concerns.

“Thirdly, they encourage thought leadership. Many AI incidents are the result of workforce inability to imagine what ‘could’ happen because they don’t have sufficient knowledge or experience. 

“And AI is not standing still. The best organisations plan for where AI will be in the future, not where it is now. To be thought-provoking, let me add that in the future, good governance may be about good AI.”

AI is also impacting safety and regulation in a number of ways. For example, Price said AI workplace monitoring facilitates many safety-enhancing opportunities, including near-miss detection, safety protocol adherence, detection of unsafe conditions and predictive analytics. 

However, the intersection of AI monitoring for safety and workforce surveillance presents a delicate balance. 

“While AI-driven measures may enhance workplace safety, they also raise concerns about workforce wellbeing, privacy and autonomy,” she said.

“As organisations increasingly adopt AI technologies, they will grapple with ethical use, and lawmakers may face further calls to adjust policy and regulations to address new safety opportunities and concerns about workforce rights and wellbeing. The regulatory response is likely to be highly influenced by worker experience.”

Price also predicted that with increasingly capable AI, the time will come when a failure to use AI to undertake certain activities will amount to a breach of safety obligations. 

However, the use of AI also brings opportunities, and Price said WHS professionals are perfectly placed for AI career opportunities.

“Many uses of AI in the workplace are likely to involve a safety evaluation. Expect to see WHS roles that require expertise in the use of AI in WHS together with new opportunities in the area of AI safety more broadly,” she said.

She recommended they learn about AI, learn the language and concepts, try it out hands-on, and keep learning.

“Listen to podcasts (such as the AI Breakdown), join AI meetups, find or build your AI and WHS community – it’s a dynamic journey,” she said.
Price will be speaking about ‘shifting paradigms: how AI transforms the landscape of safety and regulation’ at the AIHS National Health and Safety Conference 2024, which will be held at the Melbourne Convention Centre from 21-23 May. The conference will offer three days of workshops, presentations, keynote speeches, networking events and a conference dinner. Delegates will have the opportunity to learn from their peers, share knowledge and grow their professional networks. For more information, email [email protected], call (03) 8336 1995 or visit the event website.