The Internet of Things (IoT) is cropping up everywhere: in our homes, cars, restrooms and now we can even wear smart technology. The world is getting more and more connected by collecting and using data to optimize the things we do every day.
Wearable technology brings that one step closer by making it easier to collect data that’s closest to us, including how we move and react to different situations. Wearable technology uses electronic devices to measure different functions and then intelligently uses the data. For example, a smart watch is a type of wearable technology with sensors to measure the wearer’s heart rate, track steps, etc. for fitness purposes.
In the safety industry, wearable technology is starting to be used to help keep workers safe. It might be included in personal protective equipment (PPE), like sensors on hard hats or glasses, or it could be worn like a smart watch.
What can be measured?
These devices help give workers a bigger-picture view of their health and safety on the job. Wearable technology is used to measure an array of different safety factors, including worker stress levels, how close workers get to machinery, ergonomics and fall detection.
For these reasons, wearable IoT safety technology can be applied for use in a variety of job settings. For example, proximity detection monitors can be worn in mines or at construction sites to measure how often workers get within a certain distance to equipment and will warn them if they get too close. This information can help identify near misses, and be used to help develop training programs to maximize safety.
Does it really work?
The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) Foundation recently released a research report showing the value of wearable technology in the workplace. The three-year study demonstrated how to capture a worker’s safety performance and translate the data into measuring personal fatigue levels. Participants wore non-obtrusive wrist, hip and ankle sensors while completing three tasks commonly performed by manufacturing workers – assembly, stocking and remaining in a static or flexed position. Each person worked in three hour-increments and researchers could actually see the difference between how workers performed a task in the first hour compared to the third hour when fatigue became a factor. Wearable technology can uncover precursors to larger problems and help establish safety interventions that may call for scheduled breaks, posture adjustments or vitamin supplements that help the body.
There’s no doubt that wearable safety technology can offer valuable insight into potentially unsafe workplace practices. However, one of the main obstacles to implementing these technologies can come down to the workers themselves. Some workers may perceive connected technology as being overly watchful, and have concerns that the devices monitor productivity rather than safety. When using this technology, it’s important to assure staff that the devices are to enhance health and safety, and identify additional ways to help protect them in the work environment.
Another issue with some types of IoT safety devices is that they might actually distract workers and pose a safety risk. Some devices have sensors that will sound an alarm, or use haptics to alert workers under particular circumstances. These safety warnings can be beneficial to warn workers of unsafe practices, like if they are too close to a machinery, but in some circumstances, like while driving, they can be a dangerous distraction. Experts recommend setting up and using controls to limit when the device can send alerts to prevent it from being a distraction.
While there are challenges to implementing any new technology, the benefits of wearable safety technology greatly outweigh any negatives. There is a definite need to make a change in workplace health and safety. There were 951 workplace fatalities recorded in Canada in 2017, according to the Association of Worker’s Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC), and over the last five years, there have been an average of over 900 workplace fatalities each year. This serious issue needs to be addressed and wearable safety technology can have a big impact in helping prevent workplace injuries.
These devices help workers become more aware of their environment and help preemptively identify issues they may not have even realized were there. Collecting this type of information makes it easier to analyze where there might be gaps in safety protocol and practices, and can identify how safety practices can be improved.