Instruments and lone worker devices

Trends in ... instruments/lone worker devices

S+H talks to experts in the field

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“Connectivity is reshaping our world, personally and professionally,” Shane McEwen, global product marketing manager at Blackline Safety, told Safety+Health. “Where safety has traditionally lagged behind other industries in embracing connectivity, the landscape has shifted in recent years to widely integrate connectivity into safety operations.”

This has helped moved the devices into more mainstream use, Haytham Elhawary, CEO and cofounder of Kinetic Inc., says.

Here, S+H talks with McEwen and Elhawary, along with Drew Walts, technical services manager, sound analysis, for IRISS LLC; and Matt DeLorenzo, business director at Safety io, a subsidiary of MSA The Safety Co., about the current landscape of lone worker devices, how COVID-19 has affected innovation, ways workers are misusing instruments and more.

Safety+Health: Any recent innovations in the area of lone worker devices?

Elhawary: For wearables, COVID-19 has brought about innovations such as contact tracing capabilities. So, in addition to a device’s original intended use, like injury reduction, it can also monitor every employee interaction. This makes it easier for managers to identify contacts between workers if an employee tests positive for the virus. They can automatically generate a report of everyone who could have been exposed, as well as the contact duration, leading to a faster and more accurate contact tracing process. This real use case has driven demand for wearable devices in the field. We’re seeing companies deploy up to four times as many than before COVID.

McEwen: The latest monitoring devices incorporate 4G cellular communication that keeps workers more connected through push-to-talk while having easy access to a live monitoring team. With features like gas sensors, fall and no-motion detection, plus two-way voice calling, real-time alerts drive a proactive emergency response to dispatch responders to the exact location of a worker.

S+H: What do you wish employers and workers better understood about using monitoring devices?

McEwen: Monitoring devices that integrate 4G cellular and cloud connectivity provide hundreds of millions of data points daily, which can be used to drive decision-making that improves safety, efficiency and quality. With the proper visualization tools and reports, data from these devices can help industrial hygiene and operations teams identify anomalies and gas exposures, and study movement patterns for worksite optimization. Cloud connectivity arms professionals with information not only to recognize potential safety concerns proactively instead of reactively, but also to use data science to more quickly and accurately identify the root cause of a problem and develop an effective solution.

Walts: These devices can trend and show the existence of a partial discharge event but do not ultimately tell the site what type of PD event is occurring. This is where the handheld devices paired with sound analysis software can assist.

DeLorenzo: To make the most out of gas detection data, safety managers need a cloud-based software that allows them to easily access the information, focus on what matters most and have actionable insights so they can effectively improve safety awareness and outcomes.

S+H: What customer concerns or questions are you hearing about monitoring devices?

Elhawary: Concerns are mostly about what else the devices track. Workers want to know: Do they have a GPS? Will the data be used against me? What is management using this data for? All of these are valid concerns and managers need to make sure they address them up front if they want to have broad acceptance of the technology. The factor that indicates the biggest likelihood of worker engagement in tools like these is the level of trust between workers and managers.

McEwen: As the industry has typically been slow to adopt new technology, we still see some apprehension from businesses that are less familiar with emerging technologies. We recommend companies looking to adopt connected safety monitors work with a partner who can walk them through implementation, incorporation of best practices and corresponding change management. It’s also vital to educate employees on how the devices work and the primary goal of using them – to keep workers safe – to mitigate concerns such as privacy.

Walts: Some of the most frequently asked questions we are asked are “How does the equipment actual work?” or “How do we learn to interrupt the data and sound waves the equipment captures?” Well, like anything else that people are not knowledgeable of, training is the key to understanding how to use the devices and the theory behind them. The course can be simple orientation course or a full-blown certification course.

S+H: What’s on the horizon in this product area?

Elhawary: Wearable devices are powerful personal computers and a lot of additional features can be added to ensure workers get home safely. Right now, there are lots of devices that do separate tasks like detecting slips and falls, providing alerts if workers are getting too close to moving objects, enabling access to specific parts of buildings and serving as panic buttons. We expect to see a consolidation of these features into a single device. Also, for each new feature, there is a new data stream to interpret. The best products will convert these new torrents of data into actions that can be taken by managers to have the most impact.

Compiled with the assistance of the International Safety Equipment Association

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