Wearables for Workplace Safety?


Workplace safety is a primary priority in factories these days. Of course, safety has been regulated in U.S. manufacturing for at least a century, but consumers are now more aware and retailers are more insistent. As a result, machine makers including Rexroth have an even stronger focus on safety.

But we also know that it’s not just about the machines. Workers often resist safety measures and individual facilities may have special safety issues that can’t be fixed with machine safety features.

Wearables look like the next great solution. These are just a few of the things current health and safety wearables can do:

  • measure brain function to warn of sleepiness
  • alert workers that their bodies are over heated
  • monitor workers’ locations and actions
  • respond with alarms to programmed danger signals in the environment
  • provide virtual reality machine training as needed

All these functions can reduce danger to workers in many different settings and roles. These options, and similar ones coming down the road, offer far greater flexibility and customization. What’s more, since they’re connected with workers rather than machines, they can be updated far more affordably.

One problem: security worries. Many U.S. factories ban smartphones and smartwatches — the devices most wearables use — as well as cameras and other devices. Some of the new safety wearables come in the form of helmets or hats, but security fears already slow down Industry 4.0 collaboration. Chances are good that these same worries may get in the way of safety wearable adoption.

Workers may also buck against wearables for security reasons. While firefighters will probably accept helmets that alert colleagues when they’re in a prone position, factory workers may see smart hard hats as surveillance rather than safety devices.

Wearables that can register the presence of dangerous gases, monitor body heat and hear rate, or report falls may be more acceptable than more robust devices with more open-ended monitoring capacity. These devices may be the best starting point.



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