The Internet of Things Institute has selected a safety project undertaken by IBM and North Star BlueScope Steel as one of the top 20 IoT industrial applications for 2017. North Star, which produces steel for global building and construction industries, piloted IBM’s Employee Wellness and Safety solution in 2016, using connected wearable devices and analytics to help monitor the wellbeing of industrial workers in extreme environments.
An industrial scope for wearables
In the ten years or so since Fitbit hit the market, wearables have been among the more prominent of connected technologies. A wrist watch that measures your heart rate or counts the steps you’ve taken that day is, after all, an easy concept to grasp. However, there’s more scope in wearables than their public image as personal fitness aids would suggest. Now, wearables are making their way into the industrial sector, as pieces of vital safety equipment that can help safeguard the wellbeing of people whose work brings them into contact with hazardous conditions.
There’s little doubt that such a solution is necessary. Employees working in extreme environments are called on daily to deal with high temperatures, open flames, toxic gas, and the management of heavy machinery.
According to the International Labor Organization, every 15 seconds, a worker dies from a work-related accident or diseases and 153 workers have a work-related accident. The global number of non-fatal occupational accidents reaches a staggering number of 317 million, annually. Even more concerning, 2.3 million people die each year from occupational accidents and diseases. Work accidents remain a huge, cross-industry problem, despite safety regulations and procedures. Even a non-fatal injury can have a potentially devastating effect on an employee’s health and livelihood. For employers, in addition to the distress of an employee suffering from injury, work accidents affect productivity, and companies can suffer significant financial losses. In the United States alone, workplace injuries and illnesses cost employers more than $220 billion annually, with 27 million working days lost per year. These rising costs are also hurting insurance companies and influencing coverage rates.
The role of analytics in worker safety
The problem is hardly negligible, and yet it’s extremely difficult to enforce proper use of protective equipment, or verify that correct safety controls are in place. The good news is that advances in IoT technology are giving rise to the connected worker – and a worker who is more aware of, and sensed by their environment, is inherently safer. Wearable and embedded sensors are making it possible for workers to be monitored within their surroundings to prevent injury from incidents such as falls, overexertion, gas exposure, heat exposure, proximity to heavy machinery or moving vehicles.
The IBM Employee Wellness and Safety solution piloted by North Star is one such cognitive research project. Conceived by IBM researchers in Haifa, Israel, the solution provides a wearables platform that serves as a real-time warning system for employees. It works by integrating data from multiple sensors within personal protective equipment, like smart safety helmets and protective vests, to alert organizations to potentially hazardous scenarios in real-time.
Wearable and Internet of Things technologies allows gathering, integrating, and analysis of sensor data embedded in personal protective equipment, such as smart safety helmets and protective vests, and in the workplace environment. When coupled together with innovative cognitive capabilities and external data sources like environment and weather, there is enormous potential for better managing health, wellness and safety to truly help transform the way we live and work today.
If you are interested in the IBM Employee Wellness and Safety Solution, you might find these resources useful:
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