Wearable devices, using IBM Watson Internet of Things (IoT) technology, are being used to help protect workers in extreme environments. The IBM Employee Wellness and Safety Solution, a research project that analyzes data collected from sensors in workers’ wearables, will provide data to North Star BlueScope Steel, a steel producer for global building and construction industries.
The research project will identify potentially problematic conditions by collecting data from various sensors that continuously monitor the worker’s skin body temperature, heart rate, galvanic skin response and level of activity, correlated with sensor data for ambient temperature and humidity.
The solution then alerts North Star management so they can provide personalized safety guidelines to each individual employee. The same technology can be used to collect data on excessive exposure to different temperatures, radiation levels, noise or toxic gases, using sensor tags for temperature, humidity, noise, or light measurements. Gases can be detected using personal sensors enabled via Wifi or Bluetooth low energy sensors.
Wearable sensors such as fitness bracelets are already available, but the cognitive solution conceived by IBM researchers in Haifa, Israel, offers a platform that is customizable and extends the power of cognitive computing to a group of many sensors, not just one. The ability to integrate data from multiple sensors means that the solution can do much more sophisticated analyses to help organizations identify problematic situations. For example, an organization could receive data on a combination of skin temperature, raised heart rate, and no movement for several minutes, which could indicate potentially fatal heat stress, while any of these signals on its own might not seem serious.
“The solution has provided a proof of concept showcasing how data can flow from the user to the IBM Watson IoT Platform and back to a supervisor for intervention,” said Malcolm Edge, I.T. director, North Star BlueScope Steel. “This solution, once fully developed, will provide a solid foundation for increasing worker safety by providing real-time monitoring of the environment around the worker.”
Employees working in extreme environments face a daily risk from conditions that include everything from high heat and toxic gas to open flames and heavy-machinery accidents. Overexertion and falls account for more than $25 billion in U.S. workers’ compensation costs a year, according to the Liberty Mutual Research Institute 2014 Workplace Safety Index, yet there is currently no practical way to verify that mandatory safety controls and personal protective equipment are being used in hazardous environments. In fact, nearly 3 million nonfatal occupational injuries were recorded in 2014.
“Many of these injuries can be prevented, whether by ensuring that protective equipment is used correctly, or that time or location limitations for hazardous situations are monitored,” explained Gabi Zodik, director, IoT and Mobile Platforms, IBM Research. “Our vision for smart worker safety involves integrating and presenting contextual information to management from a wide variety of sensors. It’s a method that is non-intrusive, is hands-free, always-on, environment-aware, and offers the direct delivery of critical information to those who need it, when they need it.”