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How IoT technology can increase safety in the industry

technology

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22 May 2020

More and more industrial companies are realizing that IoT technology is the solution to improve their production systems. One of the areas in which these tools are being used the most is Health & Safety at Work, the managers of which are seeking innovative solutions to reduce accidents at work.

Companies face several everyday problems, including preventing workers from entering unauthorized areas. Physical barriers are a solution, especially in those areas of the company where this problem occurs the most.

The challenge also involves using systems to locate workers, so that if they enter an area without the relevant permit, the manager and the employee will be notified to prevent risks.

What is indoor location and how does it work?    

Indoor location is an increasingly established practice. Markets offer algorithm-based solutions operating with arrival and departure angles that reach an accuracy of up to 50 centimeters.

This technique requires the arrangement of gateways and locators throughout the company's infrastructure to apply the algorithm in the best possible way. Depending on the number of locators and gateways, the accuracy can be increased or decreased.

  • The assets to be monitored require a single antenna, which will use low power, and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) transmission.
  • Locators require 3 x 3 or 4 x 4 antenna arrays.
  • Gateways (Edge Computing) process angle readings and refer them to the cloud asset monitoring system to determine their location.

Regarding technologies that rely on signal strength (RSSI), accuracy decreases considerably and is much more dependent on the environment in which it is placed. The best solution is BLE, both for cost and for broadcasting (for example, every smartphone has BLE already installed). 

All employees will have a small device (with a maximum size of 10 x 10 cm), which can be placed on their belt, incorporating an accelerometer sensor. On the one hand, this sensor reduces battery consumption, since if the person is stopped it stops transmitting the location signal. On the other hand, it can detect if this person falls to the ground, so by combining both information, it is possible to intervene immediately and minimize accidents.

How wearable systems contributing to safety in the workplace

Implementing wearable systems contributes to personal protection at work (PPE). For the RSPPs of a company, monitoring is key and as of today, visual techniques could only be applied to do so. 

IoT technology can automate these checks by applying, for example, small BLE beacons associated with the worker's smartphone or devices created for this purpose. Therefore, if an employee does not use PPE, an RSPP would be able to identify them by means of the phone or smart devices and take action.

Wearables are also important in controlling factors related to the environment. By means of environmental monitoring, detecting the presence of gases or measuring the external temperature can be controlled in order to take immediate action if any employee is exposed to unforeseen chemical agents. Combining these sensors with the monitoring of health information can be key to saving lives.

However, the use of wearables poses a problem for the management of personal data of employees, so companies that want to use them must share them with workers. The priority is to improve safety, but employers must take the necessary absolute confidentiality measures and use the data strictly related to safety at work.

From wearables to augmented reality

In terms of safety, wearables are starting to be combined with augmented reality, a technique that companies are beginning to use for several purposes. A technician wearing augmented reality glasses can be warned of the required protection equipment before using a machine or can be warned in advance of the prohibition to access any restricted area. As of today, the limit for the use of technology lies in its usability and also in the tolerance to changes by employees.

In conclusion, IoT technologies can bring broad benefits in terms of safety. In the coming years, its use will become widespread and companies, and especially workers, will experience a relevant reduction in workplace accidents.

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