In recent years IoT has played an important role in worker safety with wearable and embedded sensors making it possible for workers to be monitored within their surroundings to prevent injury from falls, toxic gas, and overexertion. Wearable technology can prevent a range of injuries in some of the most dangerous occupations.

North Star Bluescope Steel, a steel producer for global building and construction industries for Australia, New Zealand and North American markets, is working with IBM to develop a cognitive platform that taps into IBM Watson IoT technology for wearable safety technology to help employees stay safer in dangerous environments. By gathering and analyzing sensor data collected from sensors embedded in helmets and wrist bands, the technology, IBM Employee Wellness and Safety Solution, provides real-time alerts to employees and their managers, enabling preventive measures if physical well-being is compromised or safety procedures are not being followed.

The solution can detect hazardous combinations that individually may be overlooked. For example, a combination of skin temperature, raised heart rate, and no movement patterns for several minutes could mean a person is suffering from heat stress. Each of these signs individually would not be a cause for alert, but together they indicate a serious situation that warrants intervention.

The majorities of workplace injuries are easily preventable through personal monitoring. Injuries can be prevented, whether by ensuring that protective equipment is used correctly, or that time or location limitations for hazardous situations are monitored. Integrating and presenting contextual information to field workers from a wide variety of sensors creates more aware and well informed workers. It’s a method that is non-intrusive, hands-free, always-on, environment-aware, and offers the direct delivery of critical information to those who need it, when they need it.

Through the use of the IBM Employee Wellness and Safety Solution, we have observed an increased awareness of heat stress and exertion in our trial users, said Malcolm Edge, I.T. Director, NorthStar Bluescope Steel, adding:

“The solution has provided a proof of concept showcasing how data can flow from the user to the IBM Watson IoT Platform and back to a supervisor for intervention. This solution, once fully developed, will provide a solid foundation for increasing worker safety by providing real time monitoring of the environment around the worker.”

Steelworking and heat stress go together

In an effort to combat heat stress, Northstar is using the IBM Employee Wellness and Safety Solution to collect data from various sensors that continuously monitor the worker’s skin body temperature, heart rate, galvanic skin response and level of activity, correlated with sensor data for ambient temperature and humidity. The solution then enables Northstar to provide personalized safety guidelines to each individual employee, advising them to take a ten minute break in the shade, if temperatures rise to unsafe levels.

The same platform can be used to prevent excessive exposure to different temperatures, radiation levels, noise, or toxic gases, using sensor tags for temperature, humidity, noise, or light measurements. Gases can be detected using personal sensors enabled using Wifi or Bluetooth low energy sensors.

Connected workers are not only inherently safer, and personal monitoring can also lead to more productive workers. Monitoring workers can help implement measures that lead to less fatigue, less time spent on unnecessary tasks, and more time focused on the most critical tasks.

Cate Lawrence

Cate Lawrence