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Prevent work-related heat stress

How can wearable technology change the way employers implement heat stress monitoring?


Photo: Bodytrak

Responding is Leon Marsh, founder and CEO, Bodytrak, London.

Because of climate change, the world is experiencing hotter temperatures each year, and the risks of heat-related illnesses have increased for millions of workers.

Heat stress is a serious occupational hazard that’s often underestimated, leading to thousands of incidents and fatalities each year. To mitigate the risks, employers can implement various measures, including shade and cooling structures, wet bulb globe temperature monitoring, hydration programs, and rest breaks. Although these are steps in the right direction, they aren’t always sufficient and don’t consider the individual variance in worker heat stress tolerance.

Wearable technology is revolutionizing the way employers monitor and prevent heat stress in the workplace. For some time, consumer wearables such as fitness trackers and smartwatches have been providing real-time data on an individual’s physiological response to exercise. New, innovative, smart safety solutions are specifically designed for industrial settings and can provide accurate, continuous real-time data on a worker’s physiological response to workplace stressors, such as escalating temperatures. By monitoring core body temperature and heart rate, employers are able to identify workers at risk of heat stress and alert the worker and their supervisor so proactive measures can be taken to prevent incidents.

Traditional methods of monitoring heat stress, such as manual temperature checks and questionnaires, are often unreliable, time-consuming, subjective and prone to human error, while other methods such as wet bulb globe temperature monitoring and wristband wearables provide limited and low-accuracy data that’s heavily affected by ambient conditions. The most accurate and reliable wearable solution is to measure core body temperature noninvasively via the ear. Because of its proximity to the hypothalamus (the temperature control center of the body), the ear is an excellent site to measure core body temperature and heart rate. Ear-based wearable technology is now available to monitor each worker’s core body temperature and alert users when thresholds have been exceeded, before becoming more serious or even fatal.

Wearable technology also provides employers with valuable insights that can be used to make informed decisions for future preventive measures and evaluation, such as the effectiveness of personal protective equipment. Through analyzing the physiological responses captured via automated reporting, employers can identify patterns and trends to develop targeted interventions to prevent heat stress. For example, if workers in a particular job or location are consistently exhibiting high levels of heat stress, employers can implement additional measures, such as increasing shade structures or heat shields or providing additional hydration stations and rest breaks.

There’s no doubt wearable technology has many advantages to optimize the approach to workplace health and safety. By providing continuous and noninvasive monitoring of an individual’s physiological responses to workplace stressors, as well as valuable insights, wearables can help employers identify workers at risk of heat stress and take proactive measures to prevent incidents. As the technology continues to evolve, it’s likely that wearable technology will become an essential tool for employers to protect their team from heat stress and other occupational hazards.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be considered a National Safety Council endorsement.

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