March 21, 2017
According to the most recent data from the International Labor Organization, every 15 seconds a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease. On top of 2.3 million deaths per year from occupational accidents, over 313 million workers suffer non-fatal work injuries. The great human cost also has an economic impact: For employers, on-the-job accidents cost billions of dollars annually due to production downtime and workers’ compensation fees.
Can technology help prevent work-related accidents and diseases? The majority of workplace injuries are easily preventable through real-time monitoring of workers. After all, connected workers – aware of (and sensed by) their environment through IoT technologies – are inherently safer.
Wearable technology can greatly improve workplace safety. For example,
- Smart bands and sensors embedded in clothing and gear can be used to monitor workers’ health and wellbeing by tracking such factors as heartrate, respiration, heat stress, fatigue and exposure. Notifications can be sent to workers’ wearable devices when critical levels are reached.
- Machine and environmental sensors can provide contextual information to field workers to help keep them informed and aware of their surroundings; and wearable GPS tracking can ensure they keep out of hazardous areas.
- Smart glasses and other HUDs allow employees to access work instructions and manuals in the field, in addition to enabling remote guidance. This aids their productivity and makes them safer, since accuracy (doing a job correctly) and safety go hand-in-hand.
- Camera-equipped wearables can also be used to document a job or incident for later review. Such data can be utilized for safety training and to identify safety issues in the work environment.
In addition to providing real-time safety information and alerts to workers, wearable devices make for a safer workplace simply by the way in which they are used, i.e. hands-free. There are some great real-world use cases of wearable technology for environmental health and safety. Read on to learn how three major enterprises are using wearables of different form factors to augment their safety efforts:
North Star Bluescope Steel
This steel producer is working with IBM on developing a cognitive platform that taps into IBM Watson Internet of Things technology to keep employees safe in dangerous environments.
The IBM Employee Wellness and Safety Solution gathers and analyzes sensor data collected from smart helmets and wristbands to provide real-time alerts to workers and their managers. If a worker’s physical wellbeing is compromised or safety procedures aren’t being followed, preventative measures can be taken.
North Star is using the solution to combat heat stress, collecting data from a variety of sensors installed to continuously monitor a worker’s skin body temperature, heart rate, galvanic skin response and activity level, along with the temperature and humidity of the work environment. If temperatures rise to unsafe levels, the technology provides safety guidelines to each employee based upon his or her individual metrics. For instance, the solution might advise an at-risk worker to take a 10-minute break in the shade.
With the IBM Employee Wellness and Safety Solution, data flows from the worker to the IBM Watson IoT platform and then to a supervisor for intervention/prevention. Watson can detect hazardous combinations from the wearable sensor data, like high skin temperature plus a raised heart rate and lack of movement (indicating heat stress,) and notify the appropriate person to take action. This same platform could be used to prevent excessive exposure to radiation, noise, toxic gases and more.
John Deere, best known as a manufacturer of agricultural equipment and machinery, is using Virtual Reality headsets to evaluate and assess the “assembly feasibility” of new machine designs. Performing ergonomic evaluations in VR improves the safety of production employees by revealing the biomechanics of putting a proposed machine together. High risk processes can be identified and corrected before they pose a problem for the assembler on the shop floor.
In one of these VR reviews at John Deere, an operator puts on a headset and becomes completely immersed in a virtual production environment. Reviewers can see what the operator sees, and determine whether a potential design is safe to manufacture. They can see all the safety aspects that would go into assembling the product, including how the worker’s posture would be affected, whether there is chance of physical injury, what kinds of tools would be required, etc.
John Deere believes VR-aided design evaluations can result in less fatigue, fewer accidents, and greater productivity for its manufacturing team, and the method has already proven effective in reducing injuries at the company. Learn more about this use case at EWTS 2017, where Janelle Haines, Ergonomic Analyst and Biomedical Engineer at John Deere, will participate in an interactive workshop on “Leveraging Virtual Reality in the Enterprise.”
The electricity and gas utility company is exploring wearable tech for lone worker health and safety. National Grid believes wearables can have multiple advantages in the workplace, including improving safety as well as speeding up the process of repairs and reducing costs. The ngLabs team is responsible for looking at the latest technologies; in one of its first projects, the team is focusing on the critical worker:
The project uses interactive wristbands developed by Microsoft to monitor the health, safety and wellbeing of workers who operate alone or remotely. The smart bands track location, measure vital statistics like heart rate, and enable remote/lone workers to send a signal to colleagues when they’ve arrived on site or checked out without having to make a call or fill out paperwork. Information is captured quickly, making it easier to spot problems and send alerts if something goes wrong.
Hear more about this use case in San Diego this May—David Goldsby, Technology Innovation Manager at National Grid, will present a case study on “Digital Disruption and Consumerization in Utilities” at EWTS ’17.