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Smart technologies for health and safety: what’s new now

Smart Technologies

Imagine you’re alone, walking through a workplace in a remote location, and have spotted perplexing health and safety concerns. What to do? Who to contact? Now imagine you’re wearing smart glasses with a camera. Everything you see can be viewed by an expert at another location who can provide technical support. Together, you can assess the situation and identify solutions.

Emerging technologies such as smart glasses, smart personal protective equipment (PPE), sensors, and apps hold great promise for health and safety, says Kiran Kapoor, WSPS Vice President, Market & Product Innovation. “They can alert you to a problem before an incident occurs, ensure communication in emergencies, detect harmful exposures that require expert help, and more.”

We recently spoke with Kiran about three notable trends in health and safety technology.*

  1. Wearables or PPE with sensors. Consider these examples:
    • RealWear headsets. A wearable in the form of smart glasses, this device enables hands-free communication in loud and dangerous environments, according to the manufacturer. Applications include connecting workers who are in different locations, working alone or travelling remotely, or accessing expertise unavailable onsite.
    • smart PPE. Electronics are integrated into traditional PPE to enhance safety. Examples include smart shoes that detect when someone has fallen, and hardhats with microchips to ensure physical distancing requirements are being followed.
    • sensors. These are usually worn for monitoring workers’ health in dangerous conditions. For example, a heat sensor that sounds an alert when body heat exceeds recommended levels.
  2. Live monitoring sensors. If you have employees working in confined spaces, combining wireless gas detectors with live monitoring together could enable you to act quickly in an emergency. Some workplaces are already using cameras or sensors that alert if workers enter a hazard zone for mobile equipment or machinery, or aren’t wearing the right PPE for the conditions they encounter. “These devices can alert you to a potentially unsafe condition or the need for more coaching on when to wear PPE.”
  3. Apps and artificial intelligence. These technologies may be the most accessible for companies to try out and a burgeoning area for health and safety solutions. “They can help workplaces manage health and safety data to better predict outcomes or to tell us the likelihood of an incident happening.” For instance, an application that takes multiple sources of data from inspections, weather, location, and injuries, and uses artificial intelligence to analyze the data and determine risks.

    Apps can also raise red flags about workplace hazards, Kiran notes. One example is a sound level meter app that turns your phone into a personal noise meter. “This could help workers make informed decisions about their work environment and hearing prevention measures, or alert you to a problem that requires the expertise of an occupational hygienist to investigate.”

Who should look for new technologies, and where?

The best person to search for new technologies may be a health and safety manager or director in partnership with your IT or corporate services team, suggests Kiran. “New technologies could plug into your current IT infrastructure, or existing software platforms, so it’s something you will want to partner on across your organization.”

As for where to look, Kiran suggests these sources:

  • trade shows, such as WSPS’ health and safety conferences and trade shows
  • research or regulatory bodies, such as the U.S. National Institute for Health and Safety (NIOSH) and European Agency for Safety and Health at Work
  • science or tech blogs that feature the application of new technology

“New technologies are definitely worth looking into because of their potential benefits,” says Kiran. “Be thorough in your research. Read reviews, conduct a cost/benefit analysis, and inform yourself about data privacy and security.

* WSPS does not endorse or recommend any of the technologies discussed in this article or their ability to improve health and safety outcomes. The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.