How IoT is Improving Workplace Safety

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the billions of devices around the world that are now connected to the internet and capable of uploading sensor data and other information through wireless networks and into the cloud. In addition to residential applications like smart home security systems and washing machines, IoT devices have made their way into the workplace where they promise to enhance workplace safety and efficiency across industries and around the world.

In this week's blog post, we're breaking down the impact of the IoT on workplace safety. We'll look at how current applications of IoT devices are keeping workers safe and how the same technology is being used to drive worker productivity gains. Finally, we'll explore the potential of IoT technology to help organizations predict dangerous conditions and prevent occupational injuries before they happen.

How IoT Devices are Impacting Worker Safety

Connected devices are playing an increasingly important role in worker safety, especially in industries that traditionally have higher rates of accidents and injuries. Through devices that monitor and report on environmental conditions, as well as the physical health of workers, organizations are better able to limit worker exposure to hazardous conditions and avoid accidents.

The construction industry has struggled for years to drive down rates of occupational injuries. Among the ten most dangerous jobs in the United States, at least two can be considered construction jobs, including roofers and first-line supervisors of construction and trade workers. In hopes of decreasing occupational injury rates, construction companies are adopting hard hats with embedded sensors that monitor the physical condition of workers, including heart rate, fatigue, temperature, and oxygen level. 

These metrics make it possible for a computer or human supervisor to identify unsafe circumstances before they lead to injury. On hot days where heat stroke is a genuine threat, a construction foreman can assess whether workers are overheating and need time to cool off. A worker with elevated heart rate can be prompted to take a break if they have a history of cardiac issues. If a worker falls unexpectedly or loses consciousness, an alert can be generated that ensures they are quickly found and given the appropriate medical attention.

In addition to connected wearable devices that monitor the physical condition of the user, IoT devices can also be configured to monitor the environment for hazards that could harm workers. In construction, manufacturing, and raw materials processing, companies are using IoT devices with sensors that monitor air quality and equipment temperatures to help ensure worker safety on the job site. IoT devices with fire safety sensors can be used to detect increased temperatures that could indicate a fire and trigger preventive actions or the timely evacuation of workers.

example of man and woman utilizing iot to improve workplace safety A smart hard hat can detect environmental hazards or physical problems with the user, helping to initiate an early response to potentially harmful situations on the job site.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Can the IoT Contribute to Improving Workplace Productivity?

The construction and manufacturing sectors face similar long-term challenges when it comes to ensuring worker safety: how is it possible to reduce accidents and improve safety outcomes without sacrificing productivity? With the IoT, companies in these industries may finally be coming close to solving this problem.

In addition to worker safety benefits, the IoT promises to increase efficiency and productivity in many different ways.  For starters, connected wearable devices that track the physical condition of workers can detect signs of fatigue, dehydration or exhaustion that would result in reduced productivity. Workers can gain valuable feedback on when to take breaks and how to minimize overexertion to accomplish the most during their shift.

In other industries, the IoT is playing a much greater role in driving productivity gains. The largest car manufacturers and technology companies are working to develop fleets of autonomous vehicles that will play a massive role in shipping, transportation, ride hailing, and other transportation-related markets. These vehicles will be massively productive as they can stay on the road all day (the driver never needs to rest). In addition, automated collision avoidance will reduce the number of traffic accidents and fatalities. Driving is probably the most dangerous task that workers engage on a regular basis, so we can expect autonomous vehicles to have a large positive impact on overall worker safety. 

IoT Devices and Future Workplace Injury Prevention

In addition to directly enhancing worker safety and contributing to worker productivity gains, connected IoT devices will also empower organizations to predict and prevent accidents through early detection of potential safety issues. We're already seeing several exciting new applications of embedded IoT devices and sensors in acting as early warning systems, detecting unsafe circumstances before an accident ever occurs.

In underground industrial mining operations, smart sensors are used to measure seismic activity such as earthquakes that occur tens or even hundreds of miles below the Earth's surface. Still, this activity can cause soil to shift and make tunnels unsafe for workers due to the increased likelihood of collapse. Measuring seismic activity makes it possible to predict when and where it might be unsafe to dig and empowers companies to appropriately protect their workers when the safety status of the job site is compromised or uncertain.

Predictive maintenance is another area of opportunity for reducing workplace injuries. Equipment that is poorly maintained may be more likely to malfunction in a way that negatively impacts worker safety. IoT devices can be used to monitor environmental conditions over time and better anticipate when machine or equipment parts must be replaced to ensure safe operation.

Summary

Are you designing an IoT-enabled device that will positively impact worker safety?

Total Phase designs and manufactures test and debugging equipment for embedded systems, including devices made for the IoT. With our protocol analysis tools for the most popular embedded protocols, engineers can speed up the debugging process, gain critical insight into the functioning of their product and reduce overall time to market.

Want to learn more about how Total Phase can support your next IoT hardware project?

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