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Making personal environmental data usable – The Connected Worker platform

31 May 2019

In this article, Trevor Inglis of Wearable Technologies Ltd looks at how smart wearable sensors, and the ability to process the large amounts of data these sensors can generate, should have a significant role in improving occupational safety across a range of industries. He also outlines the solution his company has arrived at to make the Connected Worker a reality.

The issues

According to the HSE, despite the UK having one of the best health and safety policies in the world, the annual cost of work-related ill health and injuries is £15 billion and 30 million working days lost.

If we look at one particular sector in the UK, employing 2.2 million people, construction has long been recognised as a hazardous industry in which to work with the rate of fatalities exceeding four times the All Industry rate.

In this sector alone, 2.4 million days are lost each year, equivalent to a full-time absence of 10,000 employees, so it follows that only a 1% reduction in incidents and accidents would produce tangible benefits to the individual’s wellbeing, industry and the economy.

Companies are constantly striving to improve safety but realise that to be able to make changes, it is first necessary to have a complete understanding and awareness of what are the real risks to the individual at work.

Helping this understanding is the use of personal environmental sensors, some of which - such as lone worker devices - have been available in the market for a number of years. Other device examples include localised noise, gas, posture and vehicle proximity or PPI (people plant interface), with the result that individual wearable technology is now becoming increasingly common, with lone worker safety devices alone responding to the needs of an estimated 8 million people.

Conscious of the growth in the adoption of sensor technology, the HSE recently commissioned a study into the potential benefits focusing on three main areas: personal monitoring, intervention and accident prevention. The industries involved were Oil & Gas, Construction, Mining & Quarrying, Utilities and Logistics, and the study found that 90% of the issues are common across all sectors.

In addition, ISO committees are already looking at the legislation required to govern the boom in personal electronic devices across the PPE industry, and what the effects will be for the users and equipment suppliers.

Industrial working environments are becoming more and more complex and diverse, which will require a holistic approach to worker safety comprising extensive worker training, strict adherence to regulations and safety working protocols, designing health and safety into the site environment, and the application of proven state-of-the-art technology. It is now possible to remotely monitor every single risk a worker is exposed to.

The amount of data currently available from a plethora of individual and site sensors is increasing daily with at least thirty different types and over one hundred manufacturers all promoting the potential benefits of data to the company and the individual.

This abundance of data could be at the forefront of change in the health and safety industry, increasing worker safety with real time monitoring, the storage of events for occupational health review, and enabling the development of trends and predictive analytics to actually prevent accidents happening.

However, the abundance of data could in itself be a problem - once you have it, what are you going to do with it?

If your company has five hundred workers and uses sensors from four different companies, how many people and platforms will be needed just to monitor the incoming information? And how can a company manage this when each decision will depend on the quality and quantity of the information to hand?

There are countless examples where large amounts of money have been spent on IT projects, only to fail due to lack of usability and follow up. It will therefore be critical that this data is turned into actionable insights, and only if this happens will we see widespread adoption of wearable technology and the linked improvements in safety.

To examine industry awareness of wearable technology, Verdantix recently published the results of a study with the following conclusions:
*44% of EHS professionals expect to use wearables for environmental monitoring in 2019.

*Firms will need an IoT data processing platform to cope with the vast amounts of data pushed out by wearables.

*They will only want one platform, even if using wearables from many digital PPE suppliers.

*These platforms will need to analyse safety data from IoT devices combined with near miss and incident reports.

The solution

Wearable Technologies Limited (WTL) was founded three years ago to make the Connected Worker a reality. It soon became apparent to the company that being able to connect people with sensors could be a game changer in the industrial sector and since then it has developed a unique solution to increase safety and reduce risk.

The result is a single, device agnostic platform enabling the real-time personal environmental monitoring of hundreds of workers across multiple locations and various sensors. Incidents and alerts are immediately communicated to the worker, co-workers and platform to maximise the potential for intervention and support, whilst all event occurrences are stored for further investigation with a powerful analytics suite available to help improve working practices.

At the heart of the solution is the Eleksen Personal Hub. Built by WTL, it includes a range of automatic communications and can absorb data from any Bluetooth-enabled sensor pushing it in real-time onto a laptop, tablet or Smart Phone for instant response.

This provides a global scalable platform that improves worker safety and wellbeing, enhances productivity and:

• is the only device-agnostic solution providing employee location and safety monitoring on a single cloud-based platform.

• makes it easy to monitor worker safety and wellbeing, enabling you to detect and respond to real-time safety alerts, create long-term audit trails of occupational health data, and improve employee safety and productivity

• creates proven solutions that are intuitive, easy-to-use, easy to adopt, and highly configurable – ensuring we can respond to your changing requirements quickly and comprehensively

• is a global business – our solutions work everywhere that you work using cellular and satellite communications to ensure we have you covered

• have designed their solution in close collaboration with Oil & Gas and Construction industry partners to comprehensively address the health and safety issues experienced across all industries

Data Privacy is a subject that involves every company and individual and is rightly a possible cause for concern.

However, a recent study, undertaken by YouGov for healthcare provider AXA, showed 45% of the British workforce would be comfortable sharing information with wearable devices, when it assists with employee-related health and wellbeing strategies.

It follows that it is not necessarily the gathering of the data that is the sticking point, but how it is used. So developers of this technology need to work with each company to ensure all guidelines and legislation are adhered to.

The three key requirements for health and safety professionals of reducing risk, increasing safety and ensuring compliance will remain, but any adopter of wearable technology will also have to consider how best to implement the solution.

Real beneficial change does not happen overnight and it is only by involving all parties in the company that benefits will occur. A consultative approach with specific trials must be carried out to ensure buy-in.

Two years of trials in Europe and the USA have provided WTL with a good understanding of customer requirements and expectations, and the belief that one solution will not fit all.

A local construction company will not have the same needs as a multinational oil and gas company  where the risks and frequency of reporting may be more critical. And a transport and logistics organisation may want to know its drivers are safe at night, whilst highway workers need increased visibility and knowledge of approaching vehicles.

Whether industry welcomes the technology or not, there are some inescapable facts:

*The management of industrial health and safety is evolving.

*The use of personal environmental sensors is a reality and will continue to grow.

*Data can influence policies and strategies for the better.

Companies must develop Big Data policies to take advantage of potential benefits, increasing efficiency, reducing costs and increasing employee safety.

Welcome to the future!

About the author

Trevor Inglis has over thirty years’ experience in the PPE sector, working for, amongst others, W.L. Gore & Associates and 3M. During that time, he has developed and taken to market a number of unique garment solutions within the Emergency Services Sector. His role within WTL includes supporting licensed garment manufacturers to integrate electronics into fit-for-purpose customer clothing.

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