8 Innovations Occupational Safety Technology Needs to Save More Lives

10-14-21

It happened. Management at the work site called with the news.

Workers collapsed and are in an ambulance on the way to an emergency room.

“Was it oxygen depletion, noxious gas leaks, dehydration? What do we know?”

“We’re still looking at what the safety readings were at the time we think the accident happened.” Says the manager on site. “We hope to know more after they’re seen by doctors and more tests are run. Hopefully, these aren't fatal injuries.”

The call ends. Your heart is pounding and your mind races.

Will the injured workers be alright? Will they get to go home today or is this more serious and long-term?

What do we tell their families?

What's the morale with the other workers on-site? Are they at risk, too? Are they using their equipment and PPE like they’re supposed to?

How do I explain this to the company owners? My supervisors? We invest so much into our workers, and we pay so much for occupational safety equipment and technology.

Will we have to make a media statement? Am I going to have to give it?

What do It ell OSHA?

How could this have been prevented?

Everyone hopes to never receive the news that co-workers are injured but, unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence.

Despite the staff training, technology investments, and management oversight, there are 7,500 global daily deaths due to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. According to the National SafetyCouncil, in the United States, a workplace injury occurs every seven seconds. Why is this?

Why The High Rate of Workplace Accidents?

Incident reports show that human error is the cause of 80 to 90percent of serious workplace injuries. The most common reasons are lack of proper attention, procedure, or situational awareness.

For example, workplace injuries are more common when there’s a failure to meet OccupationalSafety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and the safety policies developed internally by health and safety leadership. This can happen due to either unintentional actions or gross negligence.

Humans make mistakes and accidents happen. That’s why so many companies develop occupational safety programs and adopt new technology. With all the technology available and the billions of dollars invested into the safety industry, why are accidents still happening at the rate they are?

Occupational accidents and incidents are complex and varied, so it’s often difficult to pinpoint one specific root cause. However, here are the reasons so many safety products aren’t providing the results workers or companies need.  

Innovations Occupational Safety Efforts Need

1. Long-Term, Predictive Monitoring

Out of all the workplace accidents reported, only 13.7% percent are sudden accidents that include slips, trips, falls, heat exposure, etc. What’s interesting is that 86.3%percent of deaths are a result of long-term complications from work.

For example, if throughout his employment Pat repeatedly comes into contact with a toxic industrial hydrocarbon, he has a greater chance of developing cancer in 10years. Perhaps Pat’s use of safety equipment should be reevaluated and improved. Perhaps he should be moved to another job with less exposure.

Companies and workers would benefit from having data insights – not just data -- to prevent injuries and predict workers’ future health risks.

The following points explain why these health risk data insights are not available through most occupational safety technology.

2. Innate, Consistent Sensing

There are some devices worn by workers that monitor physiological health like heart rate, but an overwhelming majority of companies do not use physiological data as part of their health and safety programs. Most safety devices are not wearable(portable at best) and are unrealistic for workers to carry throughout a space during their work.

Take for example a couple of workers in an aircraft wing. The workers aren’t going to haul around a two-to-three-pound chemical detector as they shuffle within the workspace. At most, they’re going to scan the space a couple of times throughout their work shift. This creates inconsistent sensing because a noxious gas or another chemical could start leaking between the scans.

Workers need devices that feel natural and innate that provide consistent sensing. This brings us to the topic of personalization.

3. Personalization

Let’s say the workers carried the chemical detector into the small workspace with them.Perhaps one worker is standing while the other worker is sitting on the floor.The chemical detector is only monitoring what’s in the chemical detector’s range. If there’s an insidious leak at the top of the workspace, the chemical detector is not going to read how much exposure the standing worker has compared to the worker who is sitting. The chemical detector may not even immediately alert of the risk because it’s out of range of the gaseous leak. Because of the distance between the two workers, they will have different exposure to the toxic gas but that difference can’t be distinguished.

To provide more context, recall the story at the beginning of this article. A few workers are unconscious and are going to the emergency room. It could be that all of them came in contact with the same toxin and lost consciousness. Or, it could be a coincidence that all of them lost consciousness around the same time and proximity. Perhaps one worker started having heart palpitations that morning and then overworked him/herself while on site. Perhaps another worker did come into contact with a toxicant. Or, an unknown number of “would-be rescuers” entered the space and were affected.

This is why companies need more personalization to understand the real risk, exposure, and root cause of injury for individual workers.

4. Oversight at The Edge

Risk arises from different environmental or health states that traditional monitoring systems may not detect, detect too late, or detect but not communicate the risk with others who can help. We call this “risk at the edge.”

For example, people don’t always work within buildings, established outdoor spaces, or where human oversight and modern communication technology are available. They can be in secluded areas like fields. Even if workers are wearing or using occupational safety equipment, they are often where there is limited to no cellular service or Wi-Fi. The issue is that the data captured by these self-monitoring devices cannot be shared in real-time with people who can help if a problem does occur and the workers cannot help themselves. It can be hours or days before workers are discovered by friends, family, or co-workers. Due to their seclusion, it can require longer wait times for medical help to arrive on the scene. This happens in agriculture and other industries.

This is why companies need technology to provide continuous, real-time oversight of individuals in risky environments or risky states. Industry-wide efforts are being made to test solutions based on SATCOM and LPWAN technology so that occupational safety wearables and devices can communicate with outside sources even in remote areas. Sentinel is excited to work with other providers to help deliver this level of safety communication.

5. Proactive, Preventative Alerting

One of the biggest questions occupational safety and risk managers have is, “How could this have been prevented?”

A problem with many occupational safety devices is that they only alert when an injury, accident, or exposure has already occurred.

Workers need proactive, preventative insights that alert themselves and the appropriate co-workers when an injury or illness from long-term exposure is likely to happen. For example, instead of alerting Pat or the health and safety team after heat syncope, alert Pat when he is showing signs that a heat stroke could occur so that early or even preventive care can be provided. This is what we call predictive insights and can help prevent injuries, accidents, or toxic exposures from happening. This brings us to data monitoring and the challenges with siloed data sources.

6. Correlated Data Sources

There’s a variety of safety equipment that monitors working conditions. Physiological sensing, for example, may show when a worker is getting overheated. Environmental devices let you know there are noxious gases in the area. These devices and technology are great at capturing data and providing reactive alerts. They’re not good at correlating that data to provide proactive, preventative, and even predictive insights.

To gain a holistic, contextual understanding of workers’ risk, management must sign in to each device's management platform and then manually review the data for each device and person. Management is forced to piece the data crumbs together because the information from the devices is not correlated in a single place (or dashboard) to provide simple insights. Imagine if you could sign into a single dashboard and view what a worker came into contact with and how their body responded or is responding. The lack of data integration between all these devices and systems inhibits management from having a holistic, contextual view of workers’ health and risk. This is why companies need correlated data sources to provide insights.

For instance, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are known carcinogens and long-term exposure to them may cause cancer. The main challenge is to know how much exposure is received and over what duration. Medical professionals use dosimeters to record cumulative exposure to ionizing radiation. Wouldn’t it be nice to have wearable dosimeters with low cost, size, weight, and power (C-SWAP)at the worksite?

7. Intuitive, Insights-Driven Platform Management

Managing multiple logins, dashboards, and spreadsheets across a variety of safety devices isn’t intuitive or helpful in understanding workers’ health and risk, especially when you have 100s to 1000s of workers. Unfortunately, the process is necessary because the systems don’t integrate and correlate the data to provide simple-to-understand, actionable insights.

From what we hear, safety solution providers are prone to tying customers into long-term, expensive contracts with pricey proprietary devices and services. This makes it difficult and costly for companies to incorporate or change to other technology.

Health and safety managers need data sources correlated into an intuitive, insights-driven platform to quickly evaluate workers’ risk.

8. Integration with Latest Innovations

Many of the issues discussed in this article could be resolved (or partially resolved) if the technology integrated with the latest innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI) and edge processing. Such innovations could provide new capabilities like predictive insights.

Some manufacturer shave failed to update their products’ current networking and technology stack.For example, some devices still run on outdated network protocols (e.g.,Bluetooth 3) that subject organizations to cybersecurity risks.

It’s common for platforms to not work or integrate well with others either because of outdated technology stacks or a purposeful decision to entangle customers with proprietary systems.

That’s why more occupational safety technology products need to come with open APIs so they can work together, easily update, and be augmented by new innovation such as AI.

The Next Generation of Occupational Safety Technology

If you identified with one or all of these pain points, you're not alone. The need for innovation is why the Department of Defense invested more than $10M to develop new solutions such as SafeGuard. That’s how Sentinel was born and why SafeGuard is being called into service with the Air Force, Navy, and other early adopters.  

This is the first article where we’re addressing current and upcoming innovations that are solving these technology gaps. Safety and health managers now have the option to augment their safety toolbox and workforce with a modern, secure, and scalable technology stack to provide personalized and proactive risk assessment and awareness.

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