New technologies are developed at a feverish pace in today's world, and business technology is no exception. Among the areas in which technological solutions are advancing rapidly is workplace safety. Given the ever-growing workers' comp costs faced by companies today, new, more effective tools for reducing injuries are certainly welcome. Here's a quick overview of some of the latest technology designed to help you decrease on-the-job injuries and improve workplace safety.
Wearable Technology for the Workplace
Wearable devices are the new trend in technology geared toward boosting workplace safety. Products like smart safety helmets for the construction industry are just beginning to make their appearance on the job site. The "ProActive" helmet, for instance, features a lining material that is soft, flexible and comfortable during normal wear yet is transformed into hard, shock-absorbent head protection upon impact. This helmet is shaped like a baseball cap, a style long popular with construction workers, to encourage workers to wear their safety gear more reliably. It has ear protectors for added safety that are made from smart materials that can conduct electricity, allowing the integration of communications systems.
Another innovative safety device, created by researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies EMFT in Regensburg, Germany, is designed to increase safety for workers at risk for exposure to harmful substances that are difficult to detect via the senses alone – such as those in the chemical or semiconductor industries, for example. This device is a protective glove made of custom sensor materials that changes color in response to toxic substances in the surrounding air.
Other wearable technologies are designed to monitor workers themselves for safety, including clothing and devices that use embedded bio-sensors and other technologies to monitor factors like movement, stress levels, fatigue, temperature, and heart rate. Many of these devices are capable of transmitting the data they gather to computers and mobile devices via wireless networks.
Wearable safety technology designed for jobs that require workers to engage in heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling is in particular demand. Among the most promising emerging technologies in this area is a high-tech vest that takes aim at one of the most common injuries in these types of jobs: back injuries.
Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute are also working with industry partners to develop a specialized vest designed for workers in fields that are prone to above-average numbers of back injuries. This vest is soft, lightweight, and flexible, designed to provide active support without limiting range-of-motion in the spine. Electronics are incorporated into the fabric, which are powered by the kinetic energy generated by wearers as they move.
Those electronics ensure that wearers use proper body mechanics while performing movements like lifting, decreasing risk of back injuries and other orthopedic problems. It works by using a network of sensors to continuously monitor the way a wearer moves and a processor to compare those movements against optimum movement patterns. When an irregularity is detected, a warning lamp is activated. Additionally, synthetic actuators with adjustable levels of rigidity help wearers avoid incorrect movements and support correct movements. Researchers expect a prototype of this technology, which has been dubbed soft robotics by some, to be ready this year, and the vest to be in production within a year or two.
This is just a small sample of up-and-coming safety technology, some of which is available now, as well as other promising products still in the making. What is certain is that technology has and will continue to play an essential role in the quest to reduce workplace injuries – and those ever-rising workers' comp costs, too.