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Wearable Safety Devices: Smart technology use rises on construction sites

By Tom O'Connor | Jan 16, 2023
shutterstock / Comscreen
Advances in technology have created a wide variety of wearable devices that track activity and monitor bodily function to help people stay healthier

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Advances in technology have created a wide variety of wearable devices that track activity and monitor bodily function to help people stay healthier. With over 5,000 occupational fatalities every year, and a substantial portion occurring in the construction industry, these wearables offer a welcome opportunity to greatly reduce job-related injuries and deaths.

According to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, only 6% of employers in the construction sector used wearables in 2018 for safety and health. However, the report indicated that 83% of contractors believe wearable technology can improve worker safety. This response offers hope that technological advances will continue and usage will increase, improving worker safety and health. The Chamber of Commerce estimates that the percentage of companies using wearables in construction may have risen to as much as 23% in 2021.

What wearables can do

Many people wear smart watches to track heart rate, steps and blood oxygen. In the workplace, similar technology can be valuable to monitor and relay such information to prevent overexertion. Some can even detect abnormal heart rhythms and record blood oxygen saturation to help identify respiratory problems.

Advances in watch technology and its potential use in the workplace seem limitless. Some smart watches can detect falls, alerting others in real time and making it easier to reach help or first responders. Watches can enable workers to communicate hands-free. 

In the future, smart watches might even detect mood and monitor mental health. This could help prevent overload of workers in high-stress positions, though with those advances, care will be needed to balance safety and health with worker privacy.

Wearables are not limited to watches, however, and not all of the information gathered is sensitive. Workers can wear a number of devices including boots, head protection and eye and body wear, which can offer a variety of data and information used to protect workers.

Technological advancement in foot protection is expected to be transformative. There are already boots on the market that can detect falls, pressure, location and even contact with or proximity to electrical hazards. Sensors built into the soles can identify changes in pressure, and they are often equipped with technology built into the heel to charge while walking. Additionally, smart boots can communicate location data, which can be helpful for tracking the safety of workers who are alone or in remote locations.

Head protection is already a crucial piece of PPE, and advancements in technology can further increase the necessity. Hard hat manufacturers have started incorporating a sensor band around the helmet’s inside rim that can detect proximity to heavy equipment. Sensors can also help identify fatigue by monitoring vital signs and preventing microsleep, which is a sudden moment of sleep that is extremely dangerous for construction workers. The sensor monitors brain waves, recognizing microsleeps before they occur and alerting the worker before a mishap.

Eye protection can also be outfitted with modern safeguards. Smart safety glasses or goggles can provide valuable information to contractors and workers through augmented reality, which overlays computer­-generated imagery with physical surroundings in real time. This technology is helpful when identifying leading edges, hazardous materials and safety protocols. It is beneficial for safety purposes and project planning and development.

Environmental safety

Construction workers wear a variety of other PPE, such as equipment that can track heat and cold stress, the presence of environmental or respiratory hazards and muscle fatigue. Heat-tracking sensors can monitor body temperature and are typically worn around the bicep to alert workers and employers when to drink water or take a necessary break. 

Gas detection devices can also be worn. This equipment often clips on the upper arm or chest and can identify the presence of a variety of potentially harmful gases. 

Exoskeleton technology can be worn to assist with lifting heavy objects or grasping tools. It increases strength, reduces the likelihood of muscle fatigue and diminishes the chance of injury.

Much more wearable technology is available and new products are constantly in development. In the coming years there will, undoubtedly, be massive advancements that will greatly increase occupational safety and workforce productivity. Keep an eye out.


Header image source: Shutterstock / Comscreen

About The Author

O’CONNOR is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm. Reach him at [email protected].

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