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7 Ways the Internet of Things Improves Worker Safety

7 Ways the Internet of Things Improves Worker Safety

Despite extensive safety standards and regulations, worker safety remains a huge challenge for many industries. According to recent figures from the National Safety Council, more than 4,500,000 workplace injuries occur annually—or about one injury every seven seconds. Recent years have resulted in the manufacturing sector accounting for more than 300 fatalities and over 410,000 non-fatal occupation injuries. Annual costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses total about  $170 billion.

With such significant costs associated with worker injuries, forward-thinking companies seek new technologies that reduce the risk to employees in the workplace. An increasing number of companies are turning to the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor and track the many internal and external factors that impact worker safety.

Below are seven ways the IoT protects workers, improves efficiency and safety and reduces operational costs on the job.

1. Predicting how workers move.

IoT technologies can track, measure and predict the patterns of workers on the factory floor, identifying risks that could result in harm or injury. Data collected from wearables, such as helmets, jackets and watches equipped with sensors, can show how workers interact with their environments. For example, when GPS is integrated with schematics for worksite areas, workers can be easily located and notified about hazardous situations or keep them from entering areas for which they may lack authorization.

2. Vehicle navigation.

Laser scanners can monitor vehicle and equipment navigation in warehouse or storage areas, which prevent collisions with other vehicles and keeps workers out of harm’s way. Scanners also make these areas safer by identifying any protruding objects that could be a source of impact or collision. When combined with radio frequency identification tags (RFID), monitoring equipment is effective for tracking inventory and seeing how employees interact with stock, equipment and materials.

3. Worker health.

Sensors that measure personal health indicators such as heartbeat, temperature, blood oxygen levels and fatigue can identify employees who are starting to show strain or other physical problem and when preventative action is the most effective. Hard hats containing sensors can monitor physical conditions such as heart rate, fatigue, temperature, oxygen levels and other stresses. Ford Motor Company recently introduced exoskeleton vests to reduce worker injury and fatigue.

4. Monitor environmental conditions.

IoT can monitor potential hazards within the working environment such as carbon monoxide levels, temperature, vibration, humidity, noise levels and weather events. Heads Up Display is a wearable communication system that allows operators to receive personal safety and time-critical updates by providing alerts within their peripheral vision regarding out-of-tolerance conditions. IoT systems can also prevent unplanned gas releases by responding quickly to temperature changes or variances in gas levels, sending automated alerts when problems occur. The ability to remote-monitor containers and other equipment can protect workers by keeping them from doing personal inspections in dangerous environments.

5. Predictive analytics.

Combining real-time IoT data with artificial intelligence and advanced analytics establishes important performance trends which can identify variances as soon as they start. They can then be fixed early on, before they become potentially dangerous (for example, a slow gas leak or equipment that is overheating). IoT is commonly used to maintain safe performance of equipment through predictive maintenance. “Also, using machine learning algorithms, you can analyze data across worksites to detect patterns that can predict potential issues before they impact workers,” says Rosina Geiger, director of startup engagement at software company SAP.

6. Safety system activation.

IoT systems can monitor worker actions and alert them if they are not using the appropriate safeguards and protocols. Besides reducing injuries, this also improves worker compliance with safety. “With integration into business data regarding local, regional, or national worker safety regulations, you can monitor compliance and demonstrate your adherence to the rules as needed,” adds Geiger.

7. Speed of rescue operations.

In the event of a plant disaster or serious injury, critical IoT data is immediately available in real time to help medical personnel or rescue crews understand the situation quickly and make informed decisions regarding the implementation of the best possible response plan. GPS systems can immediately pinpoint the locations of injured or trapped employees and also identify evacuation routes for workers—for example, after an explosion or unplanned chemical release.

Employees are safest in work settings where management is fully committed to worker safety and invests willingly in the technology and training needed to maximize worker safety. The Internet of Things is essential for creating a culture of ongoing worker safety, which boosts profitability by improving worker morale, productivity and retention. Having a reputation for taking care of its workers is also an effective corporate recruiting tool, especially today when qualified workers are in such high demand and can be very selective with their employers. 

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray Construction.