The development of new technologies in health and safety is nothing new. In many ways, the industry is very technology-driven and has in many places moved away from the paper-based approach of the past. The added tech element has raised privacy concerns among many, particularly in the world of wearables where location services and the sharing of personal information could become problematic.
What has driven the increase in wearable technology?
In the world of health and safety, there is a well-documented plateau in the reduction of serious incidents and fatalities. The nature of wearable technology means they are often able to prevent and provide added safety around.
The graph provided through stats provided by Cisco Systems shows the rapid increase in wearables since 2015. Increases are shown across the different regions, with a big increase predicted from 2020 through to 2022.
The sudden increase is most notable in the North American Market. This is unsurprising given the heavy investment by companies in the sector. Indeed, many different solution providers have started to develop app and wearable based software to help workers avoid accidents such as warehouse collisions, falling objects, and other potentially damaging occurrences.
In our interview with Donavan Hornsby, we discussed the benefits of wearable and software applications. One solution covered was a hardhat, with the ability to warn the wearer of potential dangers in the area.
Other areas covered included the use of location devices and the benefits that could provide for forklift drivers. Some are concerned that the added technology could prove to be the basis for distractions and will lead to those in the workplace relying less on their own awareness and reactions and more on technology that may be prone to faults and errors.
Alongside the need for wearable devices as a way of reducing the frequency and severity of incidents, there has also been a reduction in the costs of prototyping and manufacturing the tech. This has been partly to do with the economics of scale the industry has seen; additionally, the overall increase in the rate of technological innovation has supported the growth of the industry.
What are some of the main examples of wearable technology?
There are a few obvious contenders when it comes to wearable technology in health and safety. Hardhats are constant items that are being worked on with proximity sensors, location tracking, and smart protection all working to keep the individual safe. There is also safety tech that can track whether workers are wearing the correct PPE. For many, this has added to the overall ‘big brother feel’ of the wearable movement.
There has also been a focus on using wearable tech to monitor vital signs in workers. Smartwatches and apps are constantly being developed and worked on which can detect where a worker has experienced drowsiness, an accelerated heart rate, and even the volume and frequency of their breathing. This has the ability to reduce the dangers of worker fatigue and help provide opportunities for positive intervention.
Wearable tech is also being adopted in the world of health and safety training. Virtual and augmented reality are now providing workers with a more realistic simulation of hands-on experience which can better prepare them for the work they will be doing when they are actually on the job. This allows them to at least if they do make mistakes, keep them at the lower end both in terms of severity and financial impact.
What are the main proposed drawbacks of wearable technology in health and safety?
Put simply the main one for many is privacy. A lot of workers are uncomfortable with the data that can be collected and stored by wearable tech and when it comes to the ability of the tech to monitor job function, it can add a heightened sense of a ‘micro-management feeling’.
The other area where wearable tech may be an issue is cost. Whilst some of the more maintenance based software can be relatively inexpensive, items like smart glass can be priced in the thousands.
Should I invest in wearables for my workforce?
Whilst wearables have their doubters, their increasing adoption is an example of the safety field taking a more tech-based approach to keeping the incident rate down and reducing the amount of risk a worker has to take. The potential upside of wearables in the form of lone worker alarms and general app-based systems for occupational health monitoring means they are here to stay and can provide value to many safety departments across industries.