Using IIoT-Connected Devices for Worker Health & Safety
Isaac Maw posted on March 28, 2019 |
IBM announced collaborations with Garmin, Guardhat, Mitsufuji and SmartCone to help organizations monitor their workers’ safety with Watson IoT. Source: IBM
IBM announced collaborations with Garmin, Guardhat, Mitsufuji and SmartCone to help organizations monitor their workers’ safety with Watson IoT. Source: IBM

Workplace safety is important in any field. For example, in my line of work, I’m always vigilant of dangers from hot coffee, eye strain, or paper cuts. But in industrial environments such as the manufacturing, petrochemical, or mining industries, the potential dangers are more severe. That’s why researchers and engineers are exploring new ways to use industry 4.0 technology to protect the health and safety of industrial workers.

Engineering.com recently sat down with IBM to find out more about how the company’s IIoT platform, Watson IoT, provides solutions for worker monitoring and safety.

The “things” in many industrial IoT applications are assets such as turbines, machinery, and equipment. However, sensors placed in wristbands, hard hats, clothing, equipment and the surrounding workplace environment can capture biometric and environmental data to identify when a worker has fallen; shut down machinery if a worker gets too close; monitor changes in temperature or air quality, and even flag if a worker’s vital signs indicate sickness at the start of a shift – putting them at higher risk of an accident.

According to IBM, these technologies don’t replace sensible health and safety policies, but they can significantly improve the implementation of those policies by removing the guesswork and the unpredictable from the equation.

Ishan Sehgal, program director, Watson IoT Industry Solutions

Ishan Sehgal, program director, Watson IoT Industry Solutions

Ishan Sehgal is program director for Watson IoT Industry Solutions. Check out our Q+A below about the implementation of Industrial IoT solutions, including these worker safety technologies in Industrial workplaces.

Can you tell me about Watson IoT’s industry solutions and how worker safety fits into this?

Yes, worker safety solutions are one of our portfolio products that we have based on Watson IoT platform. The bottom layer is the IoT platform that provides the data connection, data collection, data curation at a device or device data level.

Upstream from that is our industry solution, whether it’s around predictive maintenance, which is involved a lot around assets analytics; whether it’s around manufacturing processes, which includes solutions like predictive quality insights (PQI) that looks at industrial processes and analytics around the process or worker insights—collecting data from and around the worker based on wearables or beacons or other devices in a production environment.

These solutions often can be inside the four walls of a manufacturing process, or it could be a construction site or a mining site or a multi-location process, such as multi-location manufacturing or multi-location tracking of machines in the field, whether they are coke machines or vehicle fleets. All of these are examples of industrial assets that have one or more of these aspects. Whether its an asset, a process or a worker.

How big are the companies that are using this? It doesn't seem like something you would use if you were a small or medium-sized enterprise.

Well, I just got off the phone with one of the universities in Canada. A university isn't what you might think of as a big industrial IoT user, but you could think of them as a medium enterprise in this case. They want to monitor their buildings, their energy consumption and they want to monitor the staff that is supporting the building, as well as the various construction projects around the campus. And they also want to customize some of their own IT solutions working with one of our partners called SmartCone.

TheSmartCone can be dropped in many “skins” to include a standard safety cone and then placed wherever you need it. The modular system allows for a multitude of sensors like a 360 camera, led lighting and lidar pictured above. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

TheSmartCone can be dropped in many “skins” to include a standard safety cone and then placed wherever you need it. The modular system allows for a multitude of sensors like a 360 camera, led lighting and lidar pictured above. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

They are using these IoT-connected traffic cones to monitor all kinds of movements and gases and proximity data. For example, the users can create no-go zones and have an alert that there is people or things are passing over that zone. This is an example of a project for which there may not be an exact solution for today, so they are working with us and some of the device providers to build these solutions.

We have an out of the box worker solution called Worker Insights that provides integration to various devices such as Garmin wearables and SmartCone. We have another vendor called Guardhat. We also have integration with a gas sensor device and some others. Then, we have an analytics server called Shield that supports those to create alerts for other workers or for a supervisor.

Garmin vívosmart 4

Garmin vívosmart 4

Examples of alerts might be if a worker has fallen, or fatigue, which as you can imagine can be a concern in some industrial environments. When someone enters a no-go area, that person or the supervisor could be alerted. In some manufacturing environments there are certain hot zones a worker should not be exposed to for more than twenty minutes at a time, and having body temperature sensors and location sensors can provide that insight into that information.

Whether you are a small organization or a large one, there are safety policies that the safety supervisor is obligated to put this in place whether its a simple, everyone has to be wearing these devices or this safety equipment. With IoT-enabled devices and an IoT-enabled work area, you now have a much better way to track and enforce the safety policies.

Image courtesy of Guardhat
Image courtesy of Guardhat

How do workers respond to this being implemented? On the one hand, they are being made safer, but they are also being monitored and having data collected on them. So how do they respond?

We have talked a lot about this to different organizations. The unions that we have talked to, especially in Europe, are not only supportive but they are pushing for this type of technology implementation because their overarching concern is the safety of their members. The safety of the folks that run the equipment or are actually in an industrial site.

We think that companies that have these kinds of technologies or plans in place ultimately help the workers, keep the workers employed and keep incidents to a minimum. That is the more critical goal, having fewer or no worker incidents. Our users are supportive of any technology that supports that.

With regards to privacy concerns, there are ways to turn off the data collection when they don't want the data collected. For example, some organizations don't want to track workers movements during breaks. They can of course turn that off. Just like we have no go zones for safety, we can have zones where tracking turns off—in the break room, for example.

This technology obviously helps prevent safety incidents, but does it also save costs?

We help our customers collect the data on the cost of downtime, whether it is hundreds or thousands of dollars per hour and depending on where that asset is on the critical path. Often, it's not just the fact that the asset has an outage, but that the upstream and downstream dependencies of that asset working also contributes to the cost of downtime.

That’s often where we see the initial implementations of IIoT systems occur, is that these enterprises have identified which are the critical assets, such as a welding robot on a manufacturing floor, or a piece of packaging machinery at the end of the line. They realize that if these certain assets go down, they have a bigger impact due to the upstream and downstream effects.

Check out this infographic about Watson IoT worker safety solutions:

Infographic courtesy of IBM Watson IoT.
Infographic courtesy of IBM Watson IoT.




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