Smart devices can vastly improve workplace safety

Smart devices can vastly improve workplace safety

Safety in the workplace is a vital concern for all companies. According to the International Labour Organization, there are around 374 million work-related injuries and accidents each year, many of which could be avoided, and it is typically the responsibility of the employer to ensure that they provide workers with a safe work environment.

Further to the direct human impact of workplace safety, there is a commercial imperative, too. Workplace accidents and injuries directly impact employee morale and productivity, meaning companies can also suffer financially. In the U.S. alone, 27 million working days are lost per year to workplace injuries and illnesses, at a cost to employers of over $220 billion. On top of the cost to employers, the effect this has on insurance premiums is adverse, too.

So what to do? Digital technology is providing answers. Technology has offered workplace safety solutions for some time, but in very specific and limited ways. Some industrial workplaces have “lone worker devices,” a wearable that raises an alarm if that worker falls or ceases to move, perhaps due to an accident or inhalation of gases. These solutions have worked to an extent, but they are dedicated solutions that use dedicated servers and networks. They are also quite expensive, and because of their age are not particularly convergent with other solutions.

Smarter devices, smarter possibilities

At Orange, we have been looking at the potential for more intelligent, customizable worker safety solutions. It is probably fair to say that every individual now carries a smartphone with them, and thanks to IoT geolocalization technology, we can turn that smartphone into a workplace safety tool.

Customers have asked us about building safety apps into smartphones, such as a dedicated button that when pressed triggers and sends a specific alert. These apps enable us to make more tailored alerts by configuring contextual alerts and defining who will be alerted in the event of a workplace accident.

Smartphones are also able to open the line on their own, so if a worker is immobile, the device can make the emergency call automatically for them. The emergency services recipient at the other end of the line can also transmit over open line and ask questions of the immobile worker at a louder volume.

One of the other big plus points of modern digital tools like these is that we are able to monitor and transmit environment and working conditions information in real time. Industrial work-site accidents can largely be prevented if workers’ status is monitored continuously, and IoT tools make this much easier: apps and tools can now even monitor a worker’s biometrics and transmit them to a central location in real time to keep a continuous eye on an employee’s health and well-being.

Change the technology, change the process

However, enhancing worker safety using IoT developments is about more than just kitting workers and tools out with IoT sensors and monitoring safety. What we also need to do now is change the philosophy at a process stage and optimize the entire workplace.

Sensors, real time monitoring and new smartphone apps are just some examples of how IoT can improve worker safety by transforming worker behavior using digital. Think holistically – a smartphone with a range of worker safety apps and tools all in one on it beats having a whole load of different devices attached to your belt on site.

More wearables coming to market

Further to the possibilities enabled by the smartphone, more IoT-enabled wearables and objects are coming to market. Gas sensors, thermometers, geolocalization solutions, motion sensors, also known as accelerometers – all of these can monitor all kinds of movement and can detect orientation, fall, tilt, motion, positioning, shock or vibration. They can also localize events, detect hazardous gas or monitor working conditions in terms of moisture, temperature or sound levels. The combination of this information can be hugely useful on hazardous and harsh industrial work sites to see what is happening in real time and prevent or detect accidents.

One of the big benefits of new wearables and IoT worker safety devices is that they can be autonomous and communicate alarms over public networks like LoRa, LTE-M or cellular, and they can even work using local Bluetooth, RFID or Wi-Fi. These networks are also the best complement to GPS to get geolocalization information. Orange is currently working on trials and concepts that connect worker safety wearables to transmit events and to localize them using the optimal network infrastructure.

Covering compliance

A further area where IoT apps and tools are having a positive impact on the workplace is in terms of regulation. For example there may be a case where regulatory rules require that a person entering a work site is required to wear a high visibility yellow jacket and hardhat or safety goggles. That person may be a lone worker, and companies cannot have staff everywhere on site at all times to check this is the case. These wearables can all be IoT-enabled and connected up so that safety managers can count and localize people and monitor centrally whether or not workers are site-compliant in their safety gear. This is another area where Orange is focused, on combining geolocation and contextualization with access control technology to improve safety processes with digital technology.

By continuing to connect machines, data and people together, leveraging IoT, companies can continue to improve safety in the workplace. And as a result, perform better, faster and more reliably.

Learn more about solutions for the manufacturing industry.

Isabelle Finkler

Isabelle Finkler is head of the Digital Factory Program for Orange Business in France. She is a graduate engineer of ENSEA, the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de l’Electronique et de ses Applications and focuses on developing business opportunities related to digital around manufacturing 4.0. She promotes current and future radio network technologies such as LPWA, 4G and 5G, Internet of Things related technologies and workspace adapted to field workers.