Ready to wear: Wearable technology could boost workplace safety, but concerns remain

Ready to wear: Wearable technology could boost workplace safety, but concerns remain

NIOSH recommends alleviating privacy concerns through transparency and giving employees the opportunity to opt out of programs. A University of Michigan professor suggests that using data for self-assessment or through a group of workers might aid in the acceptance of wearables. More than three-quarters of safety professionals in one survey were either in favor of using wearable technology for workplace safety or at least had some interest. Wearable technology entails attaching mobile electronics to the body for a broad spectrum of purposes. It covers all types of devices, from the small fitness device on your wrist to a full-body exoskeleton. In the safety world, “wearables” can include “smart” personal protective equipment, glasses with heads-up displays and hard hats with sensors. What most of these devices have in common is they give safety professionals and other employees a set of watchful eyes to help ensure the health and well-being of the workforce, particularly lone workers. “The greatest benefit of this technology is that, as a worker, you’re not alone in terms of your safety,” said John Snawder, co-director of the NIOSH Center for Direct Reading and Sensor Technologies and acting chief of the agency’s Biomonitoring and Health Assessment Branch. To some workers, however, these watchful eyes may be perceived as prying eyes. That’s why experts say it’s important to lay down the groundwork and gain the trust of employees before turning to these new-wave devices. “If people see that this information is monitoring their productivity, absolutely, they are not happy about that,” said SangHyun Lee, an associate professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Michigan. “If it’s used for safety and health, they are more open.” ‘A big benefit’ One use for wearables, Snawder said, is taking a device that’s already in use, such as a personal gas monitor, and giving it the ability to send data to another interested party. “They’ve always had the workers wearing them for personal safety,” Snawder said, “but now that they can be associated with a wearable, or networked, or with the internet of things, a guy in an office can look at his desk and see what the monitor is measuring.” Another potential use is proximity detection inside mines or at construction sites. In December 2017, Parsons Corp., a technology-focused defense, security and infrastructure firm, began using radio-frequency identification, or RFID, at some of its jobsites to study interactions between workers and machines. Parsons’ RFID is a fob that attaches to a vest or the inside of a hard hat, said Anthony Miller, the company’s senior vice president of safety, health, environment and sustainability. With that technology, the organization initiated a program to measure how often workers got within a certain number of feet to equipment. After getting a baseline reading for these exposures, “we started managing to that baseline,” Miller said. The desire to manage those interactions stemmed from a “pretty significant” near miss involving two pieces of equipment, which “put us in the position where […]

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