Health and safety regulations are among the toughest in force worldwide, but in 2018 there were 2.8 million workplace injuries in the U.S. alone that amounted to nearly $60 billion in direct U.S. workers compensation costs. That equates to $1 billion that US businesses are paying in serious injuries every week.
Smart Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) uses IIoT technologies embedded in worker’s wearables (sensors in hard hats, wearable devices or an Oxygen level meter, for example) to increase safety, reduce costs and boost productivity. Today, the use of PPE is mandatory in most developed countries, and for good reason. When you add IoT devices like a GPS or air quality sensors to a hard hat, for example, you get a tool that can tell you where the worker is, the conditions they are working under and how they are working.
Creating a safer working environment with IIoT in PPE
The modern-day equivalent of the canary in the coal mine is the IoT enabled jacket or vest. This wearable PPE can collect a vast array of data, including the worker’s biometrics, the environmental conditions and the location of and proximity to hazards.
There are now many areas where IIoT can improve the performance of PPE solutions. Specialist safety publication, EHS Today, lists some of the common applications for IIoT in PPE:
Locating system: One of the simplest uses for smart PPE is location-based services. This can be achieved through IoT sensors or RFID tags within the wearable equipment that report the location of the worker and, in some cases, how long the worker has been there.
- Smart communication systems: Smart helmets, ear muffs and face masks provide fast, effective communication in loud or low-visual environments.
- Safer equipment: In addition to smart PPE, workplaces can have safer equipment installed such as smart lockout, backing cameras and warning devices, smart automation on machines and other automated measures to augment worker safety. The IoT-enabled machinery and equipment can communicate directly with the smart PPE to inform the worker of potentially dangerous situations–either directly to their equipment or via smartphone message.
- Environmental protection from invisible risks: Smart protective clothing with gas, chemical, heat, sound, UV, impact and pulse sensors monitor both the external environment and the user, alerting them to danger in time for preventative steps and alerting supervisors if workers are in trouble.
- Smartphone-based app alerts: Smart sensors and wearables connected to apps can send crucial alerts to the worker notifying them of changes in the personal or environmental conditions. They can report when their heart rate or temperature rises and they need to take a break, or when the environment becomes unsafe and they need to withdraw.
The benefits of smart PPE
One of the biggest benefits that smart PPE offers is the role that workers can now take in their own safety. With smart PPE, workers can access their own real-time health and safety data. They are empowered to reach their own decisions on their situation and the best actions to take. And, that places a huge emphasis on ensuring the person wearing it is authorized to have the wearable.
At a base level, everyone’s body chemistry is different. The benefit of smart PPE is that the biometric data helps the organization and the worker understand how they react to different environments, what their tolerances are and, most importantly, what readings should send a red flag. If two people use the same piece of equipment – say gloves or a jacket – you need to know who’s wearing it at any given time or the data will be skewed and potentially damaging.
From a business perspective, the sad fact is that worker’s compensation fraud costs US business as much as $30 billion annually. Smart PPE allows you to know your worker, where they are, what they’re doing and what conditions they’re working under at all times. This mitigates the risk of injury and fraud.
And, of course, there’s cybersecurity. We know that IoT is the hacker’s new favorite point of attack. Smart PPE represents a new range of IoT-enabled devices to go after. However, smart PPE can be compared to smart medical devices in the danger posed. The attack may be designed as a backdoor to the corporate network, but it could be as easily used to trick the worker into creating workplace accidents. You don’t want remote maintenance on a nuclear power plant intercepted, for example.
Implementing an identity-driven IoT platform
As organizations adopt smarter PPE for their workers, they are faced with three main challenges. First, there are no IIoT standards so it’s highly likely that each new piece of equipment will come with its own means of communicating and data format. Companies want to select the best solution for their business use case and not be constrained by technology.
Secondly, data-driven decision-making means being able to make sense of all this real-time IIoT data. For example, a single worker may have a number of connected wearables–gloves, jacket, hat–at any time. You need to be able to capture, process and analyze the data and quickly return insight to the worker and supervisor. Finally, this is an expanding ecosystem of people, systems and things that must effortlessly and securely share information.
An identity-driven IoT platform is a secure and scalable solution for managing the day-to-day operations of industrial assets and connected things including smart PPE devices. It provides the key capabilities to remotely monitor the equipment, create secure interactions and integrations to back-office systems as well as enable real-time communication and feedback to the worker wherever they are.