New wearable technology is providing a higher level of protection on job sites.
The dangers on your job sites are constant, and staying safe requires more than a hard hat, gloves and glasses. As technology advances, manufacturers are finding new ways to keep workers safer.
Warning lights on hard hats, belt-clip sensors that monitor lifting mechanics, and devices that warn you when entering dangerous work zones are just some of the technologies hitting the market this summer.
“It’s still early days. You’re going to see improvements in the near future with technology and safety,” says Jonathan Horne, vice president of product management for Redpoint Positioning. “I think we’re right at that point where technology is about to start taking off.”
Redpoint Positioning is just beginning the commercial deployment phase of its indoor GPS system, which allows contractors to warn workers if they enter a dangerous area.
“If you think about it as GPS, you’ve got satellites that are broadcasting timing signals to the planet, but those signals don’t penetrate buildings or underground,” Horne says. “We go in and install equipment that takes the place of GPS. It’s effectively a wireless mesh network that’s broadcasting timing signals. We install that in the building or underground and it can be extended to a large area.”
Workers wear ID badge-like devices with a display, visual alarm and audible alarm that attaches to a vest or jacket. The badge is how the Redpoint system tracks the employee. The supervisor sets up work zones and dangerous areas using software on a tablet. If an employee enters that zone when they aren’t supposed to, both visual and audio indicators will alert them.
It can be set up on a credential basis too. If there is a confined-space work zone, only properly trained workers will be allowed to enter that area. If a worker without qualified training passes into that zone, the badge will alarm.
“At the end of the day, we’re really hoping that we can make a difference in the safety aspect of construction sites,” Horne says.
Sticking with devices that can attach to your vest, technical advances have made H2S monitors easier to use and more reliable, according to Patti Dutton, marketing supervisor for Gas Clip Technologies.
“We offer a single-gas ‘disposable’ H2S monitor, the Single Gas Clip, that is relatively inexpensive up front, extremely rugged, never requires battery changing or calibration, and is disposed of at the end of its two years of operational life.”
The Texas-based company also has a multigas clip monitor used for general field operation or confined-space entry that provides two months of continuous runtime. “One employee can wear it all day long and then hand it off to another employee at the start of the next shift,” Dutton says. “This can be repeated day after day for two months without having to take valuable time out to recharge the battery.”
In the case of multigas monitors, there are two basic kinds of technology for detecting combustible gases — catalytic bead sensors and nondispersive infrared sensors (NDIR). Catalytic bead sensors were developed in the 1960s, while the new version of NDIR sensors using a low-power photodiode/LED source are more recent, says Bryan Bates, Gas Clip’s president and chief executive officer.
Gas Clip Technologies uses the infrared technology for several reasons, including its ability to operate in low-oxygen environments — something the traditional catalytic bead sensors cannot do.
Managing hazardous gas exposure is essential for ensuring continuous protection, which is why Gas Clip Technologies’ monitors also serve as a mini “black box,” recording various information and data that can later be downloaded and analyzed.
Poor lifting mechanics are one of the most common workplace injuries. According to a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 36 percent of the injuries involving missed workdays were the result of shoulder and back injures. Overexertion and cumulative trauma were the biggest factors in these injuries.
Both Caterpillar and StrongArm Technologies have developed tools to help the workforce with its lifting problem.
Caterpillar recently debuted a small belt-clip device that will detect when an employee performs a high-risk lifting motion and provide immediate feedback in the form of vibration. “This feedback allows employees to self-correct behavior, save their back from accumulated stress, and keep safety top of mind,” says Cody Renshaw, strategy and analytics manager for Caterpillar.
During testing at a large construction site, the crew wearing the device experienced a 46 percent reduction in high-risk postures after three weeks of use.
StrongArm Technologies is aiming to help the workforce with lifting power with its V22 ErgoSkeleton. The V22 is an external spine that attaches to your back using a belt across the worker’s waist. Hand effectors attached to ropes coming from the shoulder area attach to the worker’s middle finger and ring finger on each hand.
The ErgoSkeleton integrates with the worker’s musculoskeletal system to improve lifting dynamics, safety and efficiency. “The hand effectors have strings that transfer the load you are lifting from your hands, across your shoulders, down the spine and around your iliac crest,” says Mike Kin, chief technology officer for StrongArm. “So you kind of have strings attached from your hands all the way down to your waist.”
The ErgoSkeleton directs 80 to 90 percent of the load force to the strong muscles in a person’s buttocks and legs over the span of the lift. It concurrently transfers 50 to 75 percent of the force from the weaker tissues and muscles in a person’s hands, arms and lower back.
“The V22 is very specific to certain job functions and tasks, it’s not one solution for all lifting tasks,” Kin says. “If you’re lifting anything above your shoulder, we don’t recommend you use a V22 for that, but if you’re lifting something that’s over 15 or 20 pounds and you’re carrying it over a long distance, those are the kind of things we recommend.”
Lighting the way
Your work regularly exposes you to traffic, and visibility is critical for safety. Many contractors rely on safety vests and lights from the nearby work trucks to light them up.
Illumagear introduced a new way to keep workers safe with its second Halo product in March. The Halo is an LED light ring that clips securely around any hard hat.
“It uses spring-tension clips and you press it down,” says Andrew Royal, president and chief product officer for Illumagear. “It works like a Chinese finger trap where the more you press down, the harder it is to come off. It’s important it stays on the hard hat, but at the same time it’s also important that we don’t invalidate the ANSI rating of the hard hat, that’s why it will slide off with the right motion.”
Unlike the first Halo model introduced three years ago, the newest version isn’t tethered to a battery pack worn on a belt. The new version holds the battery right on the Halo.
The Halo has four modes. The first mode puts out 276 lumens in 360 degrees. The second mode still has all of the lights on, but they are rotating around the hard hat. The third mode is the task mode, where most of the power is pushed to the front and you can see what you are working on. The fourth mode is a dim mode for when people come to talk to the worker.
A single battery charge can power the Halo for 5 1/2 hours.
Connecting it all
Royal is excited to see where safety features are heading in the industry and expects to see manufacturers working together in the future to improve upon their effectiveness.
“We don’t think of personal active safety systems as an Illumagear thing, we think of it as an important construction industry thing and we just want to be a part of that,” Royal says. “We see other companies doing things with regard to GPS tracking, monitoring of proximity to danger, things like that. All those things we’re looking into as well and working with other manufacturers.”